By Gautam Chintamani
With the upcoming Fan, King Khan — with a little help from an unlikely hero — returns to a place where the myth of Shah Rukh Khan began.
Two things happened following the unveiling of the trailer of Shah Rukh Khan’s next release Fan (2016): One, that the talk about the film being touted as the return of SRK, the actor, wasn’t completely incorrect, and two, the visual and the thematic similarities between this Maneesh Sharma-directed and the Tony Scott-directed Robert De Niro-Wesley Snipes thriller The Fan (1996) became more than conspicuous.
The trailer shows Shah Rukh Khan as Gaurav, an obsessed fan of actor Aryan Khanna (Shah Rukh again, in a double role), and has more than enough for the superstar to bite into as far as histrionics go. Also, in a departure from (for the want of a better word) the typical fare that Khan was belting out, this thriller promises to take not only SRK but also the legions of his fans back in time when the actor went beyond the usual. Irrespective of the similarities Fan shares with The Fan, the film could very well usher in a new phase for the ageing superstar considering that it has all the right credentials (read: inspired by a Robert De Niro film and performance).
Much like novelist Raymond Chandler’s timeless advice on how to make the going interesting — “When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand” — filmmakers and actors also have a go-to list of contrivances that seldom let them down.
Traditionally in SRK’s case, one wouldn’t look beyond a Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995)-esque romance in any form or version as the preferred totem to set things right but scratch a little and you’d see how Robert De Niro has been more effective when it comes to course correction in King Khan’s case. The very first time people sat up and took notice of the actor in SRK was Darr (1993), a film that was inspired by a De Niro film, Cape Fear (1991), and ironically enough was produced by the same production house. Many plot-points of Darr where a lovelorn young man Rahul (Khan) becomes obsessed with former college mate Kiran (Juhi Chawla) and won’t stop at anything to win her over were inspired by the Martin Scorsese-directed version of Cape Fear. In fact, the choreography of Darr’s entire climax where Rahul, believing that he had killed Kiran’s fiancé, Sunil (Sunny Deol), takes off with her on a boat only to see Sunil come back from the dead to save her was so heavily poached that it was almost like watching Cape Fear in Hindi. Although heavily stylised, Khan nonetheless infused his portrayal of the lovesick Rahul with a certain degree of restraint when compared to an over-the-top De Niro as Max Caddy, a criminal who after serving time swears vengeance on his attorney (Nick Nolte) for withholding information that could have helped reduce his sentence. But Khan unabashedly reprised Max Caddy in Darr’s climax and perhaps this was the thing that announced the arrival of a new kind of star – one, who although mannered, could still convince you that the actor deep within could make an unannounced appearance.
There is a world of difference between the Shah Rukh Khan of Darr and the Shah Rukh Khan of Fan but ironically the need of the hour is somewhat similar. Darr came to Khan once Aamir Khan walked out of the film and Fan comes at a time when Khan’s big-ticket entertainers have begun to appear insipid. Looking at Khan in both real and reel life there’s very little that separates the two and with the passage of time, this gap has only narrowed down. Khan’s real life larger-than-life persona never ceases to meander into his roles and, therefore, the similarities between certain characters he plays and his real self is more than palpable. He would be the only superstar in Hindi cinema, who of late, invariably ends up playing himself on the silver screen and there can be little dispute he would also be the only star who has made self-deprecation a sub-genre of sorts. Take for instance Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008) and Chennai Express (2013) where in the former he wants to be himself when he was a certain age and the latter where he lampoons his off-screen age and iconic moments from his oeuvre with onscreen jokes about his agelessness and antics.
In a simple world, a project helmed by an Aditya Chopra or a Karan Johar would be enough for SRK to initiate a new phase but it appears that De Niro, a most unlikely talisman in SRK’s arsenal, might be more effective than Chopra or Johar. The last time SRK ‘played’ De Niro the similarity was indirect but this time around, unlike the Hollywood version where Robert De Niro plays an obsessed fan of a baseball superstar played by Wesley Snipes, the resemblance is direct. In addition to the title, even the choreography of some shots, at least, the ones in the trailer, and a key dialogue — “Main hoon to tum ho (I am, therefore you are)” — establishing that it’s the adulation of fans that creates stars, is practically unapologetically same. But what makes Fan hit The Fan out of the park, is that Shah Rukh Khan plays his own obsessed fan, a younger version of himself made possible by renowned special effects makeup maestro Greg Cannom.
Maneesh Sharma’s Fan may or might not have much more to offer beyond a trailer that, as suggested by a website, looks “creepily similar” to The Fan but one thing is certain: With Fan, this SRK sub-genre takes a giant leap forward. Here we’d get to see SRK playing his own biggest fan and his own real life off-screen superstar persona on screen at the same time, what’s more, the closer-to-reality older SRK as Aryan — which is nothing but a nom de plume of sorts for the real life SRK — would beat the ‘younger’ SRK to a pulp. Confusing? Perhaps. Conflicting? Hardly. Entertaining. You bet!
Gautam Chintamani is the author of the best-selling Dark Star: The Loneliness of Being Rajesh Khanna (HarperCollins, 2014). He tweets at @GChintamani