The internet offers heroine Insiya an escape route from a stifling life. The shadow of an abusive father and the domestic violence she sees every day loom over her. What keeps her going is her love for music – and her mother Najma. For all her submissive behaviour in front of her husband, Najma is a feisty woman – she fights for her daughter to have the freedom she herself never had. She lets Insiya go out with boys, pursue her music, and buys her a laptop with an internet connection.
Insiya might live in Vadodara, not one of India’s biggest cities, but the internet is a great leveller. She records a few videos on YouTube wearing a burqa – fearing her father will find out – and in the magical ways of Bollywood, turns into an internet sensation overnight. She has millions of page views, fan pages waiting for her posts, but at home, none of that matters because her father can wreak havoc at any time.
To his credit, director Chandan doesn’t shy away from depicting domestic violence. There are scenes that are difficult to watch and the reality of domestic abuse and its effects on children are portrayed with more sensitivity and realism than usual for a Bollywood film. The bond between Najma and Insiya is also one of the film’s highlights, as is the track between Insiya and Chintan (Tirth Sharma), her classmate who harbours a very obvious crush on her.
The problem with “Secret Superstar” is that it starts out with a good idea, but the film unravels because it wants to say too many things at once. Chandan seems determined that audiences should cry at every turn. Insiya and her journey to stardom are full of contrivances. Chandan isn’t bothered about authenticity or logic – he just wants to make sure those tears are flowing.
Aamir Khan appears as Shakti Kumarr, the rather obnoxious and self-obsessed music director who turns into an unlikely saviour for Insiya, but this film is not about him. It is about Insiya, and Zaira Wasim puts in an inspired performance that rides over the several bumps in the script. She shares a wonderful chemistry with Meher Vij, who plays Najma, and the two of them are the life of “Secret Superstar”. If only the film had shown as much restraint as they do, it might have been more deserving of “superstar” status.