Secret Superstar review: This veiled sensation has something to sing and say

Release Date: 19 Oct 2017 / Rated: U/A / 02hr 30min

Cinestaan Rating

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Mayur Lookhar

Advait Chandan’s Secret Superstar is not just an inspirational tale, but very subtly also battles for feminism, raises a voice against regressive thinking, and, more pertinently, domestic abuse.

Gone are the days when running around recording studios was the lone option to get a break as playback singer. Platforms like reality TV shows help young talents to show their skills to the country at large. Sunidhi Chauhan and Shreya Ghoshal are two of those who emerged through this route, but the monotony and overdose of these shows have led to boredom.

If reality shows were not your cup of tea, YouTube came to the rescue, where all you needed to do was record your performance and upload it. If the video went viral, it set the tone for bigger achievements. Justin Bieber, Cary Rae Jepson, Cody Simpson, among others, are YouTube discoveries.

In the Indian context, there are very few YouTubers who have made it big for their singing. Tamil star Dhanush achieved pan-India popularity with the 'Kolaveri Di' song, then we had the not-so-talented Dhinchak Pooja evoking guffaws for her outrageous music videos.

Aamir Khan: Zaira Wasim is a great icon for youth across the country

India, perhaps, still doesn’t have a Bieber or Jepson, but first-time director Advait Chandan’s Secret Superstar dares all talent — young and old — to come out from their shells and express themselves. Chandan’s YouTube sensation is a veiled Muslim schoolgirl carrying big dreams in her gorgeous eyes.

Insiya (Zaira Wasim) is a 15-year-old schoolgirl from Baroda, whose only dream is to become a singer. However, her conservative and abusive abbu (father, played by Raj Arjun) is the biggest obstacle to this dream. Insiya’s mother Najma (Meher Vij) is the girl's pillar of strength, but the oppressed, submissive lady fears that her abusive, orthodox husband will never allow Insiya to pursue her dream.

Dhanush’s 'Kolaveri Di' video inspires Insiya to create her first YouTube video, but she dons a burkha (veil) to protect her identity, calling herself Secret Superstar. Her videos become a hit, aided by Amitabh Bachchan sharing them on Twitter.

The Secret Superstar also catches the attention of a forlorn, flirtatious, blabbering music director Shakti Kumaarr (Aamir Khan) who comments on the video and urges the Secret Superstar to come out of hiding as he wishes to sign her for his nondescript film. Insiya, though, is aware of the well-televized antics of the forlorn musician, who is twice divorced, and boycotted by his ilk for his insensitive comments against a child at a reality TV show. 

Secret Superstar song 'Gudgudi': Heartwarming moments from an ordinary family's life

Insiya's father gets a job in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and wants his family to come along with him. Abbu has also eyed a groom for his 15-year-old daughter. 

Though Insiya despises Kumaarr, she sees this as the lone opportunity to pursue her dream and seek freedom for her mother. Left with no other option, Insiya takes the leap of faith.

Chandan’s Secret Superstar is not just an inspirational tale, but very subtly it battles for feminism, raises a voice against regressive thinking, and, more pertinently, domestic abuse. A simple, heartfelt story has been backed by a neat and engaging screenplay. There is barely a dull moment in the nearly 150-minute-long film. Insiya’s music serves as a soothing balm for the patriarchal oppression.

What drives the film essentially, though, is its well-etched out characters. Zaira Wasim came as a revelation in Dangal (2016). She fought hard in Dangal, but here Zaira fights tooth and nail to fulfil her dreams. 

Perhaps it’s her background (the actress hails from troubled Kashmir) that has instilled this feisty resolve in her. Zaira has just carried on from Dangal. Blessed with natural talent, she has shown that at 16 she has the confidence of a seasoned pro. She bowls you over with another class act.

Meher Vij, who played mother to the mute Munni (Harshali Malhotra) in Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015), enjoys her finest hour with Secret Superstar. Najma is like the quintessential filmi bhartiya nari (Indian woman) who is meek, submissive, obedient, and a sacrificing mother for her kids. When upset with her mother, Insiya calls Najma ‘stupid, darpok (fearful) and bachchi (childish).' Vij's character goes a little awry while enacting the childish scenes with Insiya, but she is flawless in the emotional scenes. 

Unheralded actor Raj Arjun is intimidating, menacing, but brilliant in his portrayal of the abusive father. The character's hypocrisy in his own belief systems is exposed in a scene where he asks his wife not to wear a burkha at a friend’s wedding as that family is very ‘modern’. However, he is never comfortable to take his daughter along at social gatherings, and clearly loves his little son Guddu (Kabir Sajid) over his daughter. Arjun displays the viciousness, the sickness of his character to the T.

Credit should be given to child artiste Tirth Sharma, who plays best friend to Insiya as Chintan. He also has a huge crush on her. The innocent Insiya-Chetan relationship will bring back memories of your first crush in school. The lanky kid leaves you in splits with his daredevilry when, in their second meeting, he boldly mutters the three words — I love you. 

Aamir Khan has worked with child artistes before, and what has always struck one is that he has always been happy to take the back seat. Khan has anything but a cameo role in Secret Superstar. Chandan has timed the presence of Shakti Kumaarr adroitly. We see few shades of him in the first half, but Kumaarr is the pivot around which the second half revolves. 

Secret Superstar song 'Sexy Baliye': Aamir Khan's comical dance moves leave you in splits

In Dangal, Aamir Khan played a portly 55-year-old taskmaster. The intensity required to play a Mahavir Singh Phogat must have been both physically and mentally draining for Khan. He is anything but Shakti Kumaarr in real life. However, this funny, goofy character must have helped him unwind from the intense Phogat. Also, Dangal had a father imposing his dream upon his daughters. Secret Superstar, though, speaks for equality and freedom.

The cocky attitude and cheesy dialogues make Shakti Kumaarr a thoroughly entertaining character. At times, Kumaarr goes overboard, but that is essentially what the character is all about. The cheeky digs on the Aashiqui franchise makers, and the mocking of awards showmight be slightly offensive, but it’s all played out in good zest. Shakti Kumaarr is a character that both Khan and his fans will cherish for long.

What ails the film, though, is not necessarily the predictable climax, but the usual melodrama that accompanies the plot. This takes away a bit of the film's sheen and it falls short of being a great family entertainer. 

At last, one shouldn’t forget the voice of the Secret Superstar. Rejected at a singing reality show, 15-year-old Meghna Mishra has come along by leaps and bound to give a few virtuoso performances. She has done justice to Kausar Munir’s lyrics and Amit Trivedi’s music, exposing the soul of Insiya with outstanding numbers such as 'Main Kaun Hoon', 'Sapne Re', and 'Nachdi Phira'.

Aamir Khan had said at the trailer launch earlier that if the makers hadn't found the right voice, then there would have been no Secret Superstar. Not only did the actor-producer find Insiya’s voice, but he has also unveiled other talents like Meher Vij, Raj Arjun, Kabir Sajid and Tirth Sharma. Coupled with Khan, Secret Superstar has a galaxy of talented stars. Such an array of talent deserves nothing but a standing ovation.