The biggest “secret” of Secret Superstar is that Zaira Wasim manages to outshine even Aamir Khan – the one with the enviable sobriquet of Mr Perfectionist – with her superlative performance.
At some level, the story plays out like a fairy-tale. Yet, it so distinctly belongs to the times we live in, when the world wide web can catapult people to overnight stardom.
When Insiya records her first song and uploads it on Youtube, the result is instantaneous. The views on her video show no signs of abating and an internet sensation is born!
While the rest of the world wonders who the girl in the burqa with such a mellifluous voice is, the Vadodra schoolgirl is busy fighting bigger battles.
The cloak of anonymity that her burqa grants her is only her passport to freedom as she tries to negotiate a rather tumultuous relationship with her father who can best be described as monstrous.
At the core of Secret Superstar is Insiya’s relationship with her mother. The film comes into its own in the moments when Insiya and her mother confide in one another, watch TV with wide-eyed wonder and have each other’s back. The emotional truth of their shared experiences is explored through the finely crafted performances, further adding to the beauty of the film.
Zaira Wasim, the little girl from Kashmir who we were introduced to in Dangal,melts into her role with such delicate ease that the lines between the character and actor blur to stunning effect. Meher Vij displays her astonishing acting prowess with her role as Zaira’s on screen mother. Be it Raj Arun as the unreasonably violent father, or Tirth Sharma as Insiya’s best friend, the film is richer thanks to these welcome additions.
What then about Aamir Khan? The best part about his role is that he doesn’t – even for a moment – attempt to dominate and overwhelm the plot with his presence. His version of music composer and reality show judge Shakti Kumaarr seems to be a cross between Anu Malik and Simon Cowell on their bad days. It is a caricature of sorts and he plays it with some over the top swag.
It’s a role we haven’t seen Aamir play before, but he makes it his own. Khan lets Zaira and the other actors shine without hijacking the film – he does this with a big heart, a rare sight.
Secret Superstar is sweet and sincere for most parts, except when debutante director Advait Chandan dwells on the same point for too long. Then it becomes stretched and melodramatic. The climax, sadly, is guilty of being repetitive and predictable and dampens the overall impact a little bit. Yet, Secret Superstar is hugely watchable for its emotional core and its touching performances.