The premise of the movie is that a fan looks like the star he is a fan of. Not only is this spooky, but it gives immense power to the fan to actually wreck havoc in his star's life. Early in the film we see that Gaurav owns a cyber café that is named AK Cyber Chat after his favorite star. On the entry gate of his shop, the word photocopy is written. It is befitting to show the photocopy because Gaurav is indeed a copy. In fact, when the goons come at his shop, one of them even calls him photocopy. For many kids, superheroes are their idols. Gaurav calls the two young kids in his cyber café as Superman and Batman, and shuts their game down as he has no interest in them, because his only superhero is Aryan. The cyber café is also a statement on how the internet has played an important role in reducing distances between the stars. One can instantly connect to their favorite stars using the internet, something completely impossible ages ago. The social media, such as Facebook, Twiitter, and WhatsApp, play another crucial role in the film, which Gaurav uses not only to reach Aryan, but also as a weapon to tar Aryan's image.
In the beginning of the film, Gaurav says he followed 'cut-copy-paste' actions of Aryan, and he and Aryan are made of the same mitti. Whatever was left of the mitti that God used to make Aryan, she used it to make Gaurav. He says, "Main aur vo alag alag hai, dur hai, lekin ek hai." They are poles apart, but there is an essential sameness in the two of them. Not only they look like each other, but also they share some similar traits. Early in the film, Gaurav asks his dad to put perfume on him. When he is getting ready to meet Aryan in Mumbai, he again sprays perfume on himself, and later, in two scenes, we see Aryan, too, putting a perfume on himself. When Aryan's assistant calls Gaurav 'sanki', Aryan replies back, "Accha toh main kya hun?" They both are sanki and crazy, perhaps, Aryan is even more crazy in some ways. When Gaurav enters Aryan's study, he says to Aryan's wife that Aryan collects memories of the days that he wants to keep closer. Memories samet ke rakhna chahta hai apne pass. Likewise, Gaurav also collects memories of Aryan with him. Both Aryan and Gaurav collect memories. In their final confrontation, Aryan explains to Gaurav that there is not much difference between him and Gaurav, and he started from the same humble beginnings like that of Gaurav.
Not only common traits, but also there is the recurring motif of reflections in Fan. Gaurav and Aryan are look alikes of each other. There is an interdependent relationship between them. Gaurav hai to Aryan hai, Gaurav nahi to Aryan kuch bhi nahi. Later, Gaurav writes on the mirror in Aryan's room, "Main hun to tu hai." It is a fabulous scene when Aryan and Guarav meet for the first time. They are sitting opposite each other in a room with mirrors on two opposite sides. In the mirror behind them, we see the image-in-an-image pattern till infinity. The film is full of meta references and the scene perfectly encapsulates that concept. Image in an image. Story in a story. The two men who look like each other are themselves sitting opposite each other, as if each is the reflection of the other. In fact, the entire film is full of mirrors, rather I should say images. At so many times, we see the characters in the mirrors. When Gaurav is travelling without a ticket in the train, we see his face in a mirror on the berth. When the ticket master saves him from jumping, his face is again seen as a reflection behind him. Later, we see Aryan in front of mirror, smiling and looking at himself. In another scene, he examines his face in the mirror. One of the significant events in the film happens at Madame Tussauds—a place where exact replicas of real-life personalities are kept. There is something very dark about a living look-alike guy calling a look-alike wax statue as fake, when both of them are actually copies of another real-life personality. When Gaurav dances in front of Aryan's images at the competition, it feels as if Aryan is Gaurav's reflection at the back. In the final scene, when Gaurav finally gets the hug he wanted, Aryan gives an advice to Gaurav, "Jo mazaa apni pehchaan ke saath jeene me hai, vo kisi dusre ki parchchai banne me nahi." The pleasure that one gets by living with your own identity is much more than living as someone's shadow with no identity of your own. This was the inherent message of the film as well.
The poster of the film also tries to show us the reflection theme. We see both of them side by side in the poster. There is the face of Gaurav, shining in the light similar to that of the sun (or fire, or something warm). Next to him, lies the face of Aryan, shining in the light similar to that of the moon (or water or something cold). Gaurav Chandna has the name 'Chand' that means the moon. Aryan Khanna has 'Aryan' that means someone related to the sun. Aryan is the superstar, and the sun is also called as the largest star (superstar). The moon has no light of its own, but its light is a reflection from the light of the sun. The moon is dependent on the sun for its light. Likewise, we see this dependent relation in the film's poster where Gaurav is like the sun, while Aryan is like the moon, quite opposite to the words in their names. In another poster, the color of light on the two of them are reversed, matching their names (Aryan in sun, and Gaurav in moon) signifying the interdependent relation between the two of them. A fan needs a superstar, but a superstar also needs a fan. Main hun to tu hai. Without the two, the individual entities cannot survive, which the film later shows us, too. This is also seen at many other points in film. When Gaurav is in prison, there is a constant shift between the moonlight and the sunlight that falls on his face. In another brilliant touch, when Gaurav falls to his death, there is a set of lights that fall with him, and the color of those lights is again yellow and blue, like the sun and the moon. There are no other lights that fall with Gaurav. Mid-way through his fall, the lights went off, perhaps, as a reminder of the life lost. A superstar lost a fan, and a fan lost a superstar. Both Aryan and Gaurav lost .
Shah Rukh is no stranger to controversy. All through his career, there have been enough incidents in his life that he has been (in)famously associated with, and that have given much fodder to the media. It is worth applauding that Fan refers some of these incidents and Shah Rukh does not shy away from their portrayal on the screen. The scene where he talks about giving a slap to Sid Kapoor (SK) was quite reminiscent of the slap he had given to Shirish Kunder (or Salman Khan—both SK). The #AKvsSK could be interpreted as the constant Twitter battle between the fans of Shah Rukh and Salman Khan (SK). At one point in the film, the media talks about Aryan as an ageing star whose films have started to flop, and his position is threatened by Sid Kapoor. This criticism is often heard for real life Shah Rukh whose last few films have not been well received. When Hrithik came on the scene in the early 2000s, everyone started saying that Shah Rukh's career is finished. Shah Rukh is quoted saying that he was afraid to venture out at that time. Later, we see Aryan dance at the wedding of industrialist Bhutiani's daughter, very much like when Shah Rukh danced at industrialist Laxmi Mittal's daughter in Paris. After all, I am spending a bomb on you. Only you can. Shah Rukh was paid £300,000 to dance at that reception, an amount that most people won't see in their life time. When Aryan is chasing Gaurav, at many times, Aryan is seen holding his back, and Shah Rukh over the years, has undergone multiple surgeries due to his back injuries. At one point, even the ticker in the news channel shows that someone named Shiv Rawail (also credited as film's assistant director) purchased Bhubaneswar Bulls, a nod to Shah Rukh's investment in Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League.The whole boycott of Aryan due to the sexual harassment case in Fan is eerily similar to the recent absolutely rubbish debate around intolerance, where Shah Rukh was quoted heavily out of context, and the nutcases demanded his boycott. When Aryan's show is about to take place, not one person showed up. He is standing all alone in the auditorium, staring at his own abyss, as if his fear has come true. In numerous interviews, Shah Rukh has said that losing the top position is his biggest fear. I am scared of losing. I am scared of coming second. I am scared of not making it big. It is fear that drives him, and he has spent half his life wanting to be loved. The story and screenplay of the film pay a tribute to Shah Rukh's films and his life. It is some kind of cosmic connection that Shah Rukh's first film was also titled Deewana—crazy. In fact, the very first scene of Fan is taken from a sequence of Deewana, his first film, where Shah Rukh dressed in blue pants and blue shirt does a rollover jump. Gaurav is like the crazy and the passionate lover from Darr, but his love is for Aryan. There is the tribute to Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, and the mandolin. The chase sequences in Dubrovnik at the roof tops reminded me of the race sequence in Main Hoon Na. The climax is a silent tribute to the epic falling scene in Baazigar. Shah Rukh has played numerous double roles in his films, such as Duplicate, Paheli, Rab Ne Banaa Di Jodi, Ra.One, Om Shanti Om and Don. The film reminded me a lot of Don. When I first saw the trailer, I felt that eventually, something like the twist in Don would happen where Gaurav will become Aryan. Although it did not happen exactly, Aryan and Gaurav did end up becoming each other. I cannot think of another star who would has put his real life and his story on screen with such detail.
Fan continuously surprised me with its darker, sometimes, almost creepy undertones. Fan compares the relationship of a fan and a star like that of devotee and his God. When Gaurav is about to participate in the Super Sitara competition, his dad asks him why is he wasting time and money in participating. Gaurav replies that the prize money is twenty thousand rupees, which his father won't give him to meet Aryan. He, then, says to his father, when he goes to the Hanuman temple every week by changing four buses, and donates one hundred and one rupees every time, isn't that, too, time waste? For Gaurav, Aryan is his God. Think about it, the entire world is fighting wars over God, someone whose existence is not even proven, and they call a fan crazy who wants to go and meet someone who at least is real. So, who is the crazier one? Gaurav who worships a real human, or the people who worship an imaginary God? There is also a somewhat related theme of stature between the two of them. Gaurav sees Aryan for the first time from a lower platform, while Aryan is shown at a higher place. When Gaurav meets Aryan in person for the first time in prison, he is lying on the prison floor, and cannot even get up properly while Aryan stands tall in front of him, reflectng the lower stature of a devotee in front of his God. There is a similar dynamic seen in their chase sequences where Aryan is seen at a height. At some point, Aryan tells Gaurav that if he has to make him fall, he will have to first reach him. During the end, it is Gaurav who climbs the stairs to see Aryan performing on stage as if he finally made Aryan reach his level. Gaurav's death occurs when Aryan is seeing him falling from a height. Nothing in the film is without some reason, and the film is meticulously detailed. Like even the food choices are shown consistently. When Gaurav is going to Mumbai, he orders a vegetable thaali, and when he is Dubrovnik, he orders a vegetable sandwich.
When Gaurav runs away from Hotel Delite, the chase sequence that follows is fascinating. At one point in that sequence, Gaurav is jumping from parapet to parapet, he runs into the 'fan' of the air conditioner. In the next moment, he catches a wire that came from another 'fan', this time a table fan, from inside the room. The fan (table fan) inside the room falls, while the fan (Gaurav) outside trying to hold on, also falls, and it is only the wire of table fan that supports him from falling. When Gaurav enters Aryan's house, there is another big table fan in the background in the dark shadows behind. There was something discomfiting about the old crumbling parapets of the building, and the dilapidated worn-out walls of the jail. Perhaps, like the crumbling stardom of an ageing star. The scene of Gaurav lying on the prison floor, like a fan trapped in his own world. After the policemen beat him, there is a precise moment when Gaurav vomits something, and sweats profusely. It was that exact moment the love that he had for Aryan came out of him. After this, he comes back to Delhi, and that is why he closes his shop, and removes every poster from his room. His love came out in that very moment in jail where he threw out the love that was deeply internalized in his body.
There is also a theme of circularity in the film. In the first half, the fan chases the star while in the second half, the star chases the fan. The hunter becomes the hunted. In the first half, Gaurav has to spend a few nights in jail due to Aryan's orders, while in the second half, Aryan has to spend some time in jail due to Gaurav's deeds. The film began at a fair in Dussehra, and ends after a year at the same place on Dussehra (there is even a star near the ferris wheels). It felt as if the brightly rotating ferris wheels at the fair denoted a certain symbolism that their lives have come a full circle. In the earlier fair, it was Gaurav enacting Aryan on the stage, but in the end, the cycle completes when Aryan has to become Gaurav, and Aryan enacts Gaurav on the stage. There is again some kind of deeper meaning that this happens on Dussehra, a festival known for the celebration of victory of good over evil. Ravana, the king of Rakshasas, was perhaps the smartest person to live, but due to his ego, he met his end at the hands of Rama. During that scene, Neha actually calls Gaurav as Rakshasa. Rakshasa ban gaya hai tu. Gaurav was Aryan's biggest fan, but just to get an apology from Aryan, he committed serious crimes, and we all could see that his end was kind of coming and it was quite clear that it would definitely not end well for him.
The film also takes a potshot at fans of superstars. Gaurav says that other fans are dogle—two-faced. They will criticize the star's films, but when they meet the star, they will rush to click a selfie with him. He is not that kind of fan, he will support Aryan in everything. He will follow the exact same path as Aryan followed. He will go to meet him because dur se to kachche vale fans taali bajate hai. This is another theme that the film tries to explore.
In an article in India Today, critic Anupama Chopra explores the cult of the stars. She mentions the hypothesis of film historian Nasreen Munni Kabir on why we are crazy about stars. Accoridng to Kabir, Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, India's first filmmaker, came from a family of priests. Our earliest films were historical, mythological or dramas based on religious texts. Traditionally, our film stars have played larger than life roles in dramas that allude to cosmic battles of good versus evil. The religiosity has transferred and stars arouse passionate devotion. In another article in The New York Times, author Suketu Mehta writes, "Why do I love Bollywood movies? To an Indian, that's like asking why we love our mothers; we don't have a choice. We were born of them. Kitschy, illogical, often defying common sense, these movies have made me who I am. They shape the way I conduct my love affairs or think about religion or treat my elders." Everyone can come up with their hypothesis, but it all boils down to one thing—connection. And, no one else can understand that connection except the one who felt and lived through the connection. Like Aryan did not understand Gaurav's connection. This connection transcends the barriers of time, space, and sometimes, even death. Like Gaurav's connection. He might be dead, but his fan spirit will live on forever as a reminder of that connection.
"Kitna bhi chilla lo, jati nahi aawaz us tak."
P.S.—Where to get those super cool matchboxes with Shah Rukh on them?
P.S.—Where to get those super cool matchboxes with Shah Rukh on them?