May 4, 2016: SRK, Still FANtastic at 50!

Fan: SRK on the gates of MannatOut of the drought and dearth of inspirational films coming out of Bollywood these days, Shah Rukh Khan’s FAN has stirred our sluggish viewing hearts back to our keyboards! Imagine that! It spurred many a thought and pulled a post out of fingers so stiff from boredom that I thought we’d be indulging in another multi-month of reviewing sloth. Thank you, SRK!

Jenny K: Hey there…are you going to get a chance to see SRK’s Fan? Pat, Kathy, Jayesh and I went to see it last night and it was very interesting, and not just for the surface action! He provides that, of course, but this added something different. I’m still mulling it over. Though knowing that you don’t really like Shah Rukh, maybe I shouldn’t recommend it, but I had some theories about it that I wanted to run past you, if you saw it. The house was packed (a regular multiplex, not a desi cinema) and everyone seemed to enjoy it. I liked it, but Pat and Kathy, die hard Rukhies, LOVED it. Here’s the trailer with subtitles that you can switch on.

Julie M: This one was the first film in a LOOOONG time to interest me even a little…I’m going right now!
[five hours later…]

Mind. Blown. Let’s talk tomorrow.
[Next day…]

OK—for the readers—brief plot overview, if I can do it without spoilers. Gaurav Chandna is a young man in Delhi who bears a striking physical resemblance to his hero, Aryan Khanna, an actor 30 years older; in fact, Gaurav calls himself Aryan’s “biggest fan” and has built his life around studying, admiring, and even imitating him. He calls himself “Aryan Khanna Junior” and longs to meet his hero in person, convinced that they would get along as good friends once “Senior” learns of his admiration. After Gaurav wins money in a performance contest he travels to Mumbai for Khanna’s annual birthday greeting to his fans to meet the star; but is rebuffed from getting close to him. This sets off a chain of events that both draw the pair together and separate them even further.

Reaction: Fan was SO GOOD. Plenty of “insider” SRK jokes, like the ring tone on Gaurav’s phone being the theme from DDLJ (I had to explain that to my companion, she hadn’t seen it), and how did they get him to look 30 years younger?! This is probably the best acting I’ve seen SRK do, bar none. Of course he had to try to top Aamir’s turn in Dhoom 3, but Aamir was better, I think, at doing two totally different characters.

Jenny K: I agree, though I thought Shah Rukh’s acting gave Aamir a very close run. He was using nuances of performance that I hadn’t seen for a very long time! And, it’s funny that we both thought immediately of

[spoiler alert] [spoiler alert] [spoiler alert] 

the final twins scene from Dhoom 3. What is it with the falling twin thing in Bollywood films? Showing us what a “leap” they’re attempting? Sorry, couldn’t help it.

[end spoiler alert]

Still, compared to all the cop/gangster mediocrities and misbegotten attempts at superhero films that have been emerging from Mumbai lately, Fan is close to groundbreaking!Fan: SRK as Gaurav

The de-aging effects were fascinating. His transformation was done for the most part with practical makeup effects, albeit done by Greg Cannom, Brad Pitt’s makeup designer from Benjamin Button.

The face I understand…latex pieces on the cheek and jaw, CGI narrowing the nose and taking out the lines and bags around the eyes, plus they spoke about a specific kind of contact lens that (I think) bulged out the eyes a bit, and a dental piece that changed and evened his teeth and added a slight lisp…plus the DDLJ era wig. What I don’t understand is how they got the doughy almost adolescent torso when he took his shirt off. Did they use a body double? Or did they just let him carb-out for a month and then CGI out any left-over body hair/extraneous texture? Final verdict, he still looks better to me as he is, at fifty, nose, wrinkles and all!

Fan: SRK as AryanJulie M: I noticed the teeth prosthesis–that was the only unconvincing aspect of the transformation. I also noticed the body differences–I suspected a body double with a CGI-enhanced head. But I also noticed that the 50-year-old SRK—I mean Aryan—looks way better on film than in real life (SRK’s real life), which I suspect is also due to some more-careful-than-usual special effects wizardry.

Flaws: the fight scenes went on too long (as usual, Indian film never knows when to quit on fight scenes), the of-course-he-did motorcycle chase, and the lack of a strong female lead–but I can excuse that last one because that’s not where the story really is. The other two, well, they are never my favorite parts of any film, Indian or American.

Jenny K: Actually, I saw in the credits that they were using Korean fight directors in this film for the first time. I think this is why Kathy liked it as much as she did…she’s been mega-binging on Korean films these days, and they’re luring her away from Mother India!

Julie M: Yeah, I noticed that the quality of the fighting was stepped up a little. Still too much of it, though.Fan 4

Jenny K: I liked the climbing out the window stunt, though.  Way vertiginous!

My main complaint with it, and it’s coming to be my universal gripe, is that there aren’t enough musical numbers for my song-loving palate. With all the backstage and onstage settings, all I got was snippets! And the big number, “Jabra,” which is a nice one and a big hit, is only available online, not present in the film, even over the end credits! What a waste! Here’s one with subtitles.

Julie M: But the “meta” aspect is the mind-blowing thing: an actor of incredible fame who always says he owes it all to his fans playing an actor of incredible fame who says he owes it all to his fans–but really can’t care about his fans because he would then have no time to act, which is what the fans like. There is one little speech in the film that approaches that last bit, which I think could have been done slightly more thoughtfully and REALLY blown me away.

Jenny K: I know when I first heard about Fan, and they hadn’t mentioned that it was a duplicate role, I thought how cool it was that SRK was fostering the stardom of a new young actor as the “fan.” But then I found out he was playing opposite himself, as he has done many times before, this time with the benefit of state-of-the-art CGI, and I was mildly appalled, and disappointed at the dashing of my hopes of his generosity of spirit.

Now, after seeing the finished product, I don’t believe I’ve given Shah Rukh enough credit. It actually isn’t the vanity piece I’d feared, and I left the cinema reading all sorts of things into his performance. He hasn’t put this out there as proof of his acting chops… I already knew that (Dil Se!). It seemed to me as if, with this film, Shah Rukh, as an actor, is giving us an intellectual musing on the fight within himself about what one loses when you become a star, on what comes with public acclaim and what you have to do to keep it. The character of Aryan, and by extension SRK himself, has lost his youth, his innocence, his capacity for spontaneous behavior and self-expression without self censoring, etc. He always has to “do what’s expected” or all will be taken away. I’m not left with the sense that either the actor or the character regrets the choices he’s made, but that he is always aware of them, and the costs involved. And instead of seeing him as stealing a role from a young actor, I ended up feeling that he had no choice but to act both sides of himself for us.

Julie M: Whoah. Well said, girl.

Jenny K: Thanks, glad you agree. You see some of the same thought processes involved in his two part behind-the-scenes documentaries by Nasreen Munni Kabir, The Inner/Outer World of Shah Rukh Khan (2006). My mother loved these, and trapped my father in the living room until he watched the Inner World with her. Nice memories!

[Ware! Ware! Spoilers ahead! Read on at your own peril!!!!!]Gaurav in the Crowd

Julie M: Final thing for now–about the end–I totally thought Aryan was going to apologize after he saw Gaurav lying dead on the sidewalk, and then when he didn’t I thought he was going to mouth an apology when he “saw” Gaurav in the birthday crowd at the very end. The fact that he didn’t meant that Aryan hasn’t grown from the experience, and in a way it means SRK is not as “humbled” by his fans as he pretends to be.

Jenny K: I didn’t think that Aryan had to apologize for anything except calling the police in on Gaurav at the beginning. That was “full-on heavy-handed star” mentality in action. But what he said was reasonable, and Gaurav would have been wiser to take what he said as a wakeup call. But he didn’t, and he actively chose to not let Aryan save him…he let go, didn’t he? At least that’s the impression I’m left with. But Gaurav was bat-shit crazy…so it probably would never have ended happily.

Julie M: Absolutely bat-shit crazy and I knew from the very moment he was introduced that he would die in the end. But I expected a bit of thaw, or at the very least some humanity, from the star…that didn’t really happen. I think SRK was taking some real risks with this, harking back to the early days when he did negative roles before he hit it big with romantic-hero stuff.

So, we’re both giving out two serious thumbs up for this unique departure for Mr. Movie Star Badshah Khan! Go out and catch this special picture, even if it doesn’t have enough music and dancing for Jenny the die-hard. Continue reading

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