The Effect Shah Rukh Khan’s Recent blockbuster is a crowd- pleaser, but is it part of a disturbing trend that Sees Movies glorify their celebs?
Once in a very blue moon, art — if Bollywood cinema can be called that — seeks to imitate life. Like Fan does. How close it is to real life, however, is debatable.
Shah Rukh Khan, renamed Aryan Khanna ( partly derived from his real- life son) is presented as the kind of superstar who attracts global frenzy. European tourists at London’s Madame Tussauds mob him for autographs, and TV crews in Croatia go ballistic when he’s accused of bad behaviour at an NRI wedding.
As directed by Maneesh Sharma, written by Habib Faisal andmonitoredbyproduceradityachopra, the characterisation of the half- factual, half- fictionalised superstar is so hybrid that your mind takes off on a spin.
To what degree is Aryan Khanna an authentic reflection of the superstar? Not much, I’d say. Here’s a portrait which is, at best, sketchy and, at worst, an exercise in glorification. This man always does the politically right thing. If the script brings up the point that the superstar can slap an upcoming actor — a veiled allusion to Shah Rukh Khan slapping director Shirish Kunder in public — that’s conveniently kept off- screen. It isn’t picturised, coercing the viewer to believe that SRK’S justified in whatever he does.
Contradictorily, the superstar is shown to be piqued when his fan ( also enacted by SRK) roughs up that corny caricature of the rival actor. Double standards, anyone? Surprisingly inert, devoid of any signs of empathy, Aryan Khanna tricks his fan into being jailed, orders the cops to beat him up and dispatches his admirer as soon as possible in a train, back home to Delhi. What? Why? The suggestion is that the superstar won’t tolerate any misdemeanour, be it from a friend or foe.
Moreover, when the Delhiwala fan goes unhinged, stalking his object of desire in the tradition set by Yash Chopra’s Darr, all over London and Dubrovnik, what do you know? He turns into an amalgamation of James Bond and Jason Bourne, displaying his skills as an action hero.
Gratifyingly though, the fan comes off as quite believable, since he doesn’t have to be mythicised. Bollywood star worshippers can be obsessive, even pyschopathic, and although he’s still adorable and human, at the end, he must get his just desserts, leaving his idol looking quite glum and reflective. Quite facilely done.
This deification of a movie star at the expense of his fan’s life is seriously questionable. But, as the saying goes, jaane bhi do yaaro. Fan has amassed upbeat box office collections and a largely appreciative audience response. Any attempt at criticism and, dare I use the word, analysis, would be superfluous.
Yet, I can’t help but feel that Bollywood actors, who once just had magazines and assorted media platforms to boost their images, now have an alternative — the movies themselves. Nothing new you might say. After all, Dharmendra did drum some sense into the star- struck Guddi, and Jackie Shroff was gallant with the aspiring actress played by Urmila Matondkar in Rangeela. But those were departures from the norm, when movies about movies weren’t considered fail- safe material.
Nowadays, this is no more the case. The world applauded but Amitabh Bachchan wasn’t pleased with Danny Boyle’s dig at him in Slumdog Millionaire. A boy tumbled into muck, ran to Bachchan, whowasalighting from a helicopter, and whooped with joy on getting his autograph on a stinky photo. Another humour- laced comment on Bollywood mania can be seen in Anurag Kashyap’s fawning account, Murabba, about a young man from Amitabh Bachchan’s hometown Allahabad camping outside the superstar’s house. Mission: to hand over a jar of home- made fruit preserve. Kashyap’s tribute to the Big B was
the least appealing segment of Bombay Talkies, a collection of short films to celebrate the centenary of Indian cinema.
To return to Fan, I can’t help feeling that there has been an overload of films that extol Shah Rukh Khan. The Badshah of Bollywood’s own film production company produced Billu, featuring Irrfan Khan as a village barber who reconnects with his childhood buddy. The buddy has become a megastar, incarnated by the Khan himself in a cameo. Predictably, he’s warm and friendly, unaltered by his incalculable fame and fortune.
Next, in Zoya Akhtar’s Luck by Chance, Shah Rukh Khan showed up in a guest appearance to talk about how friends from a star’s struggling days are to be treasured. Quite.
Actor- director Makarand Deshpande came up with Shahrukh Bola Khoobsurat Hai Tu ( title redolent of Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon), in which a flower vendor is complimented by Khan, but no one believes her.
And there’s Nagesh Kukunoor’s soon- to- be- released Dhanak, in which a girl is convinced that her little brother will regain his sight on meeting Shah Rukh Khan, who’s endorsing an eye donation campaign. In other words, our Khan could well be a miracle worker. The very suggestion is irrational and disturbing.
At the age of 50, SRK is in a comfort zone. His Dilwale may have evoked a horrified response but today, with Fan, he’s back in action. There’s no doubt he’s a formidable actor, capable of re- invention. Still, a semblance of balance, if not caution, has to be maintained. Success is one thing, power another. And, as it happens with clout- wielding actors, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
SRK interacts with fans at the premiere of his latest movie; in
a fan waits outside Big B’s house to give him a homemade preserve; Billu depicts King Khan as a humble, friendly celebrity; SRK plays a double role in Fan: both celeb and stalker