Q&A with Maneesh Sharma on ‘Fan’ and Shah Rukh Khan

April 15, 2016

Maneesh Sharma counts himself as a Shah Rukh Khan fan. He met the Bollywood superstar when he was a struggling screenwriter and dreamed of making a film about a fan obsessed with an actor. Nearly a decade later, Sharma’s film starring Khan in a double role as an actor and his lookalike fan opened in Indian cinemas on Friday.

Maneesh SharmaSharma insists his film is not a remake of the Hollywood thriller “The Fan” starring Robert De Niro and Wesley Snipes, and says the idea was to make a thriller against the backdrop of a movie star and his admirers. The film-maker spoke to Reuters about “Fan”, his own equation with Shah Rukh Khan and why his film is more relevant in the age of social media.

Q: What do you think about Hindi film fans?
A: It all stems from the fact that Hindi films and cricket are the biggest obsession of our country. So by default you will find more layers of fandom, attachment, love, jealousy, hatred, and putting someone up on a pedestal and then taking them down, all of these things come into play more in cricket and films. This fandom is about that one person – Shah Rukh Khan. Or Salman Khan. Or Michael Jackson. These people represent various things at various phases in your life. Today’s generation calls him SRK – they don’t know who Shah Rukh is. I have always called him Shah Rukh. That is why “Fan” is a much more relevant film today than maybe it would have been five years ago.

Q: Why is this film relevant today?
A: Because people are made to believe that they have virtual access to the person they are idolizing. They feel closer to him or her, they feel they know more about their idol and that they are available to them 24×7 on their phones. So subconsciously, they are thinking “woh mera apna hai” (he is one of my own). Shah Rukh is in their living rooms. Whereas ten years ago, there was always a distance between an idol and his fans. That distance is still there, but because of social media, the illusion of access is there. Nineteen million people are thinking – I am talking to Shah Rukh everyday. But you think that’s a real conversation? You still don’t know the guy. This is the world we are living in today. This is a whole sub-culture.

Q: But isn’t that a double-edged sword even for film stars? They want to reach out to their fans using this medium and increase visibility, right?
A: That’s true. But let’s go back when there was no social media. If you had two bad films, I am ready to bring you down from the pedestal.

Handout still from the film "Fan"Q: What do you make of these fans? Those who stand outside an actor’s house for hours, hoping to catch a glimpse.
A: I don’t judge them. I am sure it is stemming from a certain place. If you ask me, do I associate with that? Maybe not. But I should not be saying that because my journey is a little more evolved. I am an educated person, I am working in the industry. My world view is different. What does it take? I don’t know. I myself have been following Shah Rukh and his career for such a long time and I identify so strongly with him.

Q: Could you elaborate?
A: For my generation, he is a person who became a star in front of us. For me, Shah Rukh … had that Delhi boy personality. I worked in the same spaces – I went to the same college and then worked with Barry John (theatre director with whom Shah Rukh Khan worked), albeit a few years later. Also, my neighbour used to be a batchmate of his, and he always told us stories about him. One of the most impressive things about Shah Rukh is not his acting or persona, but that he had won the Sword of Honour in his school St Columba’s. It is given to the student for all-round performance. Which means you were bloody good at sports, academics, debate – everything. I remember being very impressed by that. He was just very cool. And my very first award – for best debut director – on my birthday, given by Shah Rukh Khan. There are just too many coincidences.

Q: Does this admiration get in the way of directing him?
A: Not at all. It makes it much easier. I’ll tell you what – I am aware that I am making a film with a big star. This was my dream and it is coming true and it’s cool and great. I am very objective about that process. But in the mean time I have made a few films, written a few films. Things have happened for me too.

Handout still from the film "Fan"Q: Can you admonish him on sets and get your way?
A: Yes, absolutely. He believes that this is a director’s medium and he gives you enough space. I just had one deal with him – I told him that you shouldn’t mind retakes because this is a performance-oriented film and I want it to be pitch perfect. He said up to 25, I won’t even ask you. At 40, I might ask you, ‘am I such a bad actor?’ and till 80 retakes, we’ll keep talking. I keep saying Shah Rukh is the most untapped actor we have. He hasn’t even started yet.

Q: Why is he untapped? Is he working with the wrong people? What’s your perspective?
A: It’s a two-way street – the choices he is making and what the director gets out of him. When you have such a reassuring star in your film, you might want to play on the star quality in your film, rather than anything else. This question needs to have a lot of viewpoints. He was not thinking not to act, that’s for sure. He is the most committed person on sets.

Q: Do films like “Dilwale”, “Chennai Express” and “Happy New Year” give him much scope for acting?
A: I know what you mean. We also live in the world where audience memory is very short. In 2007, he had “Chak De” and “Om Shanti Om”, which both worked wonderfully well. He is doing a “Dilwale” and we know it’s not had the best reception, but he is also doing a “Raees” and a “Fan”. So he is also doing his “Chak De” and “Om Shanti Om” even now.

(Editing by Tony Tharakan; Follow Shilpa on Twitter at @shilpajay and Tony at@TonyTharakan. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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