It`s A Fantastical, Inspirational Film
'Secret Superstar' is, foremost, a fantastical, inspirational film (for teenagers in particular), yet with an uneasy, dark undertone that you constantly find yourself oscillating between emotions -- mainly happy, partly sad -- as the film twists and turns to tell a story that, at the same time, belongs so uniquely to this age (of the celebrity, and new media).
Consider, for a sec, that the biggest pop-sensation of our times, the 1994-born Justin Bieber, was first spotted on YouTube in 2008, playing covers at home. By 2009, his debut record had sold platinum (a million plus) -- with seven tracks on the Billboard charts.
Or closer home, watch the rose-cheeked kid Zaira Wasim in this film, discovered not too far from the apple orchards in Kashmir. I hear her parents weren't so keen on her acting in movies. Within a year of her being in 'Dangal' (2016) --India's biggest global hit -- and as the lead on this one, it's no more a secret, she is the frickin' Superstar!
She owns this story. Because, at some level, it belongs to her. That innate innocence, naturalness, might otherwise be hard for an amateur to so convincingly pull off. Zaira, of course, plays the 'Secret Superstar', a moniker she's picked up to avoid attracting attention within her conservative Muslim family, and in her hometown Vadodara, in Gujarat. She just plays her music on a box-guitar, before the camera in her laptop that, through YouTube, gets instantly broadcast around the world.
The 'YouTuber' Secret Superstar covers her face chiefly to avoid her dad's wrath. On the face of it then, this is a pretty basic, lower middle-class tale of a talent rising against all odds. It could apply to any field. As it's been (in sport films, for sure; and with 'Dangal' as well).
Yet, beneath that simplicity (even with cinematic technique, or craft, if you may), the debutant writer-director (Advait Chandan) manages to move you this much, because he sincerely, seamlessly covers so much ground, cutting across issues, from the state of pop-culture, patriarchy, parenting, passion and the prodigy, to some pop-philosophy (there're more; I've merely run out of alliterations!).
At the core of it though, the film also centres on the amount of care and support it takes to bring up, or nurture, a defiant genius -- almost like a delicate plant. Clearly that extreme love and empathy starts from the few good men/women in a society, who believe in you (some you know, many you're lucky to have met).
It should still flow from the family first. Over here, for instance, there's the world's warmest, most compassionate mom (Meher Vij, absolutely brilliant) that you wish everyone had -- she looks every bit Zaira's, for sure! In that sense, you can't help but feel kinda sorry for the terribly one-dimensional, uniformly badass dad in the movie. But then again, who's to say such Frankensteins for fathers don't exist?
Another way of looking at this film still is to see it as one about an exceptionally talented child, trapped in a regular school/social system, in the same way that 'Taare Zameen Par' (2009) was about a kid struggling with dyslexia. Maybe the analogy also fits well because it fully features Aamir Khan (as a sleazy jock, perhaps named after Shakti Kapoor, but sounding in parts Anu Malik and Anil Kapoor), only in the latter half of the movie. And he nails it through and through. Or that, as an audience, my eyes welled up during so many portions of this picture, as it did during TZP.
But more than everything else, frankly, I've lost count of the number of times Aamir Khan has showed up in theatres in the final quarter, with what could be the most universally loved movie of the year. This is very likely to be another one. As you can tell, I totally loved it!