Secret Superstar – A Review

Image result for secret superstarAdvait Chandan directs Zaira Wasim, Meher Vij, Raj Arjun & Aamir Khan in Secret Superstar. The movie tells the story of Insia Mallik the 15 year old girl from Baroda who aspires to be the best singer in the world.

 

Zaira Wasim plays Insia Mallik the eponymous Secret Superstar. Buoyed by her mother Najma, played by Meher Vij, Insia tries to escape an overbearing and violent tempered father through her music. Meher Vij is spectacular in the light hearted scenes with Insia, she is especially brilliant when playing the long suffering wife of Farook. Raj Arjun as Farook Mallik is one of the vilest characters I can recall and Arjun plays it to perfection. There is no redeeming factors to him and Raj Arjun brings to life the character of a wife-beating, chauvinistic, evil pig. Props to him for not holding back.

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Najma is the one who bought Insia the guitar when she was six, Najma clobbers together money to buy Insia the laptop and internet connection and the reason she gives Insia really warms the cockles of my cold dead heart. There are many wonderful moments which lift the movie above the emotionally manipulative one. Several of those are also courtesy Insia’s puppy love Chintan Patel played by Tirth Sharma. Insia becomes an overnight youtube sensation when she uploads her first video dressed in a burqa. Insia’s brother Guddu played by Kabir Sheikh also adds a much needed innocence to the proceeding.

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Aamir Khan plays Shakti Kumar a disgraced Bollywood music director who has been boycotted by all the established singers. Aamir pushes the ham envelope with such abandon that the comparisons to Andaz Apna Apna are for once justified. Mr Perfectionist who has such a huge influence into every aspect of the movie making however is also its downfall in the most unfortunate of ways. In an effort at justifying more screen time for someone of Khan’s repute he gives away the biggest aha moment when he interprets his sleazy song as a romantic one as it was intended to be for Insia and then when she sings it just as she was instructed he lights up. It’s a moment that could have been such a departure for the sleazebag Shakti Kumar but it is squandered away by either incompetent writing or poor direction in trying to massage a superstar ego. The tangent about how his life and that of Insia have parallels is left unexplained. The whole shindig about his wife’s lawyer helping Insia is also unresolved.

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Zaira Wasim who first burst onto screens with Khan’s Dangal is worthy of the praise she is garnering. She is a competent child actor. But there are range problems for me. There is almost a constant woe-is-me feel about her – there is no levity to her. There is a child-like wonder that is missing. Perhaps it is not her fault and it is the writing which stymies her into a one-dimensional character.

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For a movie so heavily musically influenced the songs themselves are wonderfully childish. Meri Ammi is how a child would describe his or her own mother and feels wonderfully warm and enveloping – that Meher Vij is so great helps validate the song as well. Mein Kaun Hun is appropriately operatic. The direction by first timer Chandan feels very organic. The stictching up of the pinafore to hike up the neckline is so modestly middleclass it is almost a blink and miss, the use of aamir’s son’s name as the airline, and Guddu’s re-construction of the QWERTY keyboard as ABCD one is one of the most nuanced moments of the movie for me

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The climax seems too obvious – the only thing missing was Shakti Kumar storming the stage ala Kanye West. There are many moments that feel like emotional manipulation and some dialogues feel too basic. The constant one character repeating what the other has said in the past also begins to grate and feel disingenuous. In spite of these short comings the movie is entertaining for most parts and Raj Arjun really livens it up for me. Not a bad 2.5 hours spent at the theatre.

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RamLeela – A Review

Sanjay Leela Bhansali directs Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone in the “goliyon ki Rasleela – Ram Leela” an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. And after the directorial misstep that was Guzarish and the producing abomination that was Rowdy Rathore Bhansali retreads the familiar paths he etched with “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam” and “Devdas” and the result is a richly layered and textured visual masterpiece that manages to strike a balance in catering to the masses and appealing to the classes as well.

Ram as played by a mustard-oil drenched Ranveer Singh and Leela as played by the statuesque Deepika Padukone play the Romeo and Juliet belonging to the opposing clans of a village in Gujarat whose rivalry goes back 500 years. The ill-fated lovers lay eyes upon each other on holi-day and what unfolds is a tragic romance that has found innumerable adaptations and countless influences when it comes to love stories.

The story by Siddharth and Garima and also the screenplay steers clear of the clichéd and predictable tropes for most parts and manages to even surprise once or twice with you holding your breath as what unravels was so far away from the expected that the result is spectacular. I wish they had worked on giving the opening sequence a bit more dynamism than a person relaying the backstory and context to someone else via a telephone call. Also the second half really needed to be cut short to drive home the impact even more effectively but these are minor grievances.

Bhansali and Ravi Varman capture stunning visuals that are nobody’s business. There is no better visual auteur in India today who understands how to frame a beautiful shot than Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Every shot is a painting that can be hung up on a wall. Every scene is visual poetry. The dance sequences are framed and shot with such throbbing vibrancy that you cannot help but take a sharp intake of breath as the set pieces unveil and the scenery is laid bare before you to soak in.  No one does water reflection shots like Bhansali does – from the glittering havelis of the tavayafs of chitpur from devdas to that one tracking shot in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam from the song “Dholi Taro” and here to Udaipur become Jantara and the lights of the city palace reflect like precious jewels in Lake Pichola. STUNNING! Another spectacular shot is that of Kesar running away from her pursuers and the rolling of the pot along with her – like I said visual poetry.

All this visual artistry would be wasted if it wasn’t for the solid acting chops on display. Ranveer who always makes me cringe with his off-screen presence (interviews et al) still manages to strike a balance between playing a playboy and transforming to the titular Ram (yes of the mythic Ramayana). Deepika just takes your breath away every time she is on screen with her beauty but she has grown in the acting department and how! This is perhaps the best she has ever been and she manages to carry most of the movie on her shoulder while Ranveer is focusing more on thrusting his pelvis every chance he gets.  Richa Chaddha and Barkha Bhisht who play the daughters- in – law of the Saneda and Rajadi clans respectively are brilliant in their respective roles. Supriya Pathak Kapur who plays Dhankor the clan-mother of the Saneda clan is power personified. She plays the lioness like Dhankor with such aplomb that I was going into giddy fits every time she appeared on screen. I would pay top dollar to watch Supriya Pathak’s Dhankor vs Shabana Azmi’s Santok Jadeja the fight of the godmothers would make Brando blush.

Another very important element of the movie is the music and the songs. Every song with the exception of Ishqiyaon Dhishkiyaon is perfectly suited to the movie and given that the lyrics were written by Siddharth and Garima who share story credits as well every song helps in furthering the story. The background score by Monty and the actual music by Bhansali himself infuse Gujarati Folk songs into every note that the movie pulsates with a rhythmic frenzy that can only be witnessed during the final notes of a Garba dance. The costumes deserve a special mention because utmost care is taken to champion the traditional handloom techniques of the different regions of Gujarat, from the Kutchi-threadwork to block prints, Patola-weaving to many other exquisite techniques that only act to enhance Deepika’s beauty.

While this is not a perfect movie and the opening sequence and the second half needed more care from Bhansali and the character of Ram didn’t need those many pelvic thrusts, this is a movie that must not be missed. Watch it for Bhansali who makes a triumphant return to directing epic love stories like only he can. Watch it for Deepika Padukone. Watch it for the visual artistry that does not rely on exotic foreign locales; watch it for set pieces that are unparalleled in Bollywood today. Watch it for this is a beautiful adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet