J-Review: Secret Superstar

It’s one thing to dream big and reach for the stars, it’s another when you need to get yourself out from an unfortunate and difficult situation. In this movie, one girl does the impossible.

(This review contains spoilers from the movie, Secret Superstar. If you haven’t watch the movie yet, don’t read on until you do)

Secret Superstar from Zee Films, is a two and a half hour long musical drama starring Zaira Wasim, Meher Vij, and Aamir Khan. The movie was given a limited theatrical release in cinemas across the Philippines last March 30, 2018 although it has been available to stream on Netflix for a while now.

THE STORY

The story is about a young girl, Insu (Wasim), a musically gifted school girl from Gujarat, India, who dreams of becoming a singer. However, she lives in an unsafe home, where she and her mother (Vij) are subject to her father’s domestic cruelty. In one scene, she was encouraged by a friend who has a crush on her (Tirth Sharma) to join an interschool competition in far-away Mumbai, however she cut short of asking for her dad’s permission after she saw him raging against her mother over the simplest thing.

However, Insu is supported by her protective mother, who gave her a laptop and encouraged her to secretly upload videos of her singing on Youtube under the guise of Secret Superstar, a burka-clad Youtuber who performs songs with her guitar online, without her father knowing.

Soon enough, her videos immediately went viral and Secret Superstar has become an internet sensation, and the subject of many entertainment gossip shows. Insu even got the attention of a well-known Bollywood music producer, Shakti Kumar (played by actor and the film’s producer, Aamir Khan), a seemingly self-centered man with a thing with flaunting his biceps in muscle-hugging shirts.

Unfortunately for Insu, her domestic troubles went from bad to worse as her father, after getting a job to work as an engineer in Saudi Arabia, decided to move the entire family there the moment she finish her current year in school. In a desperate bid to alter her fate and that of her mother and with the clock ticking, she took matters into her own hands, leading her to a life-changing meeting with the music producer Shakti Kumar.

CINEMATOGRAPHY AND STORY QUALITY

The film as a whole has a lot of good qualities that overpowers any faults it may have. For one thing, its cinematography enhances the beauty of the movie’s settings, especially in Gujarat. One may notice a running color scheme implemented throughout the film as there is a strong preferences towards cooler soothing colors.

The story is very inspiring and impactful but also raise awareness to a very real problem that affects not only India but also the rest of the world: domestic abuse. The movie was not afraid to show case this issue in the hopes that people would realize that this is something that needs to be talked about, that requires action to be taken in order for everyone to live in a loving and safe home.

Empowerment is also a theme explored by the movie, showing how it can be possible to turn around a situation by taking back power from someone like Farookh, Insu’s father, and gain control of your own destiny.

CHARACTERS

While one may think that just because Aamir Khan produced and starred in the movie that he is the one reason to tune in for, it’s actually the promising Zaira Wasim, who has the difficult responsibility of carrying the movie, who is the real star and saving grace of the movie. Her character, while ambitious, is also caring and thoughtful. As much as Insu is annoyed with her little brother, she cares a lot for him and would do anything to have him avoid going to a similar fate as their father.

Another standout would be her onscreen mother, Meher Vij, who plays Naijma. She was able to become this strong heroine of mother who, despite her illtieracy, was willing to do anything to protect her children and bear much of the brunt of her husband’s abuse as a consequence. That strong character from Najima manifested in Insu  and it was from her encouragement that allowed Insu to do the impossible that led to the events of the film.

Aamir Khan’s role as Shakti Kumar is very over-the-top but is not overbearing to the point that he was dominating the entire film. Sure enough, he is seen less throughout the movie which is the best thing that the movie has done in order to maintain its focus to Insu and her family.

Ironically, however, one thing I was a bit troubled by was that I noticed that Aamir’s character was given this backstory that was never fully explored for me to care about him, much less understand why he acts a certain way. Despite the long running time, he wasn’t fleshed out enough for us to truly see why, apart from this selfish need to gain an award, he connected to Insu’s situation. I think that one scene where he was driving her to the airport but made a short pit stop was a missed opportunity for the writer to tell the viewer why Shakti claims that he and Insu have something in common relation to latter’s domestic problems.

One would consider seeing Insu’s Youtube persona becoming a viral sensation after a few days an eyeroll moment (apart from the fact that she had a laptop camera that can record cinema-quality video haha) but in an age where just about anything can suddenly catch the attention of an ever increasing online-savvy audience, anything is possible.

MUSIC

Perhaps because I’m foreigner, I’m not used to seeing a lot of Indian film bearing thissudden need to have characters break into song and dance out of nowhere without any relation to the story’s narrative. However, there are films, most especially recent ones that are more grounded in realism, that either avoid this trope completely or integrate this in the most organic way possible, inserting them where it makes the most sense.

Secret Superstar is more of the latter, which is a given considering its story. In place of song numbers, the film inserts a couple of montages of scenes where songs can be played in the background to express a certain mood during a point in the film.

Another way for music to shine is in scenes where it makes perfectly good sense to see characters sing such as seeing Insu either singing inside a recording studio in one scene, or her singing as she films a video for her Youtube channel.

OVER-ALL

Over-all, I think the film was able to strike that good balance of being able to tell a good quality straight-forward story while not overbearing its audience with the music. The long running help give the story time to flesh itself out without making one feel bored along the way. However, I would have liked to see Aamir Khan’s character to be further developed without taking away the focus away from the movie’s main character but it’s a rather minor concern. It’s not a perfect movie but its few flaws can easily be overlooked.

I highly recommend people to watch this because of the story and the real-world issue that film highlights.

I rate this movie a 4 out of 5.

Did you enjoy watching this movie as much as I did? Let me know in the comments down below.