Secret Superstar movie cast: Zaira Wasim, Meher Vij, Raj Arjun, Aamir Khan, Kabir Sajid
Secret Superstar movie director: Advait Chandan
Secret Superstar movie rating: 2.5 stars
The deep pleasures of a simple story, simply yet eloquently told, is what makes ‘Secret Superstar’ such an engaging, true watch. Till the first half.
In the build-up, there is a refreshing absence of gimmicks, and diversions. Post-interval, it dips, and the result is a film which stops short of being superlative.
The film begins and stays with fifteen-year-old Vadodara-based Insiya (Wasim) who dreams of becoming a famous singer. A controlling, abusive father (Arjun), a submissive yet supportive mother ( Vij), an elderly relative, a little brother, a simpatico school friend, and her beloved guitar: these make up Insiya’s world. And each of these elements is so deftly introduced and developed that we are fully invested in the young girl, and we will her to win.
The second half slides. The confidence that the narrative shows in the beginning begins to waver as it includes contrivances and predictable curves. We are rooting for Insiya all the way, and when she is made to break through to a musical peak with such deceptive ease, her victory seems not earned enough: a plot which feels so real suddenly demands a continuous suspension of disbelief.
And that mars the film, which opens with credits in Hindi, English and Urdu, as was customary at a time when Hindi cinema’s appeal cut across languages and audiences and demographics. It is a real thrill to see that opening frame –a train cutting through a countryside, a round of `antakshari’ being played in a compartment, and a young hopeful face looking out of the window. You see the film putting the story first, and the star second, just like it happened in Taare Zameen Par, but the pay-off isn’t as credible.
The biggest strength of Secret Superstar is the wonderful Wasim who was also in Dangal: it is such a delight to see a 15-year-old look and feel like a regular teen, dealing disarmingly with first crushes and strumming a guitar properly, and not a painted doll. Both Vij as the mother who helps and Arjun as the father who hinders are terrific, especially the former, who is the real beating heart of Secret Superstar.
Aamir Khan shows up as the out-of-flavour musician Shakti Kumarr, all tight animal-printed Ts and crotch-hugging jeans, and while his I’m-so-irresistible strutting schtick starts off funny, you wish he had more to do. After a point, it all starts feeling too stretched. And somewhere along the way, the balance– between the idea of a teenager dreaming big and the power of their mothers as saviours, the mothers who are first battered wives—becomes a tad uneven.
Fortunately for the film, and us, we are left with young Insiya and her shining face, and a beacon of hope for herself and girls in similar difficult situations. I liked her enormously, and Wasim plays her with great brio, a mix of sparkle and tentativeness. I wish I liked the film as much.