This Friday, filmmaker Maneesh Sharma returns as director for the first time since Shuddh Desi Romance (2013) with the highly anticipated Fan.
The much-promoted film, featuring Shah Rukh Khan in a double role, is the biggest film Sharma — known for smaller mainstream-ish gems such as his debut Band Baaja Baaraat (2010) — has ever helmed.
In a long interview with Box Office India published Saturday, Sharma spoke about how the idea of Fan came to him back in 2004, when he met Khan for the first time.
At the time, Sharma had just completed a degree in filmmaking from CalArts in Los Angeles, CA, United States. He told BOI about how he actually got to meet King Khan:
I graduated in May and was back in Delhi in June. While I was there, I was trying to figure out a way to meet this great actor called Shah Rukh Khan. It was obviously my next step as I always wanted to make a film with him. I finally got the phone number of his spot boy, Subhash dada. One day, I called Subhash dada and introduced myself. I said I was calling from LA, that I was studying here and was trying to figure out a way to get in touch with Shah Rukh. I said I had this concept I wanted to bounce off him and didn’t know how to go about it. I asked him if it would be possible to speak with him.
He said, ‘Saab abhi shot mein hai, aap 10 minute baad phone karna.’ I called dada back 15 minutes later and asked, ‘Sahab free hai kya?’ He said, ‘Nahi, aap… abhi bhi chal raha hai thoda shot.. achcha hold kariye aap.’ And this voice comes on the line… it was Shah Rukh’s. He said, ‘Hello,’ and I just stood there, stunned, thinking was this really Shah Rukh Khan on the line? I still don’t know why he came on the line. So that kick-started my larger plan.
The phone call resulted in a window of opportunity for Sharma. In July, Khan would be practicing for a live performance show for two weeks, and the director, who had a story to pitch, could meet him then. A "flabbergasted" Sharma arrived in Mumbai for six days, meeting other A-listers, but with his eye on the prize: an opportunity to meet Khan. Armed with the star's manager's number and email address, he stayed at the homes of acquaintances in order to save money. However, two to three days later, he was yet to get a response and a definitive time of meeting from Khan.
A file photo of Maneesh Sharma at the Toronto premiere of 'Shuddh Desi Romance'
A dejected Sharma sent him a long message, lamenting the fact that he'd come from Delhi to meet him and that he should "at least" let him know whether the meeting was even a possibility. For a struggling filmmaker who had a foot in the door with an A-list star, that was a bold move, and it could've easily backfired.
Except it didn't. Three hours later, according to Sharma, Khan replied: "Is 6.30 okay to meet up? I am busy in a shoot. I should be back by then. Here’s my address, Mannat, Bandstand."
Sharma arrived on time and approached the security guard at Mannat, where, as is a common sight on most days, several fans had gathered hoping to catch a glimpse of the star. He was told that the star wasn't home. Sharma gave him his name and asked him to check, but the guard gave him the same response. "I was here and apparently you’re not home," he texted, and got a response 10 minutes later saying that he was running late and would text Sharma as soon as he arrived. This is what happened a few moments later:
I waited again, and that’s when I saw what people were waiting for. The moment his car rushed in, the gate opened, the car went in, then the gate closed. They were just happy to see him inside the car.
I went to the guards and said, ‘Mera naam Maneesh hai,’ and he said, ‘Please aayiye.’ That was a very big moment – the Mannat gate opens and I am walking inside Mannat! In my head, I am walking in 48 fps (frames per second), I am going to meet Shah Rukh Khan, and thinking, yeh ho kya raha hai.
He went inside and met Subhash dada, who politely asked him to wait for another 10 minutes after inquiring whether he'd like tea or coffee. Sharma describes that period as "the longest wait" he had ever experienced.
I was sitting in a room, alone in Mannat, the room had a great sea view, there was a Pepsi machine in the room, back then there was VHS, there was jukebox. I was wondering what is going to happen and how I would react when he walked in. I was thinking these thoughts and from the corner of my left eye, I spotted him walking in. It was like those film shots where you see him walking and the stairs draw closer.
The two ended up chatting at length during the course of their chat, which Sharma describes as a "good, pleasant conversation", discussing their common connections. Like Khan, Sharma is also from Delhi, also attended Hans Raj College, and had also spent time with Barry John's theatre group. They also discussed Sharma's script idea, while Khan also played with his son Aryan, who was quite young at the time.
Sharma told BOI:
Everyone asks me where I got the Fan idea. I think that was the moment… when I saw everything and everyone around him. The idea germinated on that day. There is a sense of distance when you meet a star, it could be a film star, a cricketer, anyone. Once that distance is bridged, it has a certain kind of turnaround. I am not saying it’s negative but there is a journey there. Back then, I was obviously thinking about people waiting outside while he had gone inside, but there was hope that he would come out. That emotion excited me and I wanted to talk about it. That’s how and where Fan took shape.
Over the years, Sharma would go on to work with Yash Raj Films and meet Khan in various capacities, including as a first assistant director to Chopra on Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008), where the star realised only "about a week or 10 days" into the shoot that this Maneesh was the same man he'd once met at his home for 40 minutes back in 2004. He first pitched the idea of Fan to Khan when Yash Chopra's Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012) was being planned, and by then, their equation had changed; the star responded favourably to the idea. Two years later, when they finally met to discuss the script that Sharma had penned by then, Khan took notes and followed up enthusiastically with meetings.
Today, with Fan ready for release in a matter of days, Sharma sees it as a culmination of a journey that took more than a decade for him to realise. When asked by BOI about what he hopes the reaction will be like, he said, "A lot of appreciation, a lot of feedback, love, accolades and a lot of numbers. That’s what I am hoping for."
Fan, also starring Waluscha de Sousa, releases in theatres on Friday.
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