Rated 3 The film begins and stays with fifteen-year-old Vadodara-based Insiya (Wasim) who dreams of becoming a famous singer. A controlling, abusive father (Arjun), a submissive yet supportive mother ( Vij), an elderly relative, a little brother, a simpatico school friend, and her beloved guitar: these make up Insiya’s world. And each of these elements is so deftly introduced and developed that we are fully invested in the young girl, and we will her to win.
The second half slides. The confidence that the narrative shows in the beginning begins to waver as it includes contrivances and predictable curves. We are rooting for Insiya all the way, and when she is made to break through to a musical peak with such deceptive ease, her victory seems not earned enough: a plot which feels so real suddenly demands a continuous suspension of disbelief.
And that mars the film, which opens with credits in Hindi, English and Urdu, as was customary at a time when Hindi cinema’s appeal cut across languages and audiences and demographics. It is a real thrill to see that opening frame –a train cutting through a countryside, a round of `antakshari’ being played in a compartment, and a young hopeful face looking out of the window. You see the film putting the story first, and the star second, just like it happened in Taare Zameen Par, but the pay-off isn’t as credible.
The biggest strength of Secret Superstar is the wonderful Wasim who was also in Dangal: it is such a delight to see a 15-year-old look and feel like a regular teen, dealing disarmingly with first crushes and strumming a guitar properly, and not a painted doll. Both Vij as the mother who helps and Arjun as the father who hinders are terrific, especially the former, who is the real beating heart of Secret Superstar.
Also, the film has a typical Bollywood texture. Loud background score, slow motion running and a climax that’s not hard to predict. Secret Superstar is mostly about the evolution of a ‘hero’.