Movie Review: Secret Superstar, Aamir Khan does it yet again, such an apt and true reflection of what happens around us. The battle between adversity and resilience. The movie addresses few key “under the carpet” vices of the society from Domestic Violence to Female Foeticide, yet instilling the hope that Dreams Do Come True only if you are determined enough not to give up!!!
Cast: Aamir Khan, Zaira Wasim, Meher Vij, Raj Arjun
Director: Advait Chandan
Rating: 3.5 stars
Insia is not a good student. She struggles with science as well as trigonometry, scores 30 out of 100 in a class test, and – despite this being the year of her board exams – the only time we see her textbooks actually being used in Secret Superstar is when they are stacked together to prop up her laptop so she can get the right angle to record YouTube videos. She is not a great sister, frequently fantasizing about escaping her father and leaving her little brother behind. And, given the way she berates and mocks her mother, Insia doesn’t seem like the ideal daughter. She even snaps at the one boy who is nice to her at school.
It is these imperfections that make Advait Chandan’s Secret Superstar work, even though it is a treacly and predictable underdog story. We do not usually see villainous parents in children’s films, yet here India’s father is a scoundrel, and the girl plots in order to free her mother from this tormented marriage. As she writes out a plan (number 29, her notebook tells us) this feels like The Parent Trap in reverse. Daughter and mother wish that the father is posted abroad so that he stays away for eleven months at a stretch. He might be back home 24 hours a day during the Ramzan period, but the two women decide they can bear him that long. It turns out they cannot – and should not – and India needs out.
She wants to fly away from this oppressive and dead-end Vadodara life using the videos, where she sings songs she’s written and plays guitar while wearing a burkha. These become an immediate viral sensation, and a newspaper clipping tells us that her first video has “double the hits of Yo Yo Money Singh.” Soon, a Bollywood music director called Shakti Kumaarr comes calling, and Insia groans. “Couldn’t AR Rahman have emailed instead?”, she grumbles, immediately entitled to online success, and finding herself stuck with an obnoxious jackass who – as her mother says – composes songs that sound like remixes of songs that never existed. This is the ultimate dismissal, certainly, but also an insightful one
This is all you need to know about Secret Superstar, a simple film that is unashamedly saccharine and manipulative, yet has the ability to surprise us in ways small and large. It is a film about a little girl, sure, played by Zaira Wasim who was so good as the young Geeta in Dangal, and is earnest and irrepressible here, but it is a film just as much about her mother, played winningly by Meher Vij, who was the Afridi-worshipping mother of the mute girl in Bajrangi Bhaijaan. As a woman who requests her son to hold his bowel movements in for a little longer so that she can watch a few more minutes of a glitzy televised awards show, Vij is super. Hers is a role about making tough decisions, and she shines even when she has to parrot the kind of lines we will forever associate with Farida Jalal.
Raj Arjun, who plays Insia’s father, makes him into a sickeningly believable hound, one who treats the son like a child and the daughter like a liability. The best performance in the film comes from a kid called Tirth Sharma who plays Insia’s admirer and best friend, Chintan. The film, bewilderingly enough, plays a weird song about his Gujarati celebrations – it singles out dates like “31st December, 14th February and Navratri” – but the kid is a champ, immediately likable, natural, and energetic enough to keep the film’s tempo from flagging. Perhaps this was what Nawazuddin Siddiqui was like as a child.
It was also a relief to see a Bollywood A-lister such as Aamir Khan make way for the women to shine in the drama. He features predominantly in the second-half, and his outlandish behavior as a fading musician, Shakti Kumar, is gratingly over-the-top and over theatrical. In some of the scenes, his physical movements are so exaggerated that it makes you wince. Perhaps, Khan’s flamboyant act was to inject some much-needed humor into the film. There are a few snide jokes that land, but some get lost in his over-acting, bordering buffoonery.