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In an orthodox, stifling environment, how does a teenaged girl learn to dream? And understand that realizing them is the sole purpose of life? Advait Chandan’s assured debut, Secret Superstar walks us through this journey.
While the movie is predictable and formulaic, it becomes disconcertingly real, and that is where it wins – helping us re-craft what ‘commercial’ films could mean. A critical facet of the film is the light it puts on abuse. The #MeToo campaign, critical in voicing anger towards the normalcy of abuse, and highlighting its sheer width, plays the same role. Secret Superstar too, goes beyond just the physicality of the abuse, bringing alive different kinds of abuse – verbal, mental, and of course brutal, physical violence.
In this toxic environment, a girl sure in her talent, ambitious enough to succeed, is a conflict that the film handles with sensitivity, giving it a face of reality. The resulting relationship between a mother and a daughter – as two friends who draw strength from each other, reverse roles with veritable ease, giving the film its real soul. The cultural truth of women finding strength in women – similar journeys and struggles, is palpable in the film. What helps immensely is the impeccable casting, and consummate performances by each and every character.
Meher Vij, as the soft, ambitious, cushion giving mother, forced to stay in her boundary of the kitchen alone (wide shots highlight this several times), is fantastic. She brings alive the disparity and forced humiliation that many women are forced to live with, trapped in a flux of our choices, till we find our strength to arrive at a decision. Raj Arjun as the violent, conservative, patriarchal father is excellent. His portrayal has you weary of what is about to come. Zaira Wasim as the teenager on whose delicate shoulders the film is mounted, proves that delicate shouldn’t ever mean weak. She embodies the role, and works her mannerisms to fit it as well. Her raw, innocent earnestness has you rooting for her from the beginning. Tirth Sharma as the endearing Chintan is a delight and earnest. The little flutterings of the first crush are palpable and make you hark back to the warmth of your first feelings of young love. Commercial Hindi cinema has found some incredible child actors in the recent past – Darsheel Safary, Zaira Wasim, Suhani Bhatnagar, Tirth Sharma are all great finds. It is interesting that they appear in Aamir Khan backed films.
Aamir Khan. A film that he backs or is in, naturally attracts a lot of attention. Playing himself up in the trailer is testimony to his marketing capabilities, while in the film he plays a pivotal but smaller role. He is unapologetically cheesy and crass. I do wish the humor wasn’t sexist, given that the film contests several sexisms in its narrative; however, he is as mainstream, and as rebuke-worthy as can be! So bad that he is good! And therein is its strength! He manages the laughs, and the nose-scrunching reaction that the character evokes.
For a film focusing on music some of the tracks, Mai kaun hoon and Nachdi phiraan are genuinely hum worthy. The lyrics of the former inject the ambition and the conflict of Insiya (Zaira Wasim), and is a pivotal song for character build and narrative thrust. Amit Trivedi is as incredible as ever with soulful tunes. Keeping Meghna Misra’s voice as the only one for Insiya lends excellent consistency to the sound of the film – something that was always done in cinema earlier – when one singer sang for one actor/character lending the required recognizable consistency through the album.
It is critical that commercial cinema creates films that highlight the real issues that we face everyday. That of abuse, of stifling. Because it must be called out till that glass ceiling is smashed through. Its normalcy must be questioned, through our own social media, our voices, stories, thoughts, ideas and through every single thing we create. So if in a formulaic narrative we get the nuggets of reality that are critical to be thought over and acted upon – the film emerges a winner.