Friday 20 October 2017

"Secret Superstar" (Guardian 20/10/17)

Secret Superstar ****
Dir: Advait Chandan. With: Zaira Wasim, Meher Vij, Raj Arjun, Aamir Khan. 149 mins. Cert: 12A

Bollywood’s major Autumn release unspools like a continuation of last Christmas’s noted crowdpleaser Dangal. Once again, progressively minded megastar Aamir Khan amplifies a young woman’s voice; it’s just the process, in this instance, is literal. The voice belongs to Insia (Zaira Wasim, one of Dangal’s wrestler girls), a small-town teenager with big, primetime TV-fuelled dreams of becoming the Indian Taylor Swift. Alas, her controlling, abusive father would prefer she grew up to serve him – so she takes the unusual step of uploading her tunes to YouTube in full burqa-clad anonymity, becoming a viral sensation. The well-worn narrative furrow towards the limelight expands – as Khan’s best films do – into a consideration of several issues besides, from the Internet’s transformative powers to a woman’s place within male-dominated households and industries: Khan, nearing Hanks-ish likability levels, is a joy as a preening producer struggling to throw off his “Mr. Nasty” rep.

One surprise is that there are surprises come the third act, not least a tremendous raising of stakes with dad’s plan to relocate his clan to Saudi, threatening to turn our heroine’s makeshift disguise into a permanent prison. Yet the whole film is elevated by Khan’s mid-career realisation that there might be something renewing and emboldening in nudging the cinema away from its default father-son stories: Meher Vij is very moving as the clan’s selfless matriarch – a Mother India for the Kris Jenner age – while the outstanding Wasim gives the most winning ingenue performance since Louane Emera in 2014’s not dissimilar French favourite La Famille Bélier. It’s playing what has, under Cowell rule, become a familiar tune, but this first-class entertainment, the best imaginable antidote to the toxicity presently leaking out of Western movie circles, makes every last one of its notes and beats count.

Secret Superstar is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

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