Sunday, October 29, 2017

Secret Superstar

Movie Review : Secret Superstar
Released : 2017
Language : Hindi
Director : Advait Chandan
Genre : Drama
Starring :  Zaira Wasim, Meher Vij, Tirth Sharma, Aamir Khan, Raj Arjun
My Rating : 7 out of 10

Amir Khan, as a producer, definitely thinks outside the formula. I have made it a point to watch his movies in a theater, even when I have lost almost all interest in Bollywood movies. His latest production, “Secret Superstar” is another feather in his producer cap.

The story is as straight-forward as it gets. Insia (Zaira Wasim) is a 14 year old living in Vadodara. She has no interest in studies and dreams of being a superstar singer. Her father Farookh (Raj Arjun) has no appreciation of her talents and aspirations, and only offers apathy at best, and downright mean opposition at worst. Without her ever supportive mother Najma (Meher Vij), she stands no chance of ever achieving her dreams. Her mother risks a lot, suffers a lot, including physical violence, as Farookh is an angry abusive husband. Insia is old enough to understand and wants her mother to file for divorce, but there is really no practical way out for them. In order to pursue her dream without being recognized and stopped, she records her songs wearing burqa and releases them on YouTube. The songs go viral, and even though it’s anonymous Insia gets an opportunity to sing for a fallen-from-grace music director Shakti Kumar (Aamir Khan). She has dual hopes from this, one to become a star and second to help her mother get free. There is no suspense here, and no spoilers. This is a feel good movie. The emotional impact is from incidents of daily life, and I have not disclosed any  of those details, on purpose.

As you can see, the movie is tackling two themes. The family story, focuses on domestic abuse and mother-daughter bond. The other just glosses over the meteoric rise of an anonymous singer. This inconsistent handling of two important elements of the storyline is a major shortcoming of the movie that stops it from being a great movie like what “Dangal” was.

Dangal was fantastic as a both an achievement story, as well as family bonding story. Secret Superstar is fabulous as a mother-daughter bonding story. Many of the emotional scenes are potent without being melodramatic. This part manages to effectively comment on surprisingly many social issues. Domestic abuse, discrimination against girl child, women empowerment and neglecting non-traditional aspirations amongst others. The mother-daughter friendship is beautiful and touching. But there’s much more. The support Insia receives from her much younger brother is innocent and heartwarming. And the adolescent love story is amusingly cute, and doesn’t distract from the main theme of mother-daughter relationship. This all is high class movie making, and Advait Chandan must be complemented for both direction and script.

As an achievement story, it falls flat on its face. There are some elements of the Disney show, “Hanna Montana”. But the lack of any real excitement in the trajectory of Insia’s super stardom is just painfully bland. One song upload and she is famous. Worse, we get to hear maybe two songs of her supposedly superstar talents. Fame, opportunity and success just arrive at her doorstep, like an online pizza order.  The talk about her songs on TV, and the reaction of characters to it feel completely fake. Even the character of Shakti Kumar, and his antiques, although humorous are still just superfluous. The complete blame of this failure falls on the shoulders of the script and the direction, meaning Advait Chandan. Because the actors are just phenomenal.

Zaira Wasim and Meher Vij are in the focus of the camera for the most part, and their fantastic performances will keep you glued to your seats, and be emotionally invested in them. The cast is mostly unknown but capable actors. Raj Arjun does justice to the unenviable role of the abusive husband. Tirth Sharma as Insia’s true friend Chintan is adorable. Aamir Khan tries best with whatever material is offered to him, but cannot hide the fact that he is playing with an obviously inferior hand. Again, this is Zaira’s movie and Meher’s movie, everyone else is secondary. Fortunately their acting is exemplary.  

My recommendation is that, the family story alone makes it a “must watch” movie. But tone down your expectations for the movie as a whole. It’s very safe for kids, and enjoyable for the whole family.

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