Secret Superstar is a 2017 Indian musical drama film, written and directed by Advait Chandan, and produced by Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao. The film stars Zaira Wasim, Meher Vij, Raj Arjun and Aamir Khan.[ The film tells the coming-of-age story of a teenage girl who aspires to be a singer, uploading videos on YouTube while disguising her identity with a niqab, and her relationships with her mother, father and mentor.The film deals with social issues including feminism, gender equality and domestic violence
Its not easy creating a movie discussing sensitive topics, especially regarding women rights without seeming preachy. In fact, I have often treated women rights more as human rights. It shouldnt be about someone being male or female, I think its enough if we can just respect and treat everyone equally. India as a society may have come far from the days where women would live their lives tortured and in silence for the sake of their families, but social issues in the country still have a long way to go. Women often keep quiet in the face of abuse for one reason or another. Whether its the safety of their kids, monetary support, or just societal pressure. Women who do manage to get out of abusive situations are often rejected by their own family too, for fear of embarrassment in the society. All in all, things discussed in this movie are a situation thats faced by many women in India. And given the response to this movie in other countries, especially China, its apparent that a lot of women face similar issues worldwide.
Yet this movie discusses this issue fairly well. Insia Malik is a 15 year old Muslim girl living in a city in India. She loves singing and dreams of becoming a superstar. But her father is quite orthodox and conservative. So Insia and her mother figure out a way for her to explore and pursue her singing without her father finding out. He visits home only once a week due to work, and so while he is away, Insia wears a niqab and posts videos of herself singing and playing the guitar on YouTube. Ingenious right? The brilliant plan launches Insia into becoming a secret superstar and she is noticed by a big time producer from Mumbai. The rest of the movie follows the story after.
Zaira Wasim is brillliant as Insia. She had worked with Aamir Khan before on his uber popular film Dangal (another solid recommend). Her performance in Dangal was amazing. She absolutely kills it as Insia too. Now I am sure being really close in age to her character helped her a lot, but her portrayal of Insia is as heartfelt and genuine as a performance can get. She gels in so well with her character, its hard to tell if she is truly acting. She behaves very much like a teenager and her actions and dialogue feels very real. Props to the writer and screenwriter for that. She is a teenager who genuinely feels like a real teenager. Something that is severely lacking in American movies and TV shows. Her acting on screen is refreshing to watch. You feel her irritation and helplessness in not being able to follow her dreams as she likes. Her suffering when she sees her mother get punished for defending her daughter. Her shyness as she freezes up when her classmate confesses to her. Wasim was absolutely perfect here. I dont think anyone could have portrayed Insia better.
Bollywood as an industry seems to be owned by a handful of big name actors and directors. And in such a monopoly, gems like Meher Vij are lost. Vij plays Insia’s mother Najma. She sacrifices her own needs over her daughter. She hides from her husband to buy Insia a laptop and then a guitar. She is still, however, a middle class housewife in an orthodox household. But despite all the mental and physical abuse, she doesnt lose her cool and does her best to support Insia. One of the best scenes in the movie is a confrontation with mother and daughter, which, lets be honest, Lady Bird was a lesser version of this relationship. She is a brave woman who does her best to her abilities for her kids. And much more strong than Insia could ever imagine. Despite her helplessness, she doesnt let life suffocate her. Her character just increased my respect for mothers worldwide.
A special mention to Raj Arjun, who plays Farookh Malik, the abusive orthodox father. I always have immense respect for people who play negative roles on screen. I am sure he is a pleasant guy in real life (I mean even if he is not, its none of my business). But I have always felt bad for actors who tone down their own moral compass to encapsulate and bring to life a horrible person on screen. His character in the movie is despicable and the actor portrays him to the T. I wonder if reviews credited him enough, but he did a fantastic job. And played off really well with Vij and Wasim’s mother daughter duo.
I dont want to discuss Aamir Khan’s role in the film. I am not sure who wrote his character. Its stupid and loud and thinks hes being funny, but the character is extremely cringey and boring. Maybe they were trying to bring just a smidge of levity in the movie, what with the heavy topics being discussed all the other times. But I dont think his character needed to be that way. Even if they wanted a funny person in the story, whoever wrote the outline and dialogue for the character did not write the rest of the movie. Insia’s school friend provided plenty of levity, I feel. Given the kind of actor Aamir Khan is, I am not sure why they wasted him in the movie like this. Even if the movie makers wanted the attention on the rest of the story, I think they could have written his character much better.
Secret superstar is a brilliant movie. It is, however, at its core, a teenage wish fulfillment movie. The first hour and half or so are brilliant. The story moves along at a decent pace. The last half hour, however, get a little insane. It is a piece of fiction, so I guess there are no rules how to go about it. But the ending felt like it was done hastily. There is not setup whatsoever and feels like it was shoehorned in to justify bringing the secret superstar to a big stage. The ending speech was heartfelt but still felt lazy in terms of writing compared to all that came before. I still appreciate the message they are putting across. The movie is geared towards teens, so its nice they are trying to put out the message of following your dreams. It also has very less number of songs and dancing compared to a typical Bollywood movie. Its a great movie, and anyone who is open to reading subtitles throughout should definitely check it out.
What did you guys think about the movie? What other Aamir Khan movies do you like or have heard of? Should I do a list of gateway Bollywood movies? Let me know.
Until next time.