When the studio Yash Raj Films decided to invite admirers of Shah Rukh Khan for the trailer launch of his new movie Fan, about a superstar and his obsessive admirer, pandemonium ensued.
The narrow lane leading to the studio gates was jammed by belligerent devotees who had queued up hours in advance. The studio has three entry gates and was hosting two events simultaneously on the premises. Fans of Fan, which opens on April 15, were routed to one gate. Another gate was guarded for a radio awards function. The third gate was designated as a secret passage for press and staff.
I walked into the radio event by mistake after flashing my press card. I was garlanded with a media pass and ushered into the media pit across a red carpet. I watched ghazal singer Penaz Masani sashay across. Something was not right. I wondered, “What is she doing here for a Shah Rukh Khan trailer release? Could she be a fan too?”
I shuffled about and asked people where I should head for a seat. No one had a clue. I walked into the lobby of the main building and tried to gain access to a sound stage towards which guests were milling. The security guards would not let me in. “Why? I am media-wallah.” He said, “I don't know.”
The man at the lobby desk sent me to and fro. Some immaculately dressed women wearing microphones and looking busy politely informed me that they didn’t know either. I decided I had had enough and would take the elevator to another floor to investigate.
The lift door opened and there he was. Shah Rukh Khan, Fan director Maneesh Sharma and their bodyguards. It could have easily turned into the kind of moment that makes for legendary drinking conversations. But there was no room for another person. I didn’t step in. I looked at them, a Zen smile breaking on my face, and then chortled. The lift closed and the star was gone. That should have been the end of this story.
Instead, I was escorted out, and my media pass taken away. “What event are you here for?” the woman showing me out asked. “The Fan trailer launch!” I replied. She showed me the other gate, the one through which the fans were trying to enter.
It all made sense then. Penaz Masani was where she deserved to be.
I joined the queue, listening to fans curse about the eternal wait. They were livid. It felt good to be among them, to think like a fan, to learn how they ached for a glimpse of their favourite star.
Half an hour into the wait, after reaching the gate, I asked the security personnel if this was the right entry point for journalists. I was yanked out of the line and asked to find the back door entry. Fan-tastic!
It was smooth going after that point. I was led into a small auditorium and indoctrinated into the cult of Fan-dom. “Shall we see it again?” asked the woman showing the media scrum the trailer, using words that would ring sweet to a true-grit follower rather than a journalist on duty.
Outside, a stage had been built from which a compere was informing fans cordoned off into male and female sections that Shah Rukh Khan was going to be present any moment and the fans would get to launch the trailer.
A fan-o-meter board was constructed on the stage, which was calibrated to record the decibel levels of the cacophony. The compere urged the fans to yell their lungs out. The meter chart displayed levels going from green to red, with red being the level at which the trailer would be released. An overhead drone further excited the sweating crowd. Some of them would later complain of suffocation and fatigue, and would be accompanied to the exit gate.
Shah Rukh Khan arrived late. The typically charismatic star regaled the crowds with stories of his own days as a fan, and the time when he was told that he resembled the actor Kumar Gaurav.
Khan plays a double role in his new movie: he plays a superstar, Aryan Khanna, as well as his lookalike fan, whose admiration develops into an unhealthy obsession. “I have met all kinds of fans and I would beat this fan if I met him,” Khan said, referring to the lookalike character.
Some followers were allowed to meet Khan in person on the stage, including one Darlingum from Hyderabad. Fans screamed to reach the red level on the meter. The trailer was shown more than once, symptomatic of what this culture of adulation demands.
When the floor was thrown open to the hordes, the first fan who got a chance was a gawky teenager named Roshan, who innocently asked the star, “When you first came to Mumbai, did you take the plane or the train?”
Meet-the-fan events are tremendous ego-boosters for movie stars. For Shah Rukh Khan, the Fan trailer is an opportunity to widen his audience base beyond the middle class and the diaspora. It is probably an immense thrill for any actor to hear his name being shouted out at top volume, but the relationship of the follower and the followed is a bit more complicated at a time when advertising and marketing campaigns play direct and indirect roles in shaping fan culture.
Is this what the character played by Khan’s double means when he says, “Pehle fan star ke picche bhaagta tha, ab star fan ke peeche bhagega” (A fan used to chase a star. Now the star will follow him)?
Roshan is the die-hard fan Shah Rukh Khan needs to follow. Not me, though. I used the interaction to sneak out because pandemonium was going to erupt very soon again.