While Disney’s been making movies with brief scenes making older stars look younger, this year a film was released where an actor was digitally made young for a starring role. 2016's Fan stars Shah Rukh Khan in two roles, as a movie star and that movie star’s obsessive fan, who happens to look exactly like a younger version of that star. The movie’s not one of Khan’s better films, in its best moments it has a dream-like fascination, but it mainly seems to be an exercise in special effects technology and actor virtuosity. On those two counts, it succeeds.
The older Shah Rukh Khan plays Aryan Khanna, a Bollywood superstar very like Khan in real life. The first half of the film, though, is from the point of view of Gaurav Chandna, also played by Shah Rukh Khan, made to look younger with expensive digital effects. Gaurav has an elaborate one man show at a park where he performs renditions of Aryan’s famous songs. Obsessed with Aryan, Gaurav begins stalking the superstar until he’s caught by Aryan’s security. Aryan meets with the captive Gaurav and, trying to be gentle but firm in rebuffing him, he actually humiliates the kid who vows revenge.
Gaurav’s actually pretty close to the kind of role Khan rose to fame with, like 1993's Darr: A Violent Love Story where he played a dangerous young man obsessed with a woman who doesn’t return his affection. And Khan does a great job in both roles, imbuing Gaurav with physical mannerisms and ticks in his speech that are credible yet very different from Aryan.
How convincing is the special effect? Well, I thought Gaurav looked like a young man who maybe had some plastic surgery, but if I didn’t know going in there was cgi at work, I wouldn’t have known. The weird thing is that he doesn’t really look like a young Shah Rukh Khan. In a scene shot in Madame Tussauds, Gaurav, pretending to be Aryan, points out that Khan’s wax replica (playing Aryan’s wax replica) has a nose that’s much too big. Khan’s nose, like a lot of people’s, has gotten bigger with age but the effects for Gaurav do more than make it smaller, they completely change the shape, as you can see comparing a screenshot from Fan with 1995's Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge:
What could be the reason for this difference? I can think of three possibilities: A—the filmmakers wanted Gaurav to look a little different from Aryan since he is, after all, a different person, but that doesn’t make sense given the second portion of the film is about Gaurav fooling people into thinking he’s Aryan. B—Shah Rukh Khan’s vanity vetoed a faithful reproduction of his young nose, or C—the effects artists failed to accurately capture the nose because their work was coloured by their personal impressions of a young Shah Rukh Khan. It’s this last possibility I find the most likely and I can see it becoming a recurrent issue as actors are made younger or dead actors are brought back to life. People remember Karl Malden’s big nose, would a resurrected Malden have an even bigger nose than the real one because that’s how he’s defined in the cgi artist’s mind? Would a resurrected Peter Lorre have bigger eyes and maybe a smaller neck?
Gaurav also looks different from Shah Rukh Khan in his old films because the makeup was different in those films. Budgets were different, makeup styles were different, the makeup artists were different. I wonder if a young Shah Rukh Khan would make it to-day in this Bollywood which is increasingly starting to look and feel like Hollywood. Fan is under two and a half hours, well under the traditional Bollywood three to four hours, and has no musical numbers. Actresses are skinnier than they use to be, you don’t see uni-brows like Kajol’s in Dilwale Duhania Le Jayenge. Just look at Juhi Chawla in this clip from Darr, representing a style and impression of beauty wonderfully distant from films made in the west:
Fan’s plot is absurd and bends over backwards to give Khan opportunities to show off his great skill, as in one scene where Aryan puts together an absurd scheme to capture Gaurav by performing in Gaurav’s one man show. The film has goofy fight and chase scenes, one of them an impressive sequence across the rooftops of Dubrovnik, but they also serve to undermine the reality of the plot. The whole thing feels a bit like watching Shah Rukh Khan’s acid flashback.