Movie Review: Secret Superstar – More confounding than appeasing

Cast: Zaira Wasim, Aamir Khan, Meher Vij, Raj Arjun, Kabir Sajid, Tirth Sharma, Farrukh Jaffer, Mona Ambegaonkar,  Shamath Mazumdar, Manuj Sharma, Nikita Anand Mukherjee, Harsh Jha

Director: Advait Chandan

Rating: * *

This film appears to be based on a real-life incident where a Burqa clad young Afghan girl, an aspiring singer, fearing the backlash of the terrorists and rigid fundamentalists who hold sway in her country, manages to go incognito while uploading Youtube videos of her performances- which eventually go viral and turns the young girl into a singing sensation. Hollywood turned that story into a film ‘Rock The Kasbah’ in 2015 while Aamir Khan and his manager Advait Chandan, tweak it further to make it an altogether loosely put-together  Indian story.

It does seem like Aamir Khan has not altogether forgotten the backlash he received for his ‘Intolerance’ comments though. ‘Secret Superstar’ while about a young Muslim girl, Insiya (Zaira Wasim) from Vadodara, aspiring to be a singer, doesn’t quite give (knowingly of course) macro or microenvironment of the state (the milieu, setting, environment or political repression) any voice. Instead what we get is an entirely flat and unceremoniously contrived set-up involving a brashly insolent young girl who sings one song and believes she has the talent to go far. The filmmakers might call it courage but any layman will tell you it takes more than a guitar, a laptop and a reasonably engaging voice to make it to the mike, in the music fraternity.

A despotic villain, her father (essayed with brutish relish by Raj Arjun), has her doormat of a mother (Meher Vij) cowering in fear, redolently spraying silent tears whenever called for. While the lady may be repressed herself she allows her daughter full freedom to express herself and become the cause of her own agony. Insiya is so insolent that she skips tuitions, gets frequently distracted, fairs badly in exams and even has the gall to call her mother stupid. While Insiya is willing to break traditional mores to reach for the stars her mother is only willing to walk half-way with her – until a copiously contrived set-up allows for a revelation from the past, permitting the woman under fire from all sides to finally choose an exit point that will get the audience on her side. Unfortunately, till that point, there’s neither empathy for Insiya’s struggle to get going or her mother’s escapist ideals.

Aamir’s role as the failed music director  Shakti Kumarr is merely a caricature given to mannerisms and style that emulate some of Bollywood’s pompous music directors reputedly harboring more style than substance. Of course it’s a given that his brash exterior hides a heart of gold that aids Insiya in her quest for a musical high.

The first 40 off minutes of the film is flat and unyielding. Neither do we get to understand the depths of Insiya’s precocious and repressed talent nor do we get to understand the dynamics of marital life in a conservative Muslim household in Vadodara, Gujarat. The drama appears wilfully ordained. There’s nothing organic or logical about the set-up here. Insiya’s friendship with Chintan (Tirth Sharma) appears mercurial and mercenary while her relationship with the lovable Guddu (Kabir Sajid), her younger brother, is pretty much dismissive.

Also, her insistence on Shakti Kumarr using his clout to get her an appointment with successful divorce Lawyer Sheena Sabavala (Mona Ambegoankar)- the one who fought against him during his own divorce, doesn’t make sense either. In fact there are far too many turns in this film that defy logic and render the narrative clichéd and stereotypical. While ‘Secret Superstar’ might have had the good intentions of showcasing Zaira Wasim’s talents as an actress, it clearly does disservice to the craft of filmmaking in the process.

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