Saturday, 4 November 2017

Secret Superstar: A Very Personal Review

When the hijaab clad girl, who writes, composes and gives voice to melodious songs, is asked to sing a typical item number by music director Shakti Kumar (Aamir Khan),  our hearts skip a beat: we wonder whether she will be able to pull it off. We hold our breaths as she stands behind the mike and Shakti Kumar puts on the head phone.  Tossing and turning in our plush multiplex seats, we watch the girl (Insia, played brilliantly by Zaira Wasim) fumble and falter while attempting to get into the groove. This is what the film (directed by Advait Chandan) does to us - involve us completely from the beginning to the end. A similar tension builds up when Insia’s father proceeds to beat up his wife for selling her necklace to buy their daughter a laptop.

Whether it is the mother Najma’s (Meher Vij) ingenious ways of supporting Insia’s singing aspirations, and the little brother Guddu’s (Kabir Sajid) timely help despite the relentless patriarchy he witnesses at home, each scene turns in a surprise and keeps us engrossed.

The simple and innocent bonding between Insia and classmate Chintan (Tirth Sharma) peppers the film with many magical moments. For a change, the heroine’s 15 year old love interest is not played by a 25 year old dude. I particularly loved the scene where Insia shyly writes down her laptop password on Chintan’s palm, which is nothing but his name. Instantly, his face is awash with joy as he realizes his feelings have been reciprocated.  We feel the ecstasy of being in love as Chintan continues to stare at the password written on his palm and a romantic tune plays in the background. I could guess what the password was even before it was revealed, as many years ago I too had made my beloved’s (who is now my husband) name my password and had to disclose it to my boss, much to my embarrassment, when for some inexplicable reason a portal could not be unlocked.

However, while Insia, led by her mother, finally managed to leave her tyrannical father behind the glass doors of an airport, many other Indian girls are still struggling to find a way to deal with their misogynist fathers. Insia’s father (portrayed effectively by Raj Arjun) tried to get her killed in her mother’s womb, did not even glance at her after returning from work, left her behind at home when he went out to attend weddings, snapped her guitar strings, forced her to hurl her laptop from the balcony and wanted to marry her off to a man she had never met. While I am sure that such fathers exist, there are many others who might not be as violent in their expressions of dominance but terribly chauvinistic and insensitive as well. In middle class Indian society,  it is not unusual to come across a man who would buy her teenage daughter a guitar, but expect her to abandon her aspirations completely in favour of mundane domestic duties once she is married and has children. Such a father might not marry her off to a stranger, but ask her to accept all injustices meted out to her by her in-laws as he is unable to feel her humiliation and pain. It is no lesser challenge to take a stand against such a father, with whom she is too emotionally attached to sever ties, as he greets her after returning from work, asks her to accompany him to weddings, neither smashes her guitar and laptop, nor beats up her mother.

The film is a ray of hope for those who are ridiculed for their dreams and ambition. It shows the inner conflicts that a creative person has to face: Insia is asked a question by her teacher in a classroom full of students just as a new tune had begun to churn in her mind. She knows that she will lose the tune if she speaks: instead, she chooses to be hit in the hand by a stick as punishment.

Among songs, I cannot stop listening to nachdi phira, which is romantic, soulful and endowed with a mesmerizing, uplifting refrain. The other numbers are soothing as well. Aamir Khan, throws up a surprise (which I am not going to reveal) in the end credits, compelling the departing audience to rush back to their seats. I can go on discussing this movie, which has seeped into my thoughts, dug into my memories, stirred up my dreams and become a part of me, but for now I will conclude by saying that this is a movie I would like to watch time and again like one returns to a diamond mine for more diamonds.

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