Secret Superstar is a family drama film written and directed by Advait Chandan who started his career as an assistant for renowned ad film director Prahlad Kakkar. Produced by Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao, it stars Zaira Khan in the lead role of a schoolgirl named Insiya, who aspires to be a singer and belongs to a conservative Muslim family based in Vadodara, Gujarat. The film costars Meher Vij, Raj Arjun, Kabir Sajid, and Aamir Khan. Insiya, who is studying in Class X, is a gifted singer, but her cruel father, who regularly assaults his wife, strongly disapproves of it.
Seeing India's passion for music, her mother advises her to start a YouTube channel, but with the condition that she records all her songs while wearing a burkha. Soon, Insiya becomes a national sensation and gets an offer to sing from a leading Bollywood music director. What ensues is a tale of self-belief, courage and determination as both Insiya and her mother try to come to terms with the gravity of the situation.
Secret Superstar addresses issues of patriarchy and domestic manner with as much care and thought that sensitive subjects like these deserve. The film never seems to be in a hurry to draw conclusions, and without trying to be preachy, it takes a strong stand against gender discrimination, female foeticide, and violence against women. It also talks about the importance of dreams in life. How without dreams, a person's life can quickly lose its significance. Insiya's mother is subjected to years of torture and humiliation by her sadistic husband, but she never complains. In the process, she gets so used to it that she loses all hope of ever breaking free. It is through Insiya's dreams that she finally begins to find a purpose in life.
Secret Superstar is a reminder that people can abuse and dominate us for only as long as we allow them to do so.
The film reminds us how the internet has changed the world we live in. Today it's possible for anyone to upload a video on YouTube. This democratisation has opened new horizons for young talent to express themselves in front of the whole world, something that wasn't possible for earlier generations to do. Secret Superstar is a reminder that people can abuse and dominate us for only as long as we allow them to do so. The moment we decide to break free of the shackles, no force in this world can stop us from following our dreams to the fullest.
However, the film takes several cinematic liberties, and often, the melodrama takes over, but it never really loses its grip on the audience. Aamir Khan's brilliance compensates the occasional weak moments. Sometimes it amuses me how can someone continually improve oneself for over 25 years on the trot. There is something special about the way Aamir Khan finds a way to surprise his fans every time. As good as Zahira Wasim and Meher Vij are in the movie, it is Aamir Khan's portrayal of the mercurial music director Shakti Kumar that's the best thing about Secret Superstar. Yes, it's an inspiring journey of a daughter and a mother, but it's Aamir's character that's the story's actual catalyst. Here is a film that's a must watch for anyone who has dreams but feels overwhelmed by the odds. And, rest assured, Aamir's groovy, never-seen-before avatar alone makes it worth the ticket price!
A version of this review was first published in A Potpourri of Vestiges.
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