I can recall lots of movies which end with teary melodrama or long speeches, but can’t remember even one of them which I loved so much. In fact, Secret Superstar is beyond love and hate; it brings you – once again – face to face with the reality of the perversely anti-woman world we live in, where a majority of half the humanity manage to live their troubled lives quietly, thanks to their abiding faith in the mantra jhel lenge: I’ll manage my pains, as they know there’s no escape.
The second dimension of Secret Superstar is equally significant. As far as I know, no other Indian film ever has talked so openly and strongly about the sub-human existence of women in the Muslim society in today’s world. Here I must quickly add two caveats. First, the Muslim society is no monolith, I personally know several enlightened Muslim families and also, Muslim women – educated and not-so-educated – who are as free as the blowing wind. Secondly, it is not about Muslims alone, Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, and Tarun Tejpal are no exceptions, they are visible threads of a huge and abominable pattern. Having said that, I do believe no major religious community practises institutionalised misogyny the way the Muslim society does in the 21st Century. And It works at numerous levels: from Triple Talaq which was legal until recently, to erudite men preaching the virtues of the hijab (in the narrower sense of the term meaning a head cover) on their Facebook wall.
The film deals this somewhat taboo topic boldly and I wouldn’t be surprised if an imbecilic mullah came out with a fatwa against its makers.
The story revolves around a woman in her late thirties, a victim of repeated domestic violence, and her teen-aged daughter who tries to free her, while simultaneously trying to make it big in the world, using her natural musical talent and gifted voice. The girl insists that her mother divorce her father, but in a poignant scene, the older woman observes that no one ever asked for her opinion about her own life, neither if she wanted to marry, nor if she wanted a divorce. The irony cannot be missed.
Moving back to the girl and her ambitions, the third dimension of the film is about the by-now clichéd “aspirational India”. Sadly, like many Bollywood movies, this film too glosses over the impossible odds stacked by a dysfunctional gerontocracy against a young person from an ordinary background trying to come up in life. Instead, it offers a quick-fix solution to make the girl an instant superstar. Consequently, it lacks credibility unlike say, Dangal by the same actor-producer Aamir Khan, which truthfully chronicles the long and punishing work required for success on a big stage.
However, if you suspend your disbelief willingly to create a hypnotic engagement with the characters on screen, you will see a significant Indian film in Secret Superstar. It is significant because – I believe – it will create a wider impact by making Indian Muslims take a hard look at themselves. After all, communities – like individuals – can reform themselves only from within.
We do not know how we can come out of the self-defeating bind of growing state-sponsored communal hatred that is tearing India apart, but it is essential that every religious community shed their baggage and look at everyone else as just another human being, like the young protagonist Insiya (Zaira Wasim) and her boyfriend Chintan (Tirth Sharma), who effortlessly rise above their religious milieu.
If the film helps some of us take a step in that direction, it will have served a huge social purpose. Let’s hope it will.
Wednesday, 01 November 2017