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When A Daughter Becomes Her Mother’s Secret Superstar

Posted: October 26, 2017

The movie Secret Superstar is about a singer who chases her dreams, but what stayed with this reviewer was a daughter who saved her mother.

Here is my interpretation of the movie, Secret Superstar. Some of the key themes the movie explored are:

Abuse

“Insu, guddu ko lekar andar jao”; “ek aur baar sorry bola toh…”

The Secret Superstar’s household has an irony; the TV volume is kept too loud in order to silence the noise of abuse, while the interactions between the family members (in the presence of the abuser) are too soft, and work to reinforce the signs of abuse. The abuser controls the house and decides for all the family members. In his presence, his wife and his children are but mere shadows of their real selves. They steal glances, talk in whispers, restrict their movements, are always toeing the line to avoid providing any chance to trigger an outbreak of abuse. True freedom is experienced when the abuser isn’t around.

Fear can cripple…or cause change

“Insu Abba ko iss baat ki bilkul khabar nahi honi chahiye”

We live our lives in constant fear – some fears we acknowledge, many we ignore and some we do not know exist. Fear is an intimate emotion which can seldom be expressed but is experienced, forever. Fear of failure, rejection, harassment, assault, abuse and many more keep cropping up at various stages of our lives. Najma’s fear restricted her, crippled her; Insiya’s fear gave her immense resolve to chase her dreams and break free. Some amount of fear is always good, we are told. However, how do we decide what is the right amount of fear? Fearlessness is for the privileged. Insiya was fearless; Najma lived in constant fear. Najma probably feared for the future of her children if she separated from her husband. The fact that an immensely talented Insiya had to be a ‘secret’ superstar is because of the fear of her father.

Breaking the stereotypes

“Hum hai na Ammi, hum sab sambhal lenge”

A teenage daughter telling this to her mother; very unlike a stereotypical chirpy, bubbly teenager full of herself and lost in her own wonderland. And for once, it was a daughter telling her mother that she would find a way for their livelihood if the mother separates from the father; it wasn’t a lover parroting it to his girlfriend or a father telling his wife/children.

Role reversals

“Ammi , aap abbu ko chod kyun nai deti”

The portrayal of female characters in the movie intrigued me. A teenaged daughter understanding the subtleties of the issues between her parents. A daughter inspiring her mother to break away from the shackles of domestic violence. Insiya says it out loud to her mother and plants that seed in her mother’s mind about the possibility of a separation; that she can have a life beyond this abusive relationship; displaying immense maturity. Insiya’s primary intention of approaching the music director was to get access to a lawyer through whom she could prepare the divorce file for her mother. She reads between the lines and sees beyond the obvious to catch her mother lying about a recent episode of abuse. The multiple times she raises this issue with her mother, the confidence with which she explains her mother’s case to the lawyer, the kid brother covering up for his mom and sister against the abusive father; all are endearing portrayals of roles being reversed in the mother-child and sibling relationships.

Standing up for ourselves

“Yeh kaisi life jee rahe hain hum, saans lene tak ko allowed nai hain humein”

For the mother, the abuse had become such an integral part of the relationship that the scars were an everyday thing. She had accepted it and did not feel the need or see the reason in fighting against it. In fact, she justified it by saying that these are just outbursts of her husband’s temper issues.

What makes a woman reach a level of acceptance where abuse becomes commonplace? And why does the responsibility of ‘maintaining peace in the household’ fall on the women? She covers up her scars, justifies her husband’s behavior and does not entertain even the thought of terminating the relationship. What makes her feel that she cannot have an existence outside of this abusive relationship? What conditions women to reach a stage where they completely lose their individuality and identify themselves only based on their marital status; especially in the framework of an abusive relationship?

There are many shots in the movie when the mother looks in awe at her daughter: the times when Insiya speaks up for her, when Insiya caresses her scars, when Insiya instills hope and shows her a vision of a life away from the clutches of her abusive husband.

Just as we think Insiya is all that her mother isn’t – assertive, outspoken and not a silent sufferer of abuse – Insiya’s grandmother narrates an incident that makes us look at Insiya’s mother in a completely different light.

For me, Secret Superstar was more than a singer wanting to chase her dreams; it was what happens after a daughter tells her mother, “Ammi, aap abbu ko chod kyun nai deti”. This line from the movie stayed with me.

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