'Of all the Superstar Khans, I still believe that Shah Rukh Khan is the one most capable of surprising me,' says Sreehari Nair.
'I always have this feeling that that great Shah Rukh Khan turn that would somehow hold all his vaporously brilliant elements together is just around the corner.'
Man, that Shah Rukh Khan is a brain.
Part of Shah Rukh Khan no matter where he is, is never there; that part of him lives in his brain -- a brain that races a mile a minute and takes turns you half-expect; a brain that can spin memories into wistfulness and wistfulness into instant poetry; a brain that sees, records, buzzes and explodes -- often many times in a second and in many directions, all at once.
I have seen people who were one time detractors of the actor turn into his devout fans upon merely hearing Khan whip up gems in interviews -- statements that are often existential in its core, Sufiyana in its construction and Looney Tunes-ish in its delivery.
Part of Shah Rukh Khan's longevity and soul-shattering charm has its source in Shah Rukh Khan's brain. And a substantial section of us in the audience is aware of this brain and perhaps we secretly admire the actor because we realise that, often, he is way too smarter than his films -- even his woos comes with winks.
In the Maneesh Sharma-helmed Fan, the Shah Rukh Khan we think we know gets a stand-in -- a superstar, who answers to the call 'Aryan Khanna' -- who gets into a rough-and-tumble match with a double: A crazy fan of his.
Building on Shah Rukh Khan's image of a Star who has always been, in brainy terms, a good two steps ahead of his audience, Sharma and his writers also give Aryan Khanna a heart that stays icy when the other hearts go for a flutter.
Truth be told, I wasn't one bit taken in by the promotional Jabra Fan song. What is there to say about a song that trims away Varun Grover's prodigious talents and makes him write to a 'preset brief'?
The careful carelessness of that song kind of told me that the Fan character (Gaurav Chandna) will be totally devoid of any shading and would emerge out of a very basic selling-pitch: Here's Shah Rukh lousing himself up after a long time. Come witness the exclusive!
What I was interested in seeing, though, was how Khan's Superstar character would pan out. That he had humble beginnings is part of the SRK legend. That he has danced at weddings is part of his myth. That he dotes on his family is part of his home videos.
The real excitement for me was in checking whether Sharma and his writing team had the gall to lead us into a fuzzy territory where it'd become difficult for us to gauge which part of the Star's life depicted is 'Real' and which part is 'Fiction'.
At the risk of sounding like an impertinent snip and going against all those friends who've used a specific word in the context of this film, I have to say this: As cool as the word 'Meta' sounds, it has a very specific reason for usage. It's Meta only when something seems precariously close to real and yet so obviously unreal.
In Being John Malkovich, when Malkovich -- the serious, methodical actor, that he is -- wrapped in a bed-sheet was stripped off his refinement and made to do a Ritual Dance that he calls 'The Dance of Despair and Disillusionment,' that was a 'Meta Moment.' You literally wondered if the self-flagellation was happening to the real John Malkovich even as you knew it wasn't.
In short, to be 'Meta,' you have to both open a vein and also laugh about the wound.
Fan isn't a Meta movie because it isn't nearly half as courageous as it thinks it is. All its in-jokes are merely a spoofing of the Tabloid contents of Khan's life that's already spilled out to us. Khan is undoubtedly -- even with his coldness -- the star-in-cruise-control here. He is very much the Duke in his Domain.
We are still supposed to watch him from a distance and admire his grandness with awe. Even when he loses his bearings or folds under pressure, he doesn't stutter or pant. And his falls are clearly the falls of movie star -- they are dehumanised and are 'calculated' to a fault.
Also, as random as it may sound, at a certain point in the film when the actor stood holding a Prison Name Board, I so wished that it'd read 'Shah Rukh Khan' and not 'Aryan Khanna.' For, if the biggest superstar in the country -- as portrayed in the movie -- was simply called 'Shah Rukh Khan,' that would have pointed to a very specific kind of courage; a courage that would have propelled the movie into a different dimension altogether.
While the Meta-ness in Fan is clearly cosmetic, the most fatal flaw that its screenplay commits is that it systematically stupefies each character on the pretext of accommodating its basic plot-line. If there is ever a measure for movies, it's that the good ones are always bound to giving all their characters -- even passing characters -- their due dignity.
In Fan, almost everyone is merely fitting into a mould so that that interesting plot-line can be stretched out for a good 140 minutes.
So there are Gaurav's parents who seem more like offsprings of his natural obsession. In a scene toward the end when Aryan Khanna presents to him a list of his's misdoings, Gaurav's Dad says innocently: 'If you had just apologised to him, all this wouldn't have happened.'
Later, here's Gaurav's supposed girlfriend, to a rattled, heckled and harassed Aryan: 'Suno... Gaurav, bandha acha hai.' This evidently being the morality-axis around which the whole movie spins.
Despite every dream it half-dreams and each idea it half-explores, what truly hurts is that even when Fan shortchanges everyone else, it never quite delves deep into Gaurav's obsessions or Aryan Khanna's solipsism either. And by choosing to consciously not expose the wounds on both sides, Fan ends up being a movie that is 'insufficiently imagined.'
Frankly, I did not quite mind the lapses in logic that runs plentiful. That's because, on some levels, you get that the picture is aiming to be an allegory -- a commentary on the Star-Fan relationship and its vagaries -- and everything from the endless chase sequences to the inexplicable role reversals are perhaps there to expand the meaning of the allegory.
But there are basic distractions that still rankle. Like, when Gaurav leaves for Mumbai to meet his idol he acts as if the Star would be waiting for him. Why would anyone -- even at the height of their fanhood -- ever presume that?
I am never one to argue about a piece of art rationally, but when a primary conflict itself is erected on such weak ground, disengagement is only natural. There has always been a square quality to Habib Faisal's screenplays which is on total, blatant display here.
As a director, Maneesh Sharma has, in the past, shown a talent for atmospherics. And, yes, there are things he clearly likes: Twilight shots, 'dew-drop and decorative lighting'-dissolves and crummy, beat-up ambiences stuffed with patch-ups.
Like it was the case with Shuddh Desi Romance where he discovered Delhi in Jaipur, Sharma shoots Mumbai like Delhi here and often confuses Mumbai's wide-eyed nature with Delhi's inherent shrewdness.
Early on in the movie, when he stages a fight outside a Cyber Cafe, set to rock music ala Scorsese, I thought that maybe I could endure the movie if it just contained that feverish love for filmmaking. But all of that wears out soon.
The VFX and the make-up sessions probably drained so much out of Sharma that he even uses the same establishing shot twice to introduce us to the setting of the Mela and further styles his 'introduction shots' of London and Dubrovnik in just about the same unimaginative manner.
But despite all of the things mentioned above, when I think about it now, my dislike for the movie -- and it is 'dislike' and not 'disappointment' -- is drawn from something deeper.
The basic problem with Fan is that, it takes on a Big Theme for our times and displays neither a genuine interest in investigating the Theme nor a weightless approach that would have let us marvel about the little things it does right.
Toward the end, when Gaurav snaps out of Aryan's clutches, it seems like he is handing him out the ultimate punishment and heading for an all-fan heaven. And hidden therein is the film's silent wickedness: The argument that 'This is a celebration for SRK Fans and if you are not one, you wouldn't probably get it.'
If you ask me, though, nothing could be more condescending to a real fan than being classified as the part of a breed that's too easily satisfied.
Of all the Superstar Khans, on some levels, I still believe that Shah Rukh Khan is the one most capable of surprising me. I always have this feeling that that great Shah Rukh Khan turn that would somehow hold all his vaporously brilliant elements together is just around the corner.
However, sad as it may sound, this is neither that film nor that performance.