TRUE STORY: SMS SRK, MAKE FAN!
- A surprise meeting with Shah Rukh Khan fanned Maneesh Sharma’s desire to make Fan
Shah Rukh Khan’s ambitious April biggie Fan — a film in which the Bolly Badshah plays both a screen superstar and his 25-year-old fan — has made news for its ambitious scale and story. Today, Team Fan — SRK and director Maneesh Sharma — will launch a unique ‘Fan Anthem’ that “celebrates the spirit of being a fan”. t2 caught up with Sharma — the man behind films like Band Baaja Baaraat and Shuddh Desi Romance for a ‘Fan’ chat.
Why launch a song before the trailer when normally it’s the other way round?
First and foremost, the song is not in the film. Our film is songless. The big idea was to have a marketing song that talks about this whole emotion of being a ‘fan’. Actually, it seemed the right way to go the other way round because once the trailer is out, the genre and the spirit of the film will be out there and we wanted the song to come out before that. The idea to do this song is, first, it’s a big marketing peg to establish the character of Gaurav (played by Shah Rukh) who is the ‘fan’ and second, we feel that the uniqueness of this film — besides Shah Rukh’s presence and his ground-breaking new look — is that it captures the emotions and the charm of extreme fandom… which is obviously the driving force of the narrative. So the decision to introduce a ‘Fan Anthem’… a song of the fans, by the fans…. The song gives an idea of the craziness of a typical fan and we’ve had some fun with the lyrics and music.
The idea of the song is that you don’t need to be the fan of a Bollywood star… anyone can sing this song to anybody… whoever they may be. In fact, the song is made in such a way that you can even sing it to your beloved.
Shooting the song with Shah Rukh in Delhi with a crowd of 50,000 fans was a lot of fun. Curiously, Shah Rukh has never played a Delhi boy till Fan, and he is from Delhi. The idea was to celebrate that and take Shah Rukh to spaces that we haven’t seen him in before as a star, an actor and a character. That’s the plan and hopefully, people will love the song and the film (smiles).
Like Shah Rukh, you are also from Delhi and the song’s being launched in Delhi too. Is this by design?
Oh, one hundred per cent. It seemed almost a given that we would launch it in Delhi because it’s shot there, the character is from there and so are both me and Shah Rukh. Delhi plays a big role in the narrative. We could have shot the song in Bombay too, but doing it in Delhi adds depth to the story. Also, we have shot in areas of Delhi that have rarely been captured on film. And anyway, Delhi always ends up playing a major role in all my films, right from Band Baaja Baaraat, which was completely set in Delhi.
What’s the idea behind launching the song in multiple languages, including Bengali?
When we conceived the song to establish the film and the character, we obviously thought of it in Hindi and then it was the marketing team’s idea that such a thought and such a song should have a wider reach. The regional versions of the song enable us to reach out to a lot more people and there’s always a better connect when you localise your product. And fans are fans… they don’t belong to just one region or state, especially fans of someone like Shah Rukh who is a true global superstar.
A commercial Bollywood film with a superstar... how is Fan a songless film?!
(Laughs) I know where you are coming from. But this is a thriller and when we were at the writing stage, we didn’t feel the need for a song. And, with my producer’s (Aditya Chopra) support, we stuck to the fact that we didn’t want a song in the film. You are right when you say that a film as big as this is not only expected to have songs, but also songs that are chart-toppers. But, even if I say it, the producer believed in my vision and allowed me to do it my way. Honestly, the plot of Fan is so tight there is really no space in it to break into a song.
As a college student, you had apparently said that one day you would direct a film produced by Aditya Chopra and starring Shah Rukh Khan…
(Laughs) Yes, that’s right. When I said this, I had no connection in Bombay, leave alone in Bollywood. I come from a regular middle-class Delhi family, but I always wanted to be a filmmaker. I did pursue a filmmaking course in America, but I had no idea about how to go about things professionally. I was very passionate in those days… early 2000… and I did tell a close friend of mine that I hope there will be a film one day that will say ‘Starring Shah Rukh Khan… produced by Aditya Chopra… directed by Maneesh Sharma’ (smiles). Touchwood, that is now happening.
Shah Rukh Khan playing both a superstar and his fan — how did the idea of Fan come to you?
Not many people know that the first big idea that I posed to Adi (Aditya Chopra) way back in 2006 was the one-liner of Fan. I was an assistant on Fanaa (2006) and he told me that the idea was fantastic but too ambitious for a first-time filmmaker (smiles wistfully). I told him that if I ever made the film, it would have just one star — Shah Rukh. And he told me that even more so, I should hone my skills first! (Laughs) I assisted Adi on Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008) and got close to Shah Rukh. I again took Fan to Adi and he again said it couldn’t be my first film. I felt very bad about it but went on to make Band Baaja Baaraat and two more films (Ladies vs Ricky Bahl and Shuddh Desi Romance). And then finally, I passed my test and have been allowed to make Fan.
Was it a surreal moment for you each day on set directing Shah Rukh Khan?
The first time I came to Bombay more than 10 years ago, I ended up meeting Shah Rukh. I didn’t know anyone then and till today, I don’t know why he met a complete rookie like me. People don’t believe me when I say that I just messaged him and he agreed to meet me and gave me an hour at Mannat (SRK’s home). He was very welcoming and I discussed a few ideas with him and he was so normal and so approachable. And right from that day, the idea of Fan seeded in me.
I can’t say I have been a crazy Shah Rukh fanboy, but I have greatly admired his journey as an actor and marvelled at the heights of success he has achieved. I was 13 when Baazigar released and 15 when I watched DDLJ and he was the star who had the maximum impact on people of my generation. And when I met him in 2004, my admiration for him increased 10-fold… more so because he had no reason to entertain me… and yet he did. I saw the human face of a superstar then. And the emotion that I felt towards him as a fan and an admirer told me that there is a story in it somewhere. I didn’t know what it was then, but today that story is Fan.
It’s been a long journey with Shah Rukh and Fan has a lot of my personal equation with him. And by the time I came down to directing him, there was no feeling of being burdened or intimidated. That’s also because Shah Rukh really makes everyone at ease. On set, he’s the best team player to have. He has none of the cliches that come with a superstar of his stature… he’s the most cooperative and hard-working guy on set.
Fan is a huge film in scale, idea and ambition. Did it get overwhelming for you at any point?
I had as much nervous energy and excitement as one would have for any film. It’s been a great learning experience for me and the whole team. We are doing something that hasn’t been done before, in terms of technology. Nowhere in the world has cinema used the kind of make-up and prosthetics that you will see Shah Rukh using as he transforms into 25-year-old Gaurav.
The VFX requirement of the film has been at another level and we have scaled new heights every day in terms of mounting and executing the film. There’s no point being bogged down by your own ambition when you have put your foot forward (smiles), but for me, Fan was — I know this sounds weird — almost like a student film… of course, a very expensive student film! But all of us, including Shah Rukh, were learning as we were going along. Even if I say so myself, I am confident that Fan will change the fabric of movie-making in this country.