Aamir Khan does it again! In 2007, Khan ended up (inadvertently) making his directorial debut with the amazing 'Taare Zameen Par'. A story of a child's learning challenged told with such heart and ingenuity that it won over audiences and critics alike. In 2017, Khan is again in a movie about a young child's dreams and the struggles of pursuing them, and it's an amazing watch.
'Secret Superstar' is not an Aamir Khan movie, and it's so much better for it.
The story is about a modest middle class family, with a daughter who is much too wise for that kind of an upbringing. Insia (Zaira Wasim) dreams of making it big someday as a singer. Her mother, and best friend, Najma (Meher Vij) supports her in this dream, and is there for her for everything high and low of her life. The mother-daughter relationship is one of the building blocks of 'Secret Superstar', and wonderfully magical.
Unfortunately, Insia's father (Raj Arjun) does not share these, what he believes to be pipe dreams, and has a very old-school, male chauvinistic attitude about it all. What's worse still... he is a consistent wife beater. Either because of seeing her mother treated this way, or despite it, Insia wants more with her life; she wants to sing and have the entire world hear her voice. She wants the fame and glory, and the better life that is offers for her mother and younger brother.
She decides to pursue this desire by posting anonymous videos on Youtube, hiding her face in fear of her father, and becomes an instant success, a bona fide Youtube sensation! But that's only the beginning of her story.
'Secret Superstar' is built on that direct desire to pursue a dream, and dealing with anything that comes in the way of that. The film has a very straight line from desire, to obstacles, to everything it takes to achieve one's dreams. It's a story of ups and downs, and the reality of handling those situations. When relationships like this are portrayed in films, the eventual resolutions are often dismissed as being 'filmy', or unrealistic. But 'Secret Superstar' provides story beats and consequences that are heartbreaking and inspiring, but more importantly, as real as real can get.
Zaira Wasim, known for 'Dangal', shows her immense talent in a role that is conflicted for majority of the film. She is as graceful at voicing her character's frustration with life, as she is in showing those same emotions without dialogue or movement. Wasim's maturity as an actress perfectly matches that of Insia, further endearing her to audiences, as the story progresses.
For a movie that touches upon spousal abuse and the helplessness that comes with it, writer-director Advait Chandan is never preachy or judgemental about it. There isn't hysterical monologues about Najma's helplessness or her inability to stand up for herself. In fact, Insia actually scolds and regularly calls out her own mother's stupidity for continuing to be with a man like her father.
The domestic abuse angle of the story isn't meant to be exploitative either. The story and scenes aren't played for empathy or sadness. We're not meant to feel sorry for Insia or her mother. We're supposed to be angry, along with Insia. It's an emotional reaction that is rarely explored in Bollywood movies when faced with trauma or abuse, and I applaud the makers for showcasing that reaction here. The film almost, very subtly, provides the motivation for Insia's persistence and determination as being the anger she feels at her father.
Through Aamir Khan's character of an aging, loud and arrogant music producer, 'Secret Superstar' is also able to bring in some meta Bollywood elements into the story. However, this is done more for satire, and Chandan is very aware of not letting those novelty aspects take over the more grounded story.
Aamir Khan is the comic relief of 'Secret Superstar'. Let that sink in. One of the most bankable international superstars of Bollywood plays a character that, while pivotal, has the same significance of an Anupam Kher, Paresh Rawal or other a-list supporting character actors. For someone of Khan's magnitude to willingly take a backseat to a young actress only two films old, is immensely admirable.
I also have to give kudos to producer Khan and Chandan for not bloating the movie with cameos by various Bollywood superstars. For a movie about a girl trying to make it big in Bollywood, Khan could easily have filled the screen with appearances by big name personalities, to better sell the film to audiences. But instead, the star power was limited to his brief scenes, allowing us to focus on Wasim and Vij's performances.
I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention the two most adorable actors of the film; Kabir Shaikh, playing Insia's loving little brother, and Tirth Sharma in a breakout performance as Insia's school friend with a huge crush on her. The chemistry between Sharma's character and Insia, makes the story much more universal and accessible to everyone.
That's another thing I absolutely love about 'Secret Superstar': it's a movie that is not only family friendly, but incredibly watchable for young girls of any age. It's moving, inspirational and has a main character growing up in today's world dealing with parental problems, ambitions and her own issues that can be very relatable for young girls. Which is something I rarely get to say about a Bollywood movie.
'Secret Superstar' is an incredibly well told movie about that young girl's dreams, and the emotional fortitude to achieve those dreams in today's world. The values presented in the movie aren't outdated or old fashioned, but can resonate with kids of this generation. It's an endearing look at a mother's love and sacrifice for her daughter, and her daughter's appreciation of that love.
'Secret Superstar' is in theatres now!