First of all, calling Fan (released on April 14, 2016) one of Shah Rukh Khan’s biggest flops is a bit of a misnomer. When King Khan himself has such box-office failures like Jab Harry Met Sejal and most recently Zero, Fan doesn’t seem like the worst choice in the world. But what makes it worthy of being called a flop, is not the disappointment it caused at the box-office, but rather the disappointment it caused for his fans. While Shah Rukh has found his fame thanks to swoon-worthy romancing on the big screen, Fan was a film that had none of the usual doting stares and wide-open arms that we’ve come to expect from him. It didn’t even have any of the enigmatic action hero that we saw in Don. Instead, what we got was a psychological thriller that did the unthinkable: suggest Shah Rukh Khan was human.
Let’s get the plot out of the way. Fan follows the life of Gaurav Chandna, a young boy who is a die-hard fan of actor Aryan Khanna. Both characters are played by Shah Rukh Khan, though he underwent prosthetics and makeup to play Gaurav in a way that the character still looked like Shah Rukh but moulded with different clay. As the film progresses, Gaurav’s obsessive actions towards Aryan lead to a clash between the two as Gaurav seeks revenge for what he deems as ill treatment by his idol.
What transpires is a story and experience that goes into the psyche of not just an obsessive fan but also the successful actor. It is clear enough that Gaurav’s extreme love for Aryan is a destructive one, to himself and to others. Yet when you see that ending shot - of Aryan about to turn away from his crowd of adoring fans but then turning back with renewed respect when he remembers Gaurav - we get an insight into how public figures can be risen up and then quickly broken down again. It is by no means random that the story is of a fan that looks almost exactly like his idol.
In a figurative and literal way, Fan shows us we can be our own worst enemy and the dangers of forgetting where we come from. After all, the motive of Gaurav’s revenge is the perspective that Aryan had no respect for who brought him the success he has now: his fans.
Even teasers for the film played up to the theme of conflicting identities. One started off like an inspirational documentary based on the life of Shah Rukh, the star. Shots of his megastar success juxtaposed with him winning his first ever acting award fill the screen, set against a sentimental tune. Gaurav narrates the joy and happiness that his “God” has brought him, simply by existing. At this point, it looks like a sweet, light-hearted film about a young boy and his admiration for a man whose stardom is astronomical. Then the title screen appears, showing the word ‘FAN’ in bright red, block letters made up of several photos of characters in the film, similar to how Gaurav’s room is patterned with pictures of Aryan Khanna. The title begins to fracture, on the brink of shattering, a representation of how Gaurav’s mentality steadily breaks down throughout the film.
The most interesting part of the film is how Shah Rukh practically parodies himself. While it’s obvious enough that Aryan Khanna is based on his real life persona, there are other factors that are included in the character that make you stop and think, “Wow, that’s really true to life.” Aryan Khanna is shown being invited to perform at the wedding of a billionaire’s daughter, having a wax figure of himself unveiled at Madame Tussauds and being frisked by the London police for a crime that he did not commit but Gaurav did. The former two are very much true to life, with the latter being a clear reference to Shah Rukh’s less-than-stellar experience at American airports. During a speech at Yale University, he had famously said, "Whenever I start feeling arrogant about myself, I always take a trip to America. The immigration guys kick the star out of stardom.” Yet another quip of how easily our stars can be taken down a notch just as easily as they can be put on a pedestal.
Finally, there’s the fact that Shah Rukh Khan was doing a double role in the film. One could argue that this casting was needed. The entire point of the revenge that takes place is because Gaurav is able to impersonate Aryan and thus destroy his life. But there is something deeper behind it. Maybe Shah Rukh was taking this opportunity to remind the viewers, even himself, that he wasn’t always ‘King Khan.’ That he was once a ‘common man’ like the rest of us before success took him into a stratosphere different to ours. But at the end of the day, it is a common man, the one who criticises his films, trolls him online and who can lose interest in him that ultimately could bring him back down.
It is understandable why Fan didn’t work. The film teeter-tottered between genres too much to commit to a certain audience. It wasn’t enough action and thriller for the masala movie-goers to enjoy and it wasn’t deeply psychologically-explorative enough for the more indie film buffs. But it can and must be respected for what it set out to do: portray one of the most powerful names in Bollywood as not just a name, but a man.
Perhaps years later, Fan will be treated in a different light by critics and SRK fans alike who tore it apart when it released.