Movie Review: 'Secret Superstar'
Opened: 19 October 2017
Cast: Zaira Wasim, Meher Vij, Aamir Khan, Raj Arjun, Harsh Jha, Aryan Ashik, Manuj Sharma, Tirth Sharma
Director: Advait Chandan
Producers: Aamir Khan, Kiran Rao, Akash Chawla, Sujay Kutty, B. Shrinivas Rao
We all dream. Some of us dream big – whether it’s about success, love, fame, fortune, health or happiness – we live in a cynical age where literally it is just our hopes and dreams that see us through. Whether they come to fruition or remain unfulfilled depends entirely on individual grit, determination, fate, and more often than not, sheer luck.
Secret Superstar, an Aamir Khan production, is an inspiring, poignant and extremely current tale of a small-town Muslim teenager Insia (Zaira Wasim), stifled between an education she cares very little about, an orthodox middle-class household where her mother (Meher Vij) suffers consistent domestic abuse at the hands of her stoic, often misogynistic husband (Raj Arjun), and her relentless pursuit to utilise her musical talent. Unbeknown to him, and at the goading of her mother, Insia uploads a video of herself singing on to YouTube, albeit clad in a burkha, so her identity remains a secret. To her surprise the video goes viral and catches the attention of an eccentric music composer Shakti Kumar (Khan, laugh out loud funny), who subsequently invites her to Mumbai for a recording, and unwittingly unravels a series of events that inevitably changes the course of Insia’s suppressed destiny for good.
Aside from a few blemishes, which I’ll come on to, Secret Superstar is one of the more engrossing pictures in a year filled mostly with sub-standard duds, and boasts a slew of good performances along with its heart-warming story. Aside from a few scenes where Wasim stumbles slightly bringing her inexperience to the fore, she’s mostly confident and virtually carries the film on her tiny shoulders, often knocking scenes out of the park and in some instances even stealing the thunder slightly from Khan’s flamboyant character. To his credit though, he is sportingly game and allows her to do so, and while the story isn’t his, he brings the house down with his quirkiness playing a character which has shades of Anil Kapoor’s Vikrant in Taal. It’s not a big part by any means, but it’s a joy to see the actor let loose after what seems like an eternity. In fact it’d be nice to see a prequel where we get to know about Shakti’s colourful life – now that's a film’s that’s simply asking to be made!
Besides the two central characters, Meher Vij, too brings depth and pain to a part that if she slightly went overboard with, could have been reduced to a sullen mess – but Vij balances it out especially in the scenes where she finds joy in an existence that is mostly claustrophobic, demeaning and devoid of any happiness. The other standout here is Tirth Sharma as Chintan, Inshia’s not so subtle admirer, who helps her through the difficult times at school and supports her in achieving her dream. The danger here is that occasionally we empathise more with his character, than the protagonist's, but that’s more down to his endearing presence as opposed to the way in which the character has actually been written.
Perhaps where the film goes slightly awry is in executing Raj Arjun’s character. His stern turn as an abusive husband isn’t exactly flawed, but it’s so one dimensional and caricaturish, one finds it hard to believe why he’s so consistently uptight and a bit of b-stard. Here, Chandan could have easily done with adding a few more layers to his character rather than writing it in such a way that he remains entirely despicable with very little dimension to his arc as the film progresses.
What's more, the relationship between Insia and Shakti hasn't fully been fleshed out. How she warms to him so quickly, despite his shady background isn't always convincing, despite a couple of conveniently added plot ponts.
Despite these niggles though, both the debutant director and the Khans have put together a mostly standout, non-manipulative, eminently likeable feature film, which has a well crafted story, peppered with wit and depth and one that will inevitably appeal to a universal audience. They're aptly aided of course by Amit Trivedi’s music (although the film could have done away with at least a couple of songs), warm performances a multi-layered plot, which despite some upsetting moments, is mostly feel good – and who doesn't like a story where we get to root for the underdog and one that fills us with hope? A well deserved four stars and undoubtedly one of the better films of the year.