Secret Superstar Review

Aamir Khan, who plays Shakti Kumar in “Secret Superstar,” is an endearing mix of some past and present talents among composers. (photo provided)

Aamir Khan Productions’ and Zee Studios’ “Secret Superstar”

Produced by: Aamir Khan, Kiran Rao, Akash Chawla and Zee Studios

Written & directed by: Advait Chandan

Music: Amit Trivedi

Starring: Zaira Wasim, Meher Vij, Raj Arjun, Tirath Sharma, Kabir Sajid, Farrukh Jaffer, Mona Ambegaonkar, Shamath Mazumdar, Manuj Sharma, Dhruv Jagasia,

Rajan Kumar, Nikita Anand Mukherjee, Jasmeet Singh Bhatia, Shaan,

Monali Thakur with Aamir Khan

A leading composer, who was offered this film and could not take it up, revealed to this writer about how he was weeping during the narration. This sums up the core appeal of “Secret Superstar” with its twinkle-toed humor (that gets hilarious during the screen presence of Aamir Khan as “passé” composer Shakti Kumar), real tears, real people who dream big and their constraints.

The divine dole of some extraordinarily lucky breaks added predictable ‘filmi’ twists and the relentless grip the writer-director has on the audience, who is not just a listener and potential team member like that composer tells us what “Secret Superstar” is. The film is a perfect recipe wherein slice-of-life drama meets larger-than-life tweaks, has that immense depth, is extremely, extremely entertaining, and gives us a lot to ponder on and take back home.

Ironically, before we get into the gist of the story itself, the film makes many ponder-worthy points about the way music is done and looked at nowadays, vis-à-vis what it can and should be. When a lyricist (Rajan Kumar) dismissively says that an obnoxious word in his otherwise well-written song was added by the maverick composer, and when protagonist Insia (Zaira Wasim) openly castigates the composer for replacing the soothing with the trendily pedestrian in his work and mentions a recent film where melody ruled, we get pertinent and punch-laden eye-openers on the ills of the music scene today!

Shakti even rightly points out, as a judge on a talent search reality show, that a contestant must primarily be able to sing well and he cannot be taken in by a sob back-story!

So yes, “Secret Superstar” is all about a wannabe teenage singer who writes and composes her own songs. A scoundrel of a father (Raj Arjun) in her conservative Muslim home not only opposes her passion but physically ill-treats her mother Najma (Meher Vij), while a passive grandmom (Farrukh Jaffer – excellent) looks on.

Insia is all about internal revolt, a seething anger against her father, and a humongous passion for music. She finds her mother stupid as she allows herself to be humiliated and hurt by her husband, and is not very fond of her kid brother Guddu (Kabir Sajid), who her father pampers only because he is a male child. Poor Guddu, however, dotes on her.

When her mother sells a necklace to get Insia a laptop, the aspiring singer appears on YouTube and becomes a singing sensation in a burkha, getting responses from Shakti as well as, we are told, Amitabh Bachchan! Her furious father comes to know the truth and not only breaks the guitar (given to her by her mother at the age of six) but also the laptop.

A lucky break happens when Shakti’s wife gives him a divorce through ace counsel Sheena Sabawala (Mona Ambegaonkar). The doughty Insia then engineers things so that she finds fruition for her dream and also a relief for her long-suffering mother. The climax at Mumbai’s airport is a highlight, but though a manipulative cinematic device is used (and without giving any spoilers), we just wonder—What if a certain last-minute tantrum by Insia’s dad had not happened?

But come on, in the larger scenario of a classic Hindi film that touches heart rather than art, we are nitpicking. The licenses taken just adds to the passion generated in the audience for the girl, her mother and their issues. Pun unintended, the film hits all the right notes from the beginning, though occasionally the placid pace drags.

We also wonder why the film could not have been a shade crisper with the removal of some superfluous sequences, like Insia’s devoted school friend Chintan (Tirath Sharma) is, to use today’s lingo, awesome as a conceived character, but the background song on him is a waste of precious minutes. As a performance, the child actor is flawlessly magnificent and real.

Also, DOP Anil Mehta’s work looks immensely dated, but luckily the hold of the script compensates and veers attention away from it. On the other hand, Insia’s house seems quite spacious especially for Mumbai residents – clearly, these are the perks of living in a small town like Vadodara!

The performances are fabulous, and full credits are due to writer-director Advait Chandan for his handiwork as a writer and expertise as a director. Wasim is phenomenal – as innocence and impulsiveness meet determination diluted with a small dollop of helplessness, she is simply what she is supposed to be in the film: a passionate teenager who dreams big both for herself and her mother and will not give up.

Aamir Khan, goateed and brattish, still makes us feel for him, which is his greatest triumph. As Shakti Kumar, he is an endearing mix of some past and present talents among composers. His honest confession about the ‘downs’ in his life touches our hearts. He carries the second half of the film brilliantly through it and an extended cameo.

Raj Arjun sweeps all the supporting honors in this film for being a swine beyond compare. His sheer audacity and arrogance take your breath away, and he makes you feel, early in the film, that he needs to be beaten to a pulp! Meher Vij, as his wife, is very good and has the author-backed role, but she could have been much more impactful than what she comes across. There is too much of her “Bajrangi Bhaijaan” performance here, and that shows her as a rather limited actress. Believe me; I would love to be proved wrong here! After all, this film is also a supreme tribute to mothers and motherhood, as it declares.

Among the smaller roles, Manuj Sharma as Shakti’s aide is a riot in his tiny role. The kids Tirath and Kabir are superlative.

“Secret Superstar” has no secret about it – it is an open book on how if movies were actors, this one would be a superstar! As a David, let us hope that this week’s Goliath – “Golmaal Again” – matches it in performance! It will then be a bumper festive season, unlike last year that had two duds taking cover under their 100 crore Indian nett business.

Friends, Aamir Khan has done it YET again!

Rating: ****

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