By Somdutta Sarkar:
At the outset, let me clarify that I am nowhere as crazy as the eponymous character in the film. I have engaged in my fair share of brawls with SRK haters, pissed off many friends and acquaintances by conversing entirely in SRK dialogues, bunked enough classes back in college to watch the ‘first day, first shows’ of his films, and continue to have his face plastered across t-shirts, walls, and wallpapers. I would never, however, condone violence (obviously) to defend either your favorite actor or your god, and I’d like to believe that no one in their right mind would. In the case of the Khan, it’s all about spreading the love, “pyaar dosti hai” etc., not hostility. Except the occasional slap or stadium scuffle! In the case of religion, the less said the better because I am not in the mood to be guillotined today for being politically incorrect.
But I digress.
Like every third person in the country (because every third person in the country is an SRK fan, whether they accept it or not), I was a self-proclaimed ‘jabra fan’ until last week. The terrible song played on loop in my car, in my house, in my head, in various languages that morphed into an undecipherable jumble at times. On Friday morning, as we waited to enter the theatre, I suggested to my fellow #firstdayFan friend that we click the customary check-in photo in front of the nearest lightbox ‘Fan‘ poster. But she insisted on finding a bigger poster after the movie for said photo backdrop, so we deferred this important ritual until later.
Suffice it to say, neither of us had the stomach for the photo after the movie.
For those who’ve been living under a rock, here’s a quick summary. Gaurav Chandna (West Delhi vella SRK) is a devoted Aryan Khanna (superstar SRK) fan, who also happens to look like Aryan Khanna. He goes to Mumbai to meet the star, fails to do so (because not everyone lives in his fantasy bubble), kicks up some shit to attract attention, and manages to get told off for his antics by Aryan himself. Heartbroken, Gaurav goes off the edge and decides to make the star pay for this, because “tumne mere pacchees saal ka pyaar chheen liya (you took away my love of twenty-five years)”. The rest of the movie is a nerve-wracking cat and mouse game between Gaurav (alternately crafty and crazy) and the embittered but ever charming Aryan, punctuated with thrilling chase sequences, ‘oh, no he didn’t!’ moments and enough meta devices to delight the critics.
This is a story of the disillusioned acolyte turning on the false god. You sympathise with the former’s naiveté till a point when his actions challenge your moral code, and while this code differs for each of us, ‘Fan’ has moments when everyone – from the more devoted fans to the morally flexible – will squirm in their seats. There is a little bit of us in Gaurav Chandna irrespective of who or what our pacchees saal ka pyaar was. Most of us have had moments when we’ve done something irrational (or come close to it) for the sake of an idea that we believed in more than we did in ourselves, moments when an idea becomes larger than life and merges (with) or even takes over our own identity. In Gaurav’s case, this idea devours him, and it isn’t pretty.
John Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in an effort to impress Jodie Foster, and termed it “the greatest love offering in the history of the world”. David Letterman’s stalker was arrested eight times for trespassing on his property and other related counts and went on to commit suicide under a train. Mark David Chapman, a Beatles fan himself, ended John Lennon’s life the same day that he took his autograph. They are the extreme end of a spectrum. The other end is made up of jilted lovers prank calling their objects of desire, keying their cars in retaliation, defacing their photos and maligning their names. After all, it is the same neurochemical that regulates the obsessive and addictive behavior that is characteristic of both love affairs and celebrity fixation.
Gaurav swiftly traverses the distance between the two ends of this spectrum, going from the overly-attached-girlfriend meme to ‘American Psycho’ with the raised axe. It isn’t much of a distance, because when you jump off a cliff, you are in free fall and destined to hit the ground within seconds. This is something we may not be able to usually consider or even fully understand; which is a possible reason why the second half of the film has received some flak. We fear what we do not understand, and there are moments when we fear Gaurav. And for those of us who came out of the theatre questioning the ‘fan’ in ourselves, this is a reality check, and reality checks are uncomfortable. Where on the Gaurav spectrum are you?
But that’s just half the story.
One of the standout scenes in the film for me was the Bhutiani wedding in Croatia, where Aryan Khanna, out on bail from London, has to perform for the guests while putting himself at risk. Like a switch, he must go back and forth between the roles of a superstar entertainer and the hounded man behind the mask. To make matters worse, Bhutiani Sr. treats him exactly how your shitty boss would treat you if you walked into office conspicuously late one morning after having partied all night. It strained my nerves just to watch him power through the moves, learning lines, changing costumes, chasing Gaurav’s ghost, dancing up a storm, checking in with his team, answering to the Bhutianis’ every beck and call, failing to catch Gaurav yet again, posing for photographs, the works.
Why does he go through with it? Because he refuses to let an obnoxious brat half his age disrupt his life or career, and because he’s getting paid for it. He is an entertainer, it’s what he does. I would dance at weddings too if I got paid for it, and it isn’t even my profession. It is his.
Like the actor portraying the character, Aryan also credits his fans for his immense success, and despite the authority with which he tells Gaurav, “tum nahi ho mere fan (you’re not my fan),” in the first half, you immediately realise that he has no control here. They have no control over the biggest part of their lives, their fandom, which can often be a difficult price to pay, even for the success and stardom it comes with. It is a deal with the devil and he who makes it must dance to the devil’s tune.
None of these realisations are meant to be very comfortable. But above all, the reason ‘Fan’ works while grabbing you by the scruff of your neck and dragging you into the light is because over the past several years, all of us had settled into a sort of conviction that no matter what film he does, Shah Rukh Khan, the persona, would always be bigger than the actor. Gaurav Chandna turns this notion on its head.
In his dazzling moments, Gaurav reminds us of Rahul Khanna with outstretched arms who serenaded his lady under the starlit skies at Wenlock Downs. But his best moments are those where he reminds us of the one goofy guy from high school or college or the neighborhood, who may or may not have been called Rahul Mehra, who we didn’t think much of until he started following one of our friends around, turning up outside her house at odd hours, blank calling her landline, and threatening her implicitly. “Gaurav hai toh Aryan hai, Gaurav nahi toh Aryan kuch nahi”. Replace the names and we’ve all heard that line before.