Before we meet Fan director Maneesh Sharma, we are told he doesn't answer 'tabloid-type' questions. He is busy editing his next release, the big-budget Fan with Shah Rukh Khan in a double role, set to release on April 15. Fan is his fourth film, after the 2010 hit Band Baaja Baraat, Ladies VS Ricky Behl (2011) and Shuddh Desi Romance (2013). But, as the Delhi boy tells us through the interview, he always meant this to be his first.
"I told Adi (Aditya Chopra) about a movie I wanted to make, exploring the dynamics between a fan and a superstar. It hasn't been attempted in Indian movies before, and though it's not a personal story, it fascinated me. It's relevant too, isn't it? The gap between the fan and the star is widely reduced thanks to social media. But all Adi said was this can't be your first movie," says the 35-year-old, as we chat over coffee at Yash Raj Film's Andheri office. Chopra 'hmmd and hawed', asking Sharma to work on Aaja Nachle (2007) as assistant editor, instead. The next time, he asked him to work on Jab Tak Hain Jaan. After that finished, Sharma was once again twiddling his thumbs, his eyes framed on the Fan idea, when Chopra called him to the office.
Shah Rukh Khan in make-up by Hollywood artiste Greg Cannom
"He asked me what's up. Once again, I said I am working on Fan. He said 'yes, yes, great idea, but very tough. I told you, it can't be your first movie. Why don't you think of another idea?'" Sharma was dejected, and out of that rejection, emerged Band Baaja Baraat. "Who knew it would work so well? All I wanted to do was Fan, and just because I needed to think of another idea, I thought of that! But my heart was still stuck on Fan."
Sharma was equally sure that he wanted SRK playing both, of crazed fan, Gaurav, and the superstar Aryan Khanna. "During Jab Tak…, there was a silent agreement that Shah Rukh would do Fan. Who else do you see with that kind of aura?" We agree, and then ask, is Aryan Khanna a version of SRK?
"In his journey, sure. He comes from a middle-class family in Delhi and becomes a superstar. But, other than that, he is a fictional character." Sharma is, like most before him, in awe of Khan. "He was the most experienced person on set but behaved like the youngest. It was always like, 'did I do this right? Should I do this again?' He was always learning," says Sharma. He is more excited about SRK playing Guarav, the fan, who also resembles his idol, Aryan Khanna. It could be because having two SRKs could just work better for the film.
YRF roped in Hollywood make-up guru Greg Cannom, who worked on Brad Pitt-starrer, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, to work on Khan's look, making him appear 20 years younger. "On my way here, I was talking to the peon, who told me that one of his relatives asked him, did they shoot this movie at the time of Karan Arjun, and using the footage now. I didn't know someone could even think like that!"
We then ask him the most obvious question: how his "a fan becomes the greatest enemy" movie is different from the obsessive fan Hollywood movies. Does anybody die? He laughs, "You want me to tell you the plot? I can't. It's been tackled so that this-is-what-could-happen tale becomes a thriller. So, we all think we are close to the star, right? But what happens when you realise that's not the truth."
Point out his affinity for north Indian characters and he laughs, "In the next movie, it won't happen. I am from Delhi, so I took inspiration from where I grew up." We start talking about the Delhi and Mumbai divide and he laughs, "Aisa hota tha. Ab, I think, bas ek joke hai. It's all fun and games, and these days, every other person you meet in the industry is from Delhi!"
While he awaits the release, he doesn't want to second guess what the audience wants. "The line between what works and doesn't is thin. People like all sorts of movies. Be it Bajrangi Bhaijaan or a Piku. It's such an exciting time to be a filmmaker. That's the best part."