By: Samar Khan
Much has been made about Bollywood icon Shah Rukh Khan’s interesting (to say the least) career trajectory following the highly acclaimed My Name is Khan.
Transitioning from a romance and drama film actor to a “masala” action star has seen him deliver a string of mediocre-to-average films, with no film embodying the worst aspect of this career change than last winter’s Dilwale. When the initial trailer for Maneesh Sharma’s Fan was released, many a Bollywood fan was cautiously optimistic. Would the film live up to the hype and deliver a rather original (by Bollywood standards) plot or would it be another dud from the man that gave us gems ala Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kal Ho Na Ho? Despite some missteps, Fan is one of the better films of the year and the best performance delivered by Shah Rukh Khan in years.
A quick note before we proceed further: Fan does not follow the traditional format of a Bollywood film (in this case, it does not contain ANY song/dance routines) so this review will be written as if it were about a film from another film industry.
Shah Rukh Khan as Aryan Khanna (L) and as Gaurav Chandna (R) in Fan
So, what is this film about? In essence, it is a statement on the rabid celebrity worship that is rampant all around the world. Whereas the Kardashians and Hollywood stars have their every moment analyzed out West, the subcontinent of India has fans that go rabid when in the presence of a film star and some go to extremes to get their idols to notice them. The latter half of that statement is what Fan is centered around, with Gaurav (played brilliantly in one-half of a dual-role by Khan) growing up idolizing (legitimately creepy just how much he worshiped his hero) Aryan Khanna, the other half of Khan’s dual-role. Khan has played dual roles before (Duplicate, anyone?) but the quality of his performance is what sets this apart from all else that has come prior in Bollywood. For those that know me, I was a huge fan of the brilliant work of Shahid Kapoor in the underrated gem that was Kaminey and how well he portrayed two polar opposite twins. It takes a grandeur performance to top that and who better to deliver that than the man that has delivered countless such performances before? Anyway, back to the synopsis of this film. Gaurav idolizes his hero, misses out on a chance to see him, performs an act of desperation to get close to him but fails in his goal and that sets off a battle between the two of a look-alike (of Khan’s Aryan character) fan and the superstar himself in locations around the world. It’s not the most original thing in the world if you have seen your Hollywood films but if you are exclusively versed in Bollywood, chances are you are exposed mostly to masala action thrillers (nothing will top the original Dabangg!) or love stories that run the spectrum from terrible to pretty good.
Shah Rukh Khan as Aryan Khanna in Fan
The cast is comprised of Khan (duh) and here comes the part that may raise a few eyebrows: despite a vast filmography that spans almost 3 decades, I can safely say Khan’s performance in this is Top-10 worthy. That’s not entirely difficult due to the drivel he provided the last half-decade but is still a testament to how powerful he was on screen. His humorous nature was on-point and the intense monologues and dramatic conversations he is so well-versed in return with galore. Complementing Khan is a hodgepodge group of characters, none of whom really have much screen time or significance outside of some final-act sequences, but suffice it say that all supporting performances were more than commendable. When Maneesh Sharma and co. announced that the film would be highly focused on Shah Rukh Khan mostly and would not contain a traditional love story, eyebrows were raised. Such a decision was the right choice here, as the focus on Khan allowed the man to showcase his acting chops that had been taking a hiatus since My Name is Khan and the divisive Jab Tak Hai Jaan.
So, the film is pretty good if I’m giving it such high praise thus far, right? I wish it were as flawless as the performances of the characters. The film is riddled with plot holes, the most glaring one arguably being that Gaurav looks identical to the man he idolizes yet the film is very selective in terms of how often that similarity is noted. It stands to reason that if his townsfolk recognize him and people at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in London recognize Gaurav as being nearly identical to superstar Aryan Khan, then he should be recognized wherever he goes –especially in India-, right? If not for the greatness of Khan, this plot hole could have dragged the film down entirely on its own but as it stands, it was a plot hole with reduced impact. The story reaches far to make it all work (the first act of the film sees Gaurav rejected by the security outside of the home of the #1 star in the nation but he manages to get alone time with the #2 star with ease?) and while it makes the film that much more fun, it requires a serious suspension of disbelief going in. Fortunately, that wasn’t a difficult task as the film was still pure fun despite the major plot issues on display and, again, gave us prime Shah Rukh Khan acting. The less said about a random fan gaining access to the personal and private phone line of one of the world’s biggest film stars, the better. As I said, the plot holes were issues that drag the score of the film down but for the sake of the story being told and Khan himself, we are able to accept them without being too harsh.
Shah Rukh Khan as Gaurav Chandna in Fan
Maneesh Sharma has directed crowd pleasers such as Band Baaja Baaraat and the fun caper Ladies vs. Ricky Bahl so more serious fare was something many (including yours truly) felt he may struggle with. Outside of the aforementioned script issues, however, Sharma shined and lent his own touch to a film that could easily have veered into a “Yash Raj Films picture directed by some random.” One particular sequence in the final act stands out, where Khan as Gaurav delivers a monologue whilst shattering a trophy room. While Khan rightfully deserves all the praise in the world for that scene, the wonderful one-take aspect of it elevated it further and provided Khan a platform to showcase his monologue abilities without those irritating close-ups of EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER’S FACE that is involved in a scene (I don’t understand how people can watch Indian TV Drama shows). Other scenes that captured an absolutely wonderful tribute performance (that was part of a show about impersonating actors, bizarrely) at the beginning of the film showed that Sharma has a real talent. Unfortunately, the area where he did not excel was something that plagues the majority of Bollywood’s film directors and that was in regards to the action scenes.
Shah Rukh Khan as Gaurav Chandna in Fan
Special shout out to the cinematographer for capturing some absolutely breathtaking vistas and architecture but somebody should have told Sharma and co. that quick cuts in rapid succession combined with some shaky-cam can detract from a viewer’s enjoyment of fight scenes. Thankfully, the majority of the film was not dedicated to action and thus was superbly shot but that’s the one area that is in major need of improvement throughout the entire industry. The cinematography was complemented by a well-produced score, not one that will wow you (no distinctive tune such as the ones that audiences still hum today from classics such as Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge) but still strong enough to make almost each sequence on screen feel powerful in its own right. While some may cry foul at the lack of any songs, after the mostly terrible soundtracks in the last 5-6 Khan films, this was probably the best way to proceed and not have the film dragged down by a mediocre soundtrack.
Shah Rukh Khan as Gaurav Chandna striking his trademark pose in Fan
One of the best aspects of the film that I didn’t discuss above were its meta nature, utilizing Shah Rukh Khan’s actual route to stardom (and clips of the superstar from throughout his career) and placing it into the film just with a new name. The film could not have been more obvious with its message that celebrity worship can go too far but that’s not a negative. It was fun to try and pinpoint which clips were from which films throughout Khan’s career and the film managed to serve as both a tribute to the star and a vehicle from which to announce that he still has a lot left in the tank, acting wise. I can honestly say that it is extremely rare that I have been as simultaneously creeped out and yet mesmerized by a character in a Bollywood film as I was by Khan as Gaurav.
After all of that, how does “Fan” fare? When compared to the recent works of his fellow stars of legendary status in Salman Khan and Aamir Khan, Khan’s Fan falls a tier below the amazing Bajrangi Bhaijaan and the introspective PK. Compared to Shah Rukh Khan’s own recent filmography, however, the film shines and it’s strong suits (Khan himself, the fun nature of the film, the mostly excellent direction, the meta-narrative and the originality of the story) outweigh its negatives (plot holes, and poor direction in action scenes). For fans of Shah Rukh Khan, the film is a must watch. For those seeking a Bollywood film that veers from the usual formula, the film is also highly recommended.
We here at The Film Lawyers are proud to grace Fan with a grade of B (7.7/10).