Maneesh Sharma’s action drama Fan stars Shah Rukh Khan, perhaps one of the best-known movie stars on the globe, in a CGI-enhanced dual role — as Bollywood demi-god Aryan Khanna and as Gaurav Chandna, his obsessed young admirer — and is guaranteed a healthy draw at the box office, thanks to heavy pre-release hype and a still-robust following for the 50-year-old heartthrob.
Bollywood excesses clutter up a promising premise.
Twenty-five-year-old Gaurav (Khan) has spent his life worshipping Aryan Khanna (Khan, again), and has parlayed a slight physical resemblance into a hobby impersonating the star at talent shows in his Delhi neighborhood. Since boyhood, Gaurav has idolized Aryan, covering his bedroom in posters and memorizing every line from his movies and every detail of his life story. When Aryan’s birthday looms, Gaurav decides he absolutely has to join the crowds outside the star’s home, so he decides to make the trek to Mumbai.
Waving to Aryan from the massive crowd, Gaurav fails to catch his idol’s attention. So he starts dreaming up novel, but creepy and illegal, ways to get it — first by kidnapping a rival of Aryan’s and forcing him to praise the star in a cellphone video that goes viral, and later in more and more harmful ways, including impersonating the star and getting into humiliating situations in an attempt to extract revenge for the perceived snub. The tension escalates when Gaurav tricks his way into Aryan’s home and threatens his wife and children.
Sharma studs Fan with details about life in Bollywood that are all too familiar to movie buffs: In real life, thousands actually do throng the streets outside Khan’s Mumbai mansion on his birthday every Nov. 2, and like Aryan (and Khan himself), many Indian stars rake in millions in pocket money with some strategically mercenary moonlighting — performing at international billionaires’ weddings and endorsing an endless succession of consumer brands.
Thanks to the facial modeling work of CounterPunch Studios (The Flash), Oscar-winning makeup artist Greg Cannom (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and Khan’s vibrant performance, Gaurav convincingly comes to life.
Stunts, too, are consistently top-notch: In one scene, Gaurav escapes Aryan’s hired goons by climbing across the crumbling face of a dilapidated six-story Mumbai building; and in another, Aryan and Gaurav pursue one another in a parkour bout across the rooftops of Dubrovnik’s walled city (hey, gotta take advantage of those Croatian location shooting incentives).
Khan impressively conveys the contrast between the two men — nerdy Gaurav is slight and twitchy, with a distracting overbite, while confident, brooding Aryan has the body language of a panther.
Khan is supported here by a cast of top-notch talent including Yogendra Tiku and Deepika Amin as Gaurav’s father and mother, and Sayani Gupta (Margarita, With a Straw) as Aryan’s cool-headed assistant and chief handler. In a clever bit of casting, Waluscha De Sousa, who plays Aryan’s wife, bears a striking resemblance to Khan’s real-life wife, Gauri Chibber Khan.
Then why is the film so infuriating? Habib Faisal’s screenplay is fatally disingenuous, for starters. In one scene, Gaurav impersonates Aryan in some high-profile settings, behaving erratically with his wax likeness at Madame Tussauds London in front of dozens of fans.
Later, at a billionaire’s wedding party, he gropes a pretty young woman in a pink sari. When the internet gets wind of his antics, Aryan’s career is almost destroyed; concerts are canceled and sponsors evaporate.
To be sure, sexual harassment is no laughing matter, but let’s be honest: In no known universe would it actually derail anyone’s career in Bollywood. Some top-grossing stars in Hindi films have a long and sordid history of unsavory behavior, with widely reported criminal convictions for offenses ranging from wild animal poaching to DUI, manslaughter and even terrorism. Would a little grab-ass really destroy anyone’s career?
Though Gaurav’s motivations are clear, we learn almost nothing about Aryan. The character, we discover, climbed from humble beginnings to the top spot in Hindi films through ingenuity, grit and talent — and he demonstrates Liam Neeson-levels of wit and resilience in his dealings with the crazed Gaurav.
California Institute of the Arts alumnus Sharma has delivered uneven work since his 2010 debut, the charming romantic comedy Band Baaja Baarat. Here, he pads out the songless film with well-executed but overlong action pieces that become even more frustrating when you consider the ways time could have been better spent exploring Aryan’s fascinating backstory. Perhaps he’s waiting for a sequel.
Distributor: Yash Raj Films
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Sayani Gupta, Yogendra Tiku, Deepika Amin, Waluscha De Sousa
Director: Maneesh Sharma
Screenwriter: Habib Faisal
Producer: Aditya Chopra
Executive producer: Padam Bhushan
Director of photography: Manu Anand
Production designer: Abid T.P.
Costume designer: Niharika Bhasin
Stunt directors: Oh-Sea Young, Peter PedreroEditor: Namrata Rao
Composer: Andrea Guerra
Casting director: Shanoo Sharma
Not rated, 138 minutes