Fan (2016)

Fan- Movie Poster

Aryan Khanna (Shah Rukh Khan) is the reigning King of Bollywood. Gaurav Chandna (Shah Rukh Khan) is 25 years younger and is known in his colony as Junior Aryan Khanna. The resemblance is demonstrated in one awesome, heartfelt, funny talent show turn. He is a superfan, rational in all areas of his life except where Aryan Khanna is concerned. Junior’s passion becomes as destructive as it was once supportive. Aryan says he owes his success to his fans, but he doesn’t want them in his life. Gaurav doesn’t see a distinction between the public persona and the man – he made Aryan Khanna a king, and he can unmake him. Do stars owe their fans anything more than being a star? And why do we care so much about professional liars and dresser-uppers?

Maneesh Sharma gets a great performance from Shah Rukh, a veteran of the twofer deal. Aryan is the big star who lives in in a marble and crystal bubble. All the trademark SRK mannerisms are there – the sarcasm, the dimples, the charm. He lives in Mannat, his wife is called Gauri, he has kids, he gets paid to dance at big society weddings, gets into fights with other stars, is always late, has bad art, owns props and costumes from SRK films. But is he reeeeally SRK? That’s one layer of the game Shah Rukh and Maneesh Sharma play with the audience in this most meta masala. Gaurav is a youthful puppy faced Aryan lookalike. His characterisation goes beyond the fancy visual effects and body doubles to look like a young version of himself. Gaurav has a jaunty walk and several of his hero’s mannerisms too, but just a little bit off beat or jerky looking so it’s close but not perfect. When Gaurav is “doing” Aryan, his expressions change and his voice lowers in pitch to heighten the resemblance.

There is of course a supporting cast, but this is so much about the herocentric world of star and fan that Shah Rukh is in almost every shot. I liked Shriya Pilgaonkar as Gaurav’s crush, Neha. She is a pretty girl next door type and has a good rapport with the nervous and jumpy Gaurav. Yogendra Tiku and Deepika Amin are excellent and very believable as loving parents with a blind spot to their son’s weirdness.

Manu Anand’s cinematography makes Fan look amazing. Bombay is the contrast of Aryan’s cool world with the grimy, seedy, well-worn and fabulous city, Delhi is the intimate and homely neighbourhood, and the Dubrovnik sequence has echoes of Bond. Gaurav has a great chase scene with the police in Mumbai where he leaps from window to window, hanging from canopies and AC units, eventually wrecking the tiffinwallahs delivery success rate by sending dhabbas flying.  But guts and adrenalin can only take him so far, he stills gets nabbed. When Aryan chases Gaurav through Dubrovnik, it is beautiful as well as a pumping action scene. And Aryan has 25 years of being an invincible hero under his belt.

Fan-Gaurav meets Aryan

There is a moment where had Aryan behaved differently, Gaurav would probably have gone home and calmed his farm. But Fan uses old SRK interviews to tell us that Aryan won’t step back from putting himself first, or he wouldn’t have been driven enough to make himself into a huge star. Aryan takes a swing at the press for missing the point and talking about his image when the real story was overlooked. Some confrontations with British police felt OTT to me in terms of the acting (is it just lame white extra acting?), but my experience arriving in London probably doesn’t compare to, say, SRK landing at an American airport. Sharma also blends in footage taken outside Mannat and from the recent Temptations Reloaded tour. So Aryan is shaped by incidents that echo Shah Rukh’s past. It’s a smart way to both add cred and amp up the meta to stir up more questions.

The visuals also convey both the inner worlds and the tension between Aryan and Gaurav. Gaurav’s room shows that Aryan occupies all the space in his life. When the crowds outside Mannat disperse, they leave detritus in their wake – thongs (I’m Australian, that is not as dirty as it sounds), paper, stuff – as the only sign they exist. When Gaurav waits outside to see Aryan on his birthday, the only thing he hears is his own voice. When the POV switches to Aryan, we get a wall of noise and a sea of faces. In one fight scene, the hate is palpable. Aryan really wants to hurt Gaurav, and Gaurav is too far gone to stop himself. As blows are traded their posture starts to mirror each other, almost as though one man was fighting himself.

It’s not perfect. The movie would have ended really quickly had any law enforcement agencies thought to look for fingerprints, DNA, reliable witnesses, or just done their job. But why use science when you can play cat and mouse with your characters and with the audience? Viewing companion The Mahesh Fan felt the second half got a bit unrealistic in the context of the rest of the film being underplayed by Bollywood standards. I didn’t mind the action scenes at all, as I thought it showed in a very filmi way what Aryan was – a movie hero. Of course he could handle a motorcycle chase, a rooftop fight, a long emotional speech, all without batting a stunning eyelash. That is what made him Aryan Khanna. (Sidenote – The Mahesh Fan was an extra in Chak De India and says SRK was given the nickname No-Show Shah Rukh because of his perpetual tardiness. We laughed a lot when Aryan rocked up hours late to an event.)

This is a smart film about the industry, about fan culture, and stardom. There is even a little thread about aging gracefully in the public eye (or not – maybe as one waxwork attests). There is temptation to read into every line and interrogate every symbol, but Fan is also a well-executed ripping yarn and entertainment. All the working bits of your brain can be happily occupied watching it. The Mahesh Fan’s verdict was it needed more songs, more dancing, and about twenty minutes less in run time. I can see her point, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment. I am so happy I love, and am a bit disturbed by, this film. Nice one No-Show!

Advertisements

Dilwale

Dilwale_Poster

Kaali (Sharukh) and Meera (Kajol) fall in love. Kaali tells Meera he is a gangster, son of don Randhir (Vinod Khanna). Meera tells Kaali she is an artist and they do lots of picturesque and cutesy romancing. But Kaali finds out there is more to Meera than being a simple artist. Eventually they part and go their own ways. Fifteen years later, Veer (Varun Dhawan) meets Ishita (Kriti Sanon) and they fall in love. Veer is Kaali’s little brother, although Kaali now calls himself Raj and is a simple mechanic and car modifier. Ishu’s big sister? Yeah. Will Veer and Ishu ever get together in the face of such strong family opposition? And why did neither Kaali nor Meera ever move on and marry someone else?

My love for Shahrukh goes way, way back, and I was not disappointed at all by him in Dilwale. I’ve always liked him most in roles where he is not too sugary sweet. I particularly liked the moments when, as Raj, he let the calculating menace of Kaali show through. He seemed completely at home in his character’s skin without looking like he’d phoned this one in. The fight scenes showed Kaali as a relentless and brutal machine. Careful angles and editing made it seem as though Shahrukh was doing all his own work in the action sequences so there was no break in the dramatic tension. I’m sure his stunt guy was working overtime but I think they’ve done a great job when it is hard to pick who is who.

His stylist also did a great job of making the 15 year gap between timelines seem believable. Plus I enjoyed the double layered linen shirts, sometimes matching or in a monochrome mix, and always with a hint of cleavage. Well done, that person.

And after Janam Janam, all I can say is “move over Mr Darcy”. (Plus, as far as I know, Colin Firth has not fixed a VW Beetle in the rain while dancing and wearing his Mr Darcy puffy shirt.)

Like Kaali there is more to Meera than meets the eye, and Kajol is fantastic. She looks great and gives Meera a tough femininity that really works. Of course she has amazing chemistry with Shahrukh, and I think the film should have concentrated on their story. Kaali and Meera were like Romeo and Juliet who had survived and moved on in life, if not emotionally. I was more interested in what they had been up to since they last met, how they went legit, and what would happen next, than I was in Veer and Ishu’s sincere puppy love. One thing that I really liked is that the women drive the pace of developments in their relationships. Raj/Kaali told Meera she had got him all wrong. She didn’t budge just because he looked sad (and hot), but when she was ready she investigated further and she listened to the evidence.

Varun is pleasant, can dance, is good in action, but his dialogue delivery was odd. It sounded Shatneresque. Mumbled! And! Like! He! Spoke! With! An! Exclamation! He seemed to be pushing to make his action bigger, but instead it looked like his timing was off. His best moments were one on one with Shahrukh as the brothers dealt with the rocky road to true love. In one scene they are laughing through tears and it was genuinely touching, and then later a grim looking scene turned to sheepish laughter. I’d like Varun to do more action centred roles as I think he’d be great in that genre.

Kriti Sanon seems to be eminently qualified to be a romantic lead by virtue of not wearing much. Her acting is not offensively bad, but like Varun her shortcomings were all the more evident for the contrast. She fares better in scenes with either Shahrukh or Kajol as maybe she had something more to work off where Varun was a bit patchy.

Vinod Khanna and Kabir Bedi played Kaali and Meera’s respective fathers. They were charming and pragmatic, loving their families and hating their enemies with equal vigour. The stuff revenge sagas are made of.

Dilwale-flash cars

Shetty’s taste is hit and miss for me. The audience I saw this with was in stitches at the excruciating wordplay from Oscar (Sanjay Mishra). I loved the montage of lies that Anwar (Pankaj Tripathi) and Shakti (Mukesh Tiwari) spun, using snippets from what was on TV, to cover up Raj’s past. Veer cheekily does the SRK arms flung wide and lean when he needs help, channelling his inner filmi hero, and knowing that pose never ever fails. But when Mani (Johnny Lever) turned up in a fro, lungi, and mesh vest, masquerading as a South Indian thug I couldn’t understand why Shetty thought it was OK in Dilwale when he’d largely avoided such nonsense in Chennai Express. Boman Irani has settled comfortably into a half-arsed overacting groove that belies his abilities. There are lots of little references to DDLJ and other films from Love, Actually to Dude, Where’s My Car, and some laugh out loud lines so it pays to pay attention.

I was dying to see Gerua. I’ve recently been to Iceland and had visited several of the locations, not knowing Dilwale had been shooting there earlier in the year. I can assure you that the countryside really is THAT spectacular. Janam Janam is lush and full of longing, and showcased Kajol and Shahrukh’s chemistry with some age appropriate choreo. Varun got the best intro with the colourful Manma Emotion Jaage. Tukur Tukur plays over the end credits so if your audience is as annoying as mine was, you’ll probably just see a line of people’s butts shuffle past! The difference in style between Kajol and Shahrukh and Kriti and Varun is really evident as the youngsters act at the camera while the established stars know exactly where the camera is, but also know it will find them so they just do their thing.

This is definitely a good bet for the SRK or Kajol fans, but for others maybe not so much. I do think Dilwale delivers on the promise of being (fairly) entertaining, gorgeous to look at, and with loads of energy, but it falters when the film moves away from Raj and Meera. One I’d watch again on DVD and make judicious use of the fast forward button!

Billu (2009)

Billu-title

So. If you are considering a leap onto the “original is best” Malayalam bandwagon and insist that I must see Kadha Parayumbol, please take a moment, breathe, perhaps go make a cup of tea instead. I’m perfectly happy with this film! What makes Billu work so well for me is that I have a high degree of awareness and appreciation of Shah Rukh’s career so the references and sly jabs at and by SRK really resonate. I wouldn’t have that to the same extent with a different regional cast, even if it is Mammootty in the big star role.

Priyadarshan directs a deceptively simple slice of life drama. Billu (Irrfan, in no surname mode) is a barber in picturesque Budbuda. Sahir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan in King Khan mode) is a massive movie star. Sahir suggests Budbuda as the location for the village scenes in his current project. Filming in the village was essential to the story as otherwise how would the Martian brother find his long lost sibling who was wearing a matching locket that beeped. I liked the interplay of real life and filmidom, in scenes when Sahir was enduring the plot narration, or when the villagers watched the shooting as though they were seeing life on Mars.

Mayhem erupts in Budbuda once the villagers find out that Billu and Sahir were childhood friends. Everyone wants to get an autograph, to get their brush with fame, and all the bigwigs demand that Billu introduce them to Sahir. But Billu repeatedly dodges the issue, even when his wife Bindiya (Lara Dutta) and annoying kids keep asking. Eventually the villagers start to believe he lied and accuse him of defrauding them of the gifts they had willingly pressed upon him.

Irrfan relies on his slightly oddball, rumpled, everyman persona for Billu and it works a treat. He comes across as good hearted but a little cynical, proud in himself but overwhelmed by the difference in status between himself and Sahir. Billu has told his family of a childhood friendship with Sahir, but is totally unprepared for how his village reacts when they find out. He is reluctant to contact Sahir, citing bygone time and the difference in their positions. But Billu’s inarticulate objections fall on fallow ground. It’s interesting that when Billu was negotiating with the school or others he could be quite glib, if apparently simple. Billu did go to the shooting and marvelled at the spectacle of Kareena’s duckface in Marjaani along with everyone else, but he flubbed all opportunities to speak to Sahir. I think he just wanted fate to intervene and take care of the logistics so he could see his mate without forcing himself upon Sahir.

Lara Dutta is beautiful but not too filmi glam as Bindiya. I could feel her frustration, not at being poor, but at having to be subservient and cop all the crap that comes with being seen as a beggar. Bindiya dreams of meeting Sahir and of the benefits that knowing a big star could give her family, but isn’t greedy. She just knows how things are when you’re the outsiders, and wants to take opportunities where they arise. Bindiya obviously thinks the world of Billu and it took a lot for her to actually ask him if his friendship was real. I thought it said a lot that there was no rancour in the conversation, and Billu still walked her to the school to hear Sahir speak. They had a solid relationship and as more of their backstory was revealed I had more appreciation for her.

Sahir is often absent from the action, but his presence permeates everything. I like SRK as a bad guy, and as a hero, but I especially like him as a hero who still has a healthy reservoir of cynicism alongside the cheesy entertainer reflexes (I also loved OSO). I enjoyed his character’s observations on controversy, and expectations audiences have, and his little encounters with Chaubey the guesthouse manager. Some dialogue sounded very similar to things Shah Rukh has said himself so I found the added element which may or may not be a reflection of his own views very appealing. Apart from That Speech he keeps Sahil quite sensible and vaguely amused by all the shenanigans unfolding around him, with occasional flashes of crankiness that may be caused by chafing from all the bedazzled outfits.

Sahir’s moment with Billu is quite beautiful, and so much better than the big build up that preceded it. It’s a performance I enjoy both for the overt manifestation of star power and the glimpse under the glossy veneer, and the expert manipulation by a master of crowd pleasing.

Shah Rukh’s own career is referenced extensively in posters on village walls, old movie stills and promo pictures, a montage celebrating Sahir’s stardom. The film within a film device also allowed some spectacularly silly and blinged out song concepts as they didn’t have to fit in with the plot as such, and could also use a parade of Shah Rukh’s recent-ish heroines. In every song there is a moment when he gets a goofy grin and he can’t help uncle dancing a bit despite the choreographers’ best efforts. I love it. Plus I think Evil Anthony makes an appearance.

Each shot serves to express the focal character’s universe, from set design to lighting to the framing. It’s a pleasure just to look at this film. Pritam made Billu’s songs and background music more organic than the filmi stuff, and they were accompanied by lush “real world” visuals lovingly captured by V Manikandan.

“Jaaun Kahan” is a bewildered meditation, while “Khudaya Khair” is a sweetly romantic dream that could star either your husband or Sahir Khan, mood depending. The village setting was glorious and while I’m pretty sure it was in Tamil Nadu I chose not to overthink the geography/language mash up.

The standouts in the support cast were Asrani as Naubat Chacha, a rare voice of moderation and always seeing Billu’s side, and both Om Puri and Manoj Joshi throwing their weight around as self-important and self-proclaimed VIPs. I also liked Rasika Joshi as the long suffering principal who turned out to be not such a bad old stick.

Would this film make you a Shah Rukh fan if you weren’t one already? Maybe not. But it is a departure from his Rahul shtick and there is enough of a gleam in his eye and a quirk to those famous eyebrows to make me think he had a bit of fun playing with his own image. And I’m a sucker for both sublime and ridiculous visuals. 4 stars!