Advait Chandan harnesses the Bollywood formulae to deliver a winner
There is nothing remotely unusual or untried aboutSecret Superstar. Much of the film can be gleaned from the trailer itself. You could split hairs on more: the long drawn out storytelling, the simplistic, naive climax, the done-to-death culmination and the oft-used contrivance of a high-flown speech. Yet there’s something about filmmaker Advait Chandan’s self-assured debut that reaches out and connects in more affecting ways than one. About teenager Insia’s (Zaira Wasim) dream of becoming a singer, the film hits the right notes when it comes to its emotional pitch, tone and tenor.
Chandan bats straight and simple, with all the conventions of Hindi cinema in tact, yet manages to hit it to the boundary line. The film shows how the Bollywood formulae can be harnessed to rustle up a genuine winner.
Perhaps, it’s to do with the fact that Chandan tells the story with fresh, new faces who also turn out to be consummate performers. There is something unfeigned about each of the individuals, their drives and dilemmas feel authentic, their relationships ring true. Little Zaira Wasim packs in a punch as Insia, giving it her all. In turn, she has the audience invested in her, rooting for her all the way. She is in perfect sync with her on-screen mother Nazma (Meher Vij). Nazma lives her thwarted dreams through Insia, while the daughter plans an escape for the mother from the claustrophobia of marriage. Their camaraderie is heartfelt.
Even the despotic father (played hatefully well by a disturbingly cold Raj Arjun) fits in by sticking out sorely to make the family portrait feel disconcertingly real. The scenes of domestic altercations, violence and abuse cut frightfully close to the bone as do the teenager’s rage and rebellion against the brutal control and orthodoxy. It’s a scenario, one is not used to seeing in Bollywood.
Together the cast of relatively unknown actors, right down to the neighbourhood tuition teacher come off as aces along with superstar Aamir Khan in a small but pivotal role of Insia’s unlikely mentor, music composer Shakti Kumaarr. Khan plays to the gallery with a deliberately irritating, self-aware loudness. It works, as does the emotional redemption his character finds within the scheme of things. But, perhaps, the best-kept secret about the film is an innocent love story lurking on the sidelines. The endearing Tirth Sharma, as Insia’s ardent admirer Chintan, is a nostalgic nod to what a first crush used to be. That is, once upon a time rather than what it would be these days, even in a traditional pocket of Vadodara.
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