Washington DC (JOHN): There once was a girl who lived a double life – one, of an uber popular rockstar and the other of a normal high schooler. The year was 2006 and the girl was Hannah Montana. Cut to 2017, we got a film that reminded some people of this girl called Miley Stewart/Hannah Montana. But, don’t let this obtuse similarity cloud your judgement because Advait Chandan’s Secret Superstar has layers of identity politics that no Hannah Montanas of the world have dished out so far.
Written and directed by Chandan, the film is about a 15-year-old girl from Vadodara, Insia, played by a splendid Zaira Wasim, who dreams of becoming a singing sensation. She belongs to a conservative middle-class family which is headed by a violent patriarch played with such finesse by Raj Arjun that he will make your blood boil, even in the scenes where he is simply throwing menacing glances at everyone. Insia’s dreams of becoming a superstar is aided and abetted every step of the way by her mom Najma, a complex character played extraordinarily well by Meher Vij. In fact, it is Najma who is the real superstar in this story who eventually gets to silence the voice of toxic masculinity in one smooth blow.
StoryThe film has a rather sluggish pace in the start but manages to keep you hooked till the interval with ease. Sagas of first love and utterly adorable performances by Tirth Sharma who plays Insia’s not-so-secret admirer Chintan Parekh and Kabir Sajid who plays Insia’s kid brother Guddu adds to the overall charm of the film.ReviewOne of the surprise elements of the film happens to be one of the biggest megastars of our times – Aamir Khan. It is an absolute delight to watch the otherwise serious Mr. Perfectionist take on such a silly character and have so much fun with it. The last time Aamir played such a hilariously dotty character was in 1994, and the film was Andaz Apna Apna. He plays this uncouth, self-absorbed music composer named Shakti Kumaarr, a parody character of every Bollywood music director we have all cracked jokes about at some point or the other. Aamir is pleasantly missing for the most of the first half of the movie, and even when he is there in the second half he manages to let the other players shine. He somehow manages to bring in only as much star power on board as is required to propel the film forward.The Bottom LineNot that the film needed much push, since it manages to touch upon matters that are woefully relevant and relatable in the current atmosphere. The burqa, too often regarded as a symbol of oppression, of erasing individual identity, becomes a sign of emancipation for most of the film. Not just that, topics like women’s freedom, gender inequality, and domestic violence are sewn into the narrative almost as seamlessly as they are a part of our reality. At the centre of the story there are these women who have never used a laptop before, who have never heard of sites like YouTube before, who learn along the way the power of social media. Inexorably, they become a part of the overall tapestry of current social movements. They also belong to the #YesAllWomen and #MeToo brigade, hashtags or no hashtags.
Secret Superstar is thought provoking, but it is never a bore. It is an emotional little package of happiness loaded with dollops of delight to make this Diwali a little bit cinematically brighter.