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Review: Aamir Khan’s Secret Superstar strikes the right note, mostly

The overall message of the film and the superlative performances by the actors, especially Zaira Wasim, surpass minor flaws in Aamir Khan’s Secret Superstar. By Shomini Sen

Aamir Khan

Stills from Secret Superstar/Courtesy

Opening scene of Advait Chandan’s Secret Superstar has a train cutting across a country side with school girls sitting inside and playing antakshari. The girls belt out one super hit after another till Insiya, a gifted singer, picks up her guitar and starts humming a tune, an original one, and the rest suddenly become quiet and listen to her intently. It’s a scene that establishes the film’s plot well.

Fifteen-year-old Insiya lives in a middle-class dwelling in Baroda, with her parents, younger brother Golu and Badi Aapa. From the outside the family appears to be a regular, muslim family. But when one looks deep within, the family is riddled with problems. Insiya’s father is abusive and has anger issues and often resorts to hitting his wife in a fit of rage. Her mother, though meek and submissive in front of her husband, is supportive of Insiya’s dream of becoming a singer. The mother-daughter shares a unique bond of friendship and supports each other through thick and thin. The duo revel when the father isn’t around, they watch reality shows and award functions together and have each others back.

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Insiya is aware of the grim realities, yet she dreams to become a big singer some day. She is aware that her father would never approve of her plans and on the behest of her mother, she uploads her singing video on YouTube, but without revealing her identity. Soon after, the video goes viral, and makes her an overnight sensation of sorts. As Insiya gains fame, alibi secretly, her concentration in school and all things related to studies spiral downwards. So does her father’s mood as one day in a fit of rage he destroys her beloved guitar. Tired of living a stifling life, she plans escape for herself and her mother.

Her school friend Chintan, who harbours a crush on her, makes her approach Bollywood composer Shakti Kumar (Aamir Khan) for work. Shakti, a loud, grotesque musician, has left his glorious days in the past and now due to his bad behaviour is on the verge of getting ostracised from the film industry. As singers refuse to work with him, Shakti calls Insiya to Mumbai to record a song and how they both help each other in discovering themselves makes for the rest of the story.

The film’s two very defining scenes are perhaps the most precious of them all. One in which Insiya’s father abuses her mother in a fit of rage just before the family is to head out for a wedding. The scene has been enacted so beautifully by each of the actors that the tension is palpable. From Zaira Wasim to Maher Vij to Raj Arjun to even the little Kabir Sajid – all the actors are brilliant, showing the dynamics of the family well. Then there is a scene in the second half where, unable to sing from ‘her body’, Insiya tells Shakti to compose a tune from his heart and when he does and she records the song, Shakti is brought to tears due to the sheer brilliance of her voice. Both scenes play an important part in the storyline and both are performed very well by the actors.

While the film’s first half engages the audience completely with Insiya’s story, it is in the second half where the narrative drags a bit. An overstretched and rather dramatic climax also dulls the film to an extent. But the overall message of the film and superlative performances by the actors surpass these flaws considerably.

Zaira Wasim truly is the superstar of the film and takes the film forward. Wasim infuses life to the introvert, rebellious Insiya making her story believable. She is ably supported by Meher Vij who plays her mother Najma- an oppressed wife who still believes in her daughter’s dreams. Other actors including Raj Arjun, Kabir Sajid and Tirth Sharma who plays Insiya’s supportive friend deliver fine performances. It is only Aamir who somehow looks a tad unconvincing as the loud Shakti Kumar. Khan’s character is a bit comical- dressed in tight Tees and embroidered jeans, Khan mostly gets his part well but in certain places goes a bit overboard trying to project his character as a loud, sleazy musician. Perhaps we are too used to Khan playing defining characters in his films in the last few years which is why the character Shakti Kumar is almost forgettable.

The music, by Amit Trivedi, is subdued and soulful. Meghna Mishra renders her voice for Insiya and her voice is beautiful.

Should you be making time for Secret Superstar this Diwali? I suggest you do. It’s a beautiful story of a mother and her spirited daughter, it is a story of realising one’s dreams and it is a story that a lot of us can relate to. It may not be the big budget family dramas that usually release during this time of the year- but it has got its heart in the right place.

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