Secret Superstar Review (No Spoilers): An Odd Mixture of Fantasy and Reality

I finally saw it!  24 hours after most other people.  Stupid job, keeping me from watching movies in the middle of the week.  Anyway, I’ve seen it now.  There was a lot done really well, but there were also some things that were missing.  The message was holding back a little somehow.

This movie kind of feels like two films awkwardly shoved together.  One of them is very very good, a lovely love story between a mother and daughter.  And the other is a fantasy ridiculous story of a girl discovered and made famous overnight.  And that second movie is, well, not very good.  Doesn’t quite hold together in how it happens, a little broad in how it is shown, and especially terrible in the ways it interacts with the very good simple story that makes up the other half of the film.

(Lovely love story)

My overriding impression while watching this movie is that it is itself hiding a bit.  It is hiding as a simple happy family movie for everyone to go to together, but in reality it is giving a secret message to those in the audience who are living in the same situation as our characters.  And that’s fine, that’s great, I am happy to sit through a slightly disjointed film if it allows this message to reach the people who need to hear it.

Only, it wasn’t a complete message.  It sounds silly, but I wanted a Public Service Announcement moment!  I wanted an explicit lesson as to what the options were for these characters, the non-fantasy options.  What public resources are available, what are the laws, all of that.  And we never got that, we were only offered the fantasy.

It’s an entertaining fantasy, certainly.  Aamir throws himself into his character with no sense of pride, willing to turn himself into a total figure of fun.  And there’s an award show, and fake TV announcers, and all kinds of ways that the film industry is making fun of itself.  Culminating in the ridiculous end credits song.  It’s not boring to watch, it adds some comedy to the film.  But it feels like a distraction still, the whole time Aamir is onscreen, I am desperate to get back to our “real” characters.

Zaira Wasim is the center of the film, just as she was in the first half of Dangal.  And, as in Dangal, that alone is a statement.  This normal looking young girl is playing an age appropriate role as a normal young girl, with dreams and hopes and strengths and sorrows.  Because girls are more than just daughters or sisters or future wives, they are their own people.

(Although none of her power anthems in this film come close to equalling her theme song from Dangal)

On the kid side of things, Tirth Sharma as Zaira’s friend is also wonderful.  An awkward face, an open smile, a gangly teenage kind of way of walking, combined with a kind of casual confidence, it’s all delightful.  And perfectly age appropriate.  His “romance” is still more friendship than romance, as it should be for children.  No grand passion, no uncontrollable desires, just smiles and blowing bubbles and sharing homework notes.

Meher Vij is incredible in this role, and I realized when I looked her up, I have actually seen her in two movies before!  Bajrangi Bhaijaan, where she similarly stole the movie (it took a long time for me to forget her and settle down and enjoy the Salman plot).  And Lucky: No Time for Love, where she took part in that immortal song “Lucky Lips”.

 

Beyond her acting, it is the character that is incredible.  Really the entire household.  It is a perfect and clear and real picture of this kind of household, to the point that it is uncomfortable to watch.  The set design, the direction, the dialogue, it is all just perfectly right.  Which is what makes the other half of the film, the filmi fantasy half, so unsatisfying.

Unsatisfying in several ways.  Unsatisfying purely in terms of feeling “filling” for the audience, the emotions have less depth, the characters less soul, everything just isn’t as strongly flavored as the other section.  But also unsatisfying as the resolution to the story, the solution to all their problems.  It doesn’t feel like a solution that the characters have earned, like something that they have achieved on their own.  There is an attempt in that direction, but it doesn’t quite work out fully, it is still too much of a fantasy to feel like a solution that can be relied upon, that will last.

And so, ultimately, the entire film feels a little empty to me.  This is a movie that raises “awareness” about an issue, that lets us all pat ourselves on our shoulders for having sympathy and being on the “right” side of things and so on and so forth.  But what about that mother and daughter that are getting this secret message?  What are their next steps?  What have they learned?  What options have opened up for them thanks to seeing this film?  Nothing.

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13 thoughts on “Secret Superstar Review (No Spoilers): An Odd Mixture of Fantasy and Reality

  1. Without having watched the movie but having watched other Aamir-wants-to-show-awareness movies I relate the most to your last paragraph…
    Even in Aamir’s movie about the kid with dyslexia I felt a certain (how to say) ‘shallowness’…(maybe it’s only because of a personal feeling about him being ‘fake’).
    I willingly believe that the first part (where he doesn’t appear) is what the movie is about.

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    • Yes, it felt very similar to me to Dangal or 3 Idiots or PK. It gives a nice message, but without giving us the second step, pushing the audience further than just “awareness”.

      On Sat, Oct 21, 2017 at 2:30 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. Pingback: Secret Superstar Review (SPOILERS): An Everyday Story With a Once in a Lifetime Solution | dontcallitbollywood

  3. This is Aamir Khan’s brand – oversimplified “issue” movies that make the audience feel good they’re either smart, sympathetic or knowledgeable. It’s without depth nor does it lead anywhere or require any work on the part of the audience. His TV show Satyamev Jayate was the same way. He would sit and cry for an hour and the audience would feel good that they are watching something important though ultimately it has no meaning and goes nowhere. It’s akin to liking cancer patient posts on Facebook or forwarding ‘pray for you’ posts on Whatsapp. Everyone feels good about themselves, pats themselves on the back without any work, and goes home pleased with themselves.

    There is something very cynical about it and it’s one of the reasons I can’t warm up to his type of movies.

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    • I liked 3 Idiots, what I think of as the “original” of this type of film. That one felt like it came closest to actually saying something, something real and actionable. “Don’t pressure your so much kids to do well in school because they might kill themselves”, that’s something that everyone watching it can go home and act on. But ever since then it’s gotten farther and farther from anything that actually challenges you to do the work. This film is very frustrating because it sets you up to WANT to do something, you care so much about these characters, but then it doesn’t actually give you anything to do.

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      • 3 Idiots…absolutely okay for me when it comes to Farhan (Madhavan) and Raju (Joshi)…not Rancho…
        I think there has been only one performance of Aamir I could relate to, which was in Farhan Akhtar’s DilChataHai.

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          • For me, it is important that I can emotionally relate to the protagonist (male/female, movies/books/theatre play). ShahRukh’s kind of acting made it easy for me to relate to the characters…between Aamir and my emotions there is always – baring the two exceptions – the feeling of ‘he’s acting’…even Lagaan was a deception (for me).

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          • Have you checked out Aamir’s earlier work? There’s a definite line, to me, between his 90s acting style and later. I’d be curious to know what you think of Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, Mann, Ghulam, for instance.

            On Sat, Oct 21, 2017 at 11:41 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • Of course I watched some of his early work…but I did it after having watched ShahRukh, so there was no chance for him to make a deeper impact…it’s all about my ‘inner sense of playing’…maybe I should just copy-past something I wrote at another time…

            “Dear friend,

            You asked me to pen my thoughts about Shahrukh’s acting in movies…

            Well, first, thinking of Shahrukh, it is not the word ‘acting’ that springs to my mind first but ‘playing’. You may say that the meaning is the same; for me, there is a nuance both differ in. It’s perhaps only my own perception yet as you ask my opinion, it will be a very personal one:
            Considering the various possibilities of filling a role, ‘playing’ goes beyond ‘acting’. I instantly have the vision of kids who intuitively employ their imaginary and knowledge to become another person or an animal or something else. Without being told what to do they would mimic according to their experiences. In addition, they put themselves in the corresponding situation FEELING corresponding to their idea about the role they play. ‘Acting’ does not demand a veritable feeling, it would be sufficient to simulate.

            I’ll give you an example that possibly may highlight what I mean:

            Imagine a theatre hall in a school, empty except some students and a teacher in the first rows and two students on the stage. “I want you to show a fight over a girl without hurting you. Please concentrate…and action!”
            One of the students, let’s call him A, prepares himself by making some movements slightly shaking arms and legs, gyrating his shoulders and turning the head from right to left and vice versa. When the teacher calls “action” he goes in a boxing position the upper body leant towards his rival.
            The other, B, keeps quiet on place, closes his eyes, bends the head and does some deep breaths. He seems to relax completely. Then he straightens himself, almost imperceptibly squares his shoulders, and his face gets blank. At the word “action” he clenches his fists and opens the eyes.
            Looking at B, student A involuntarily makes a step back, so burning is the anger in B’s gaze. A shifts his weight from one leg to the other when B makes two catlike steps in his direction his eyes fixing his opponent’s eyes completely disregarding A’s menacing posture. “Do you REALLY think you can touch her and get away with it?! Tell me!” B asks in a rather low voice that nevertheless vibrates with fury, stretching out one arm and his index, poking against A’s shoulder who slightly backs off.
            “Thank you, guys. Please B, now, I want you to put yourself in the weaker position because it was YOU who touched A’s girl. Okay? Please concentrate…and action!”
            A almost does the same preparation and takes the same position as before this time although slightly swaying his body. B is doing some dance steps and grimaces running his fingers through his hair. At the word “action”, A at once moves towards B brandishing his fists. “That was the last time you’ve touched her, you bastard!” he shouts angrily, his facial expression shows infuriation. B makes a defensive and simultaneously placatory gesture with his outstretched arms waving his open hands and skipping around A. “Okay, okay, I shouldn’t have done it. Sorry, okay?” His face looks like if one had surprised him eating sweets on the sly, guilty looking and with wide open eyes; nevertheless through his kind of hopping around, one gets the impression that he does not feel guilty but is slightly amused.

            I don’t know if you see the difference I want to point out. In my opinion, A is doing what he thinks he would do in such a situation and B puts himself into the situation, he IS furious the first time and defensive but not serious the second time.
            It’s not a kind of judgement I want to make, it’s only a different approach I see. A is surely doing a good job but B is going a step further, which gives to the interpretation an intensity you may not have by acting ‘as if’ you are a certain person or in a certain situation….”

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  4. I didn’t watch the movie. But I think I can say something here outright that might anger some people.
    Aamir wasn’t either lucky enough to get challenging roles, or talented enough to take the roles to next level. SRK definitely has that spark in him that makes us connect to him emotionally. We walk into his characters most of the time and they resonate to us. Aamir khan, i think, is well aware of his limitations. I think he mentioned this in an interview with rajeev masand. He rejected many roles that he thought didn’t “suit him”, that eventually went to somebody else. Be it swades or the more recent shankar’s 2.0.
    He is an extremely smart man and better personality than SRK, but his potential is very limited. That’s why most of his movies are story driven and he takes back seat and even shares the screen with much less talented actors than he is.
    E.g. Dangal has more female presence than him. Ghajini gives prominence to asin. Even in Rang de Basanti and 3 idiots, he shares the screen space.

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    • To be honest, I cannot avoid to think of Aamir as somebody who ‘pretends’.
      Although ShahRukh tells that he is acting all the time when in public (and even at home), I feel a certain honesty…a kind of ‘I-try-to-deliver-whatever-makes-you-happy’…like the good pupil who likes to be a good pupil because he is a nice kid. It is not easy to explain but I don’t get the vibes that he caters to an image he wants you to get from him but that he caters to an image you like to have of him…
      That’s why I easily can believe that he feels the most ‘free’ when with young people/kids who meet him with an unjudgemental enthusiasm and/or curiosity.

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