Film review by Salma Siddique
In the summer of 2014, I casually browsed through the Bollywood section at a DVD rental shop in Innsbrucker Platz. The selection seemed mostly governed by one factor, Shah Rukh Khan. Every film starring the actor in a lead role in the last two decades was in the collection, including a highly-forgettable Shakti (2002). Given Deutschland’s demonstrable love for the indefatigable star, I certainly expected more than fourteen people – eleven women and three men – in a Wedding Kino for the last day, last show of Fan (2016) this spring in Berlin. Perhaps SRK’s transnational fans thought it too early to take their heads out after the recent sandstorm Dilwale (2015).
Fan dramatically explores the all-consuming passion of an obsessed fan whose star-worship acquires a stalking, destructive hue after being ‘spurned’ by his screen idol. Twenty-five-year-old Gaurav Channa runs an Internet café in (what is implicitly a refugee colony of) New Delhi and bears an uncanny resemblance to the film star Aryan Khanna, both roles played by a fifty-year-old Shah Rukh Khan. Mostly content with imitating Aryan at local events and staring agog at the star’s photographs plastered on the bedroom walls, Gaurav dreams of meeting the star someday even if for five minutes. When he wins a cash prize at a neighbourhood talent night, which involves performing an Aryan routine, Gaurav decides to go to Bombay just like Aryan did many years ago: without a train ticket and checking into the same hotel room. Things take an awry turn when Gaurav threatens an upcoming star, who has been at loggerheads with Aryan Khanna. Instead of acknowledging Gaurav’s devotion and agreeing to grant him a rendezvous, Khanna distances himself from this fan and reports him to the police. Gaurav is more broken by his idol’s betrayal than the beating he receives in police custody. What follows is his extended transnational revenge on the star, where deploying his facial and performative likeness, Gaurav delivers one iconoclastic blow after another to Aryan’s star image, forcing the star to pursue his fan across Dubrovnik and Delhi rooftops alike.
Outwardly self-reflexive about stardom and fandom with its numerous mise en abyme moments, Fan is hardly a first as far as takes on Shah Rukh’s stardom are concerned (Billu, Om Shanti Om) and is another addition to the spate of double/multiple roles (Duplicate, English Babu Desi Mem, Paheli, Om Shanti Om, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi and Don). What is certainly unprecedented about Fan are its confrontations with the aging star body and refutation with technology and performance. If Khan’s body has been symbolic of irrepressible energy and stamina, it has also been a site of injuries and enduring pain. It is the play on the potential and limits of Khan’s star body that makes Fan fascinating. Gaurav Channa was achieved through a physical transformation of the star involving weight-reduction, prosthetic make-up as well as special effects that made the transformation seamless and creaseless. Yet despite physical and virtual prostheses, twenty-five-year-old Gaurav’s agile moves and sprints are infused with a kinesis and mobility that have been central to Shah Rukh Khan’s performance.
Fan is a rich film text (one where everyone will find what they are looking for!), most obviously a commentary on the egoistic twins of stardom and fandom. It has a strong queer subtext, foraging on Khan’s rumoured bisexuality. A real-life, though not psychotic, fan and lookalike Raju Rahikwar supposedly inspired it. Most significantly, however, as the film meditates on his early success as a deranged and homicidal lover, it also ends up defamiliarising Shah Rukh Khan: it is not the unstable fan but the star who is more unpredictable of the two. As the key referent of the film, ‘Shah Rukh Khan’ emerges more plastic and air-brushed than his youthful doppelganger. In its replications and prostheses, Fan splinters the very star image it ostensibly thrives on. As tempting as it is to read (and in some cases react to!) Fan as ‘a star in descent’ film, Gaurav’s restless energy and lithe body signal new possibilities for aging and star mystique in a world of virtual bodies and mobility. For those watching Shah Rukh, picture abhi baaki hai mere dost (The film is yet to finish, my friend)!