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Syrupy Fairytale

Friday, October 20, 2017

Secret Superstar
Director: Advait Chandan
Cast: Zaira Wasim, Meher Vij, Aamir Khan,and others
Rating: * * *

Television channels are clogged with reality shows that have kids from all over the country showing off their singing and dancing talent. So it is not unrealistic for 15-year-old Insia from Baroda to dream of being a singer. The rest of Advait Chandan’s film goes into the realm of a syrupy fairytale.

Insia’s father (Raj Arjun) is an abusive monster, who has no respect for his wife Najma (Meher Vij) or daughter; he only acknowledges his son, Guddu. Her mother hopes Insia will be able to escape the trap she is in, so whenever the husband is away, she showers her kids with all the happiness she can.

When Insia was six, you learn, Najma gave her a guitar (how she learned to play it is not clear), so the girl wants to sing and rescue her mother and brother from that hellhole. Apart from her father, the other males in her life seem to be supportive though – Guddu is incredibly sweet and at school she has an admirer, Chintan (Tirth Sharma) – a skinny, gangly, snaggle-toothed boy who is devoted to her, and doesn’t mind her insults.

Najma manages to buy Insia a laptop, and suggests that she wear a 'burqa' to sing and upload her videos on the net. That’s how Secret Superstar is born, and becomes such a sensation that fans and the media go crazy about the veiled wonder. One of these admirers is the arrogant Shakti Kummarr (Aamir Khan), a singer and composer on the skids personally and professionally. He becomes her ladder to achievement by recording a song with her (that requires her to fly to Mumbai with some skilled subterfuge involved) and offering her success on a platter. But, her father has already found a job and a groom for Insia in Saudi Arabia and orders the family to relocate.

This is a typical Bollywood underdog story, so audiences can guess where it ends. What is just a little bit worrisome is showing a teenage girl taking big risks, and that too in a notoriously exploitative industry. Shakti is a sleazebag, but becomes all avuncular with Insia. Because, in a wish-fulfillment film like Secret Superstar, only this much darkness is acceptable, so it ends with the father.

Even in this female-empowerment issue mode, there is a more realistic, less maudlin and clichéd film possible. Chandan delivers a crowd-pleaser and gets excellent performances from his cast – particularly Zaira Wasim, Meher Vij, Tirth Sharma and the very sporting Aamir Khan, who steals everyone’s thunder when he is in the frame. For a film with music at its core, except for 'Main kaun hoon', no song is really hummable.

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