95. Fan (2016): That I am

“And I hate transparent imitation of SRK! I hate overacting by anyone except him!”

Those passionate words, my friends, were from the me of October 2005. Reading through my not-quite-a-century of Hindi film reviews, I am honestly surprised at how much I’ve changed/aged/matured since then. No wonder though. There’s been innocence tossed. Grief comprehended. Hope lost. Heft gained. Migrations of careers. Renovations of the heart. I’m now on a path that would have astounded, confounded, but surely delighted the young-me. Am on my second theological degree, for goodness’ sake!

But the many, evolving reviews show something has remained the same — I am a fan of Shah Rukh Khan. Yes, am much more weary and wary of any old thing he gets involved in, but when he’s good, he still gets under my skin, still moves me, still makes me root and worry and cheer for him, and offer yet another chance to entertain me however middling the last attempt might have been. His movies, I realise now, have diverted me from real misery, whether it was the time between jobs, or right after my grandma’s diagnosis.

So I was happy to go into this movie blind as a bat with Sayesha, in whose Bollywood debt I am forever beholden. All I knew was her tiny slip of there being not one but two SRKs … which was not too weird a thought for someone who’s consumed umpteen films and TV dramas. But then the strangely bloody font of “Fan” actually cracked during the opening credits. And I was horribly reminded of early SRK’s Darr, which I refuse to watch because he’s basically leaking with blood in the movie screencaps I’ve seen. Achtung, baby!

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Note the cracked and blood-red title!

The movie began all happy-go-lucky, but then unfolded into possibly the most surreal, stimulating, profound SRK movie I’ve watched in my 95-film-old Bollywood life. Only SRK could have made it, with his history, his filmography, his public image, his personality, his inside-outness, his outer-inwardness, his troubles, his triumphs, his reputation, his fame, his fortune, his fans. With no one else could this movie be quarter-way believable. It was all so incredible, but all so credible — so easy to believe he’s had to deal with more than one of these so-called fans (known as sasaeng or 私生 fans in Korea, as they deem fit to invade the personal lives of their idols).

But the script’s layers and weaves — and most excellent direction (and startling special effects! That nose!) — won’t let you dismiss this movie as a thriller or Gaurav as another crazy fan. In the quiet, panicked, painful, poignant moments between the always-draggy man-thrills on crumbling walls, roofs and ladders, there’s a constant guessing game.

What cards about himself is SRK actually revealing? (I can’t tell you how much I loved the facial mist spraying, was troubled by the birthday-wishing crowd, and eye-rolled at the police-commanding.) How complex and daring is this meditation on a culture that not only idolises but deifies its top-tier actors, of whom SRK is indubitably a beneficiary? Isn’t Khan/Khanna, for all his protests, admitting at the very end that he might not understand or agree with the fanaticism of his followers, but he does acknowledge it and respect them? He didn’t trample on the masses to get to the summit, but he has certainly been borne upwards by them.

I cannot praise SRK enough in his dual roles. It’s so easy to take him for granted when he’s SRK-ing (i.e. overacting), but check out all his nuances and differentiating between Aryan and Gaurav! I’m not sure if I can watch this again — though I would love to revisit the wistful, happy, marvellous memory-lane stage performance by Gaurav and his parents (and the room of memories in maybe-Mannat!). Gaurav got into some really dodgy business I couldn’t bear to witness. (A man’s reputation is his everything … how could you do that!) But I will always remember the movie’s eyebrow-raisingness and thought-provokingness, and the animated conversation that went on and on between Sayesha and myself afterwards. (I agree with everything in her review!)

This is a must-watch for anyone who’s ever had a heart-string tugged or smile charmed out by SRK! Let yourself be surprised by the man.

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