A scene within a home. A family is told by the man of the house that they will have to go a party. The wife is told to make an exception in her attire as the gathering is a bit modern. She does not have to wear the Burqa. She is happy and dresses up. Pertinently, the daughter is not told to go along. The daughter is a teen. Appearing for Class 10.
The mother decks up. The man comments that there is a necklace missing in her attire. He asks her to take out the "only" necklace that she owns. Fear sets in. The lady cannot tell the truth. That she sold the necklace and bought a laptop for the daughter. Fear makes her fumble. Fear makes her daughter discover the truth. Fear makes them look at each other in utter helplessness. Fear makes the man bigger than he actually is. A ritual of physical abuse starts as everyone cowers in fright.
The story of "Secret Superstar" is not so much about a girl going against all odds, meeting a mentor and making it. It is all about a woman discovering her voice against abuse and dependence.
Numerous small moments strike you. The mother raising her arms and doing a jig as her husband leaves for another country, in relief. The grandma telling a story about a mother desperately running away to save the girl child in her womb. A money making tuition teacher realizing the plight of the girl who tries to apply herself to studies in spite of a very abusive home. A mother who buys a guitar for her six year old daughter. A canny mentor searches his soul through a forgotten song. A daughter discovers the plight of love in her little brother's handiwork with scotch tape. And TV, to escape the mundane existences in middle class India.
In all this, a very lovely teen love affair blossoms knowing fully well that it will be crushed by hard reality. Hindu - Muslim. In Gujarat. She, having stars in her eyes. He, a middle class steady boy, knowing his place. And they get a permission to be together from the mother on their last day at school. He takes her to his home. She's fed aam, very aam moment but powerful in the message. It's over. Because, he knows that the girl and her parents are going away to another country.
Yes, it is again the magic of cinema. It can be manipulative at times like Aamir Khan's efforts with another story about a buck tooth autistic boy a decade back. But it is streets ahead of any other maker's vision.
All the actors are in form. Zaira Wasim and Meher Vij are unstoppable in their roles as daughter and mother respectively. Meher has many close ups and her eyes are so expressive and similar to Zaira's that it makes them mother and daughter in more ways than screen. Raj Arjun has been around and he revels in the father's role. The violence is implicit and in his demeanor and that's commendable work. But the scene stealer is the classmate cum boy friend called Chintan. Tirth Sharma does the role and he just rocks every scene he is in. That includes roaming a city in an autographed shirt.
The songs could have been better. In a film about songs and talent, the songs are not catchy, that's sad. Amit Trivedi, such chances do not come by so easily.
Know the name, Advait Chandan, the director. His idea of stories on film is just about blossoming. Like, his "Secret Superstar".