Fan(2016): This time Shah Rukh is in the mood to kill….and we don’t mean that just as a metaphor. As this far-from-frothy take on the very complex star-fan relationships develops into a ominous cat-and-mouse chase, Shah Rukh grips both the characters—yes, for those who came in late he plays both the star and the fan—in a firm grasp that makes us …simply gasp.

Shah Rukh is in full command of both the characters. He gives both Aryan and Gaurav ample room to grow, grow apart and then clash in ways that shows what skilful scripting can do to a superstar’s yearning to excel.

Outwardly playing Aryan Khanna, the superstar , would seem relatively easier for Shah Rukh than playing the obsessive fan.But playing the star is actually a far tougher task. Shah Rukh incorporates elements from his real life into the on-screen persona. Aryan Khan comes across as a very humane icon, there are bouts of charm and fits of rage going hand-in-hand here. He makes no attempts to deify himself. That’s what gives the narrative its muscle and lubrication.

As for the fan Gaurav Chanana,the prosthetics go a long way in creating a character who is so believable and yet so distinguished Aryan Khanna that it’s almost like two different actors playing the two roles.The voice, the body language and the complete character transformation, we’ve seen Shah Rukh do it in My Name Is Khan and Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi.

From the sunny to the sinister, Shah Rukh’s Gaurav Chanana takes us on a rollercoaster ride across a plot which is propelled by pungency .The superstar gets some valuable support from co-actors like Sayani Gupta , Deepika Amin and Yogendra Tikoo whose presence is skillfully woven into the darkly disarming drama of a duel between the dapper star and his distressed disingenuous doppelganger.

Writer Habib Faisal seems to tap into the fan’s inner-most adulation for the star.There is more angst than sweetness in the relationship. In scene after scene ,even when the angry fan gets down to ‘create a scene’, Faisal conceptualizes the turbulent conflict between the idolized and the idoliser, with a keen eye on keeping the drama on a tight leash.

For a large part of the narrative the energy and mood are bridled and broken down to an acceptable and credible level. Director Maneesh Sharma films the duel of deception in bright colours that flatter to deceive. The bonhomie wears thin soon enough .When it does, the narrative is ready to shift gears with brisk adeptness.

A lot of the credit for bringing the two protagonists’ irreconcilable lives into a karmic clasp goes to editor Namrata Rao. She breathes an urgency into the proceedings without knocking the drama senseless . Towards the end, the plot begins to fall apart. Which, in a way, is what is only to be expected. Doom, you see, a pre-condition in a relationship between unequals.

What Fan ultimately says about the star’s equation with his admirers is that tragedy awaits any attempt to break the barrier that divides the heroes from their followers. Every star who thinks he and she must mingle with the fans and “belong” with them must see this film.

Director Maneesh Sharma whose garbled take on love s*x and live-in relationships in Shudh Desi Romance had my mind boggled and my head rattled , lends a lucid heft to the drama in Fan. Though the climax is not as strong as the rest of the film we come away from Fan with far more happy thoughts than we did from Shah Rukh’s other recent films.

Yup, this is the wapsi of the actor who was too engrossed in working with friendly directors to see that these ‘friends’ were doing to his career exactly what the fan sets out to do to Aryan Khanna’s career.

Nil Battey Sannata(2016):
Swara Bhaskara’s spontaneous unrehearsed seemingly uncomplicated interpretations of the most layered emotions is not only exemplary , it is a one-woman acting school on how not to like you are….well, acting.There are many sequences in the very oddly titled Nil Battey Sanatta where Swara sweeps you into her character’s innermost world of melancholy and despair without making you drown in maudlinism. Playing a domestic help Chanda who dreams of making her stubborn spoilt bratty daughter Apeksha(confident newcomer Riya Shukla) into something bigger than destiny decrees for the poor, Swara delivers a virtuoso performance. She gets the minutest of Chanda’s feeling on screen without screaming for attention.

Of course it helps that Swara has stunning support from her co-stars. Chanda’s rapport with her thoroughly unlikable daughter, and more specially the easygoing kinship she shares with her employee(Ratna Pathak Shah) are signs of maturity and wisdom way beyond the film’s placard-flashing theme on female literacy .

Yes, there is a message.And a very basic one at that. Girls need to get educated. Period.

Happily the film is bogged down neither by its pedantic ambitions of making a statement, nor by the protagonist’s financially-challenged status in society. Yes, she is a domestic help. But her employee treats her as an equal. Yes, she lives in a one-room chawl in Agra with her daughter. But the two have a television set blaring out cheesy hits which they dance to when they want, and Chinese meals are ordered for celebrations when the occasion arises.

Director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari keeps it smilingly simple. Simple and straight.Thankfully there are no bouts of furious sentimentality. Swara plays Chanda with feisty positivity and yet this is not a character or film that romanticizes poverty. It isn’t even a lyrical celebration of destitution the way Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali or Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay was.

Nil Battey Sanatta occupies a world of half-finished dreams and smothered aspirations with a spirit of positivity that is the opposite of despair.Apart from a few false notes(for example the sequence when the daughter pipes in during class to eulogize over her mother’s struggles, or that utterly unconvincing sequence where Chanda visits the exccessively kind Collector of the district, played with a sweet sincerity by Sanjay Suri) the debutante director strikes no false notes , covers no ground that the plot needn’t cover.

The casting goes a long way in adding miles to the director’s long-legged uncluttured narrative. Of course Sawara holds centrestage confirming her place among the most significant contemporary actresses currently on the scene. But the rest of the cast, including the young boys and girls in the class that mother Chanda and daughter Apeksha attend together , are outstanding. Ratna Pathak Shah and Pankaj Tripathy(the latter as the extremely benign school principal) remind us what capable can do to a worthy film.Riya Shukla as the stubborn daughter slips into an unlikeable part. It’s the kind of sullen sulky daughter’s role that Swara Bhaskar had played with conviction just two years ago in Listen Amaya.

The smallest of parts in this film are beautifully carved out. Chanda’s neighbor Razia is barely there on screen. But she matters.Or Ratna Pathak’s husand…barely shadow in the background. But nonetheless a character.

This morally uplifting inspirational heartwarming fable is a must watch, if only to see how difficult it is to be simple.And how much we miss those simply told tales of life by Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee.