Not-so-secret superstar

Daniyal Zahid would go so far as to call it the Hindi film of 2017

Not-so-secret superstar
For a film named Secret Superstar, the teaser barely hides anything from you. It is usually a catastrophe if the trailer gives away pretty much everything you need to know about the movie. But here it proves to be the strength – all that remained was executing the feel-good story.

Aamir Khan and Zaira Wasim last joined hands at the end of 2016, giving us Dangal – Bollywood’s biggest hit of all time. And the acting duo’s presence further adds to the predictability of the script.

But predictable it’s supposed to be as the quintessential underdog tale, where you sit smack on the middle of the seat cheering the protagonist on for what is an expected – even if enthralling – run to the finish line that the fulfillment of their dream is. However, as it masterfully turns out, the dream itself is but a subplot.

Aamir Khan and Zaira Wasim in a still from the film

If it weren't already there after Dangal, Zaira Wasim's superstardom is no longer a secret

Insia Malik (Zaira Wasim) is a 15-year-old musical prodigy stuck with a conservative middleclass household in Baroda. She dreams of making it big as a music composer and singer, but has a violent father (Raj Arjun) as the abusive upholder of patriarchy.

Insia’s mother (Meher Vij) fulfills the responsibility of an obedient wife, doing the needful to maintain the patriarchal order. She repeatedly reminds her daughter to not dream too big, all the while helping her to do precisely that.

To hide her identity from her father, while presenting herself to the rest of the world, Insia dons the avatar of a burqa-clad singer, and becomes a YouTube sensation by uploading videos through a laptop that her Ammi managed to get for her.

After going viral on the web, she catches the attention of music director Shakti Kumaarr (Aamir Khan), a compulsive womaniser whose scandalous life – and the resulting industry boycott – make him desperate for a female vocalist for his next composition.

What unfolds are the roadblocks one would expect at the centre of the struggle that would eventually be overcome, with a race against time added for the needed melodramatic effect. But while you cheer the protagonist on, the film unravels the hero as one half of our population.

The secret superstar is every woman forcibly hidden inside the metaphorical – and actual – burqas of patriarchy. It is every mother, daughter, sister, wife who wants to overcome those very identities establishing her in relation to the men in her life – and those who are told every day that any existence as an individual is a dream too big for them.

Zaira Wasim in 'Secret Superstar'

The symbolism that is palpable throughout the movie bursts out from the screen as the film reaches the end and hits you where it’s needed the most.

If it weren’t already there after Dangal, Zaira Wasim’s superstardom is no longer a secret. She delivers the standout performance of the year in her depiction of Insia, the young woman breaking the chains of being a ‘good’ daughter and going head-on towards the fulfilment of her immense talent, and in turn her dream.

While the core story might be formulaic, the rest of the screenplay is as unique as it’s stimulating. There are a few scenes that would leave you breathless through their sheer simplicity and accurate illustration of everyday middleclass South Asian lives that many of us can relate to.

That has only been made possible by the stellar case and superlative acting performances, ranging from Chintan Parekh (Tirth Sharma), Insia’s classmate, love interest and often the facilitator, to the father who Raj Arjun makes every single bit as despicable as he’s meant to be, all the while keeping the character seamlessly realistic and relatable.

Meher Vij is flawless as Insia’s mother, the trademark subcontinental Ammithe supermom whose motherhood is dedicated to guarding both the ‘values’ that she’s ‘supposed to protect’ and the best possible interest of her child. And the mother’s dilemma when the two cannot exist is masterfully personified by her.

Aamir Khan manages to squeeze in an uncharacteristic character for himself, which entertains the audience just as much as it seems to be entertaining the actor. Aamir Khan as Shakti Kumaarr manages to satirise the music industry, while keeping his screen presence limited, letting the leads take over.

The music, fittingly and critically, is absolutely top drawer. The playlist is not merely a supporting ensemble for the storyline, but the tracks on their own stand out as being among the many highlights of the film.

Secret Superstar is no Dangal or Three Idiots, but it perhaps blends the two to conjure what will comfortably end up as the Hindi film of 2017.

Don’t miss young Zaira Wasim’s rendition of the rock star at life’s runway that is deliberately kept hidden from women in our neck of the woods. She is now the not-so-secret superstar of Bollywood.