It was in context of the unsung pastoral forefathers that Thomas Gray wrote: “Full many a gem of purest ray serene/The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear:/Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,/And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
Secret Superstar presents the panacea of IT for the unseen and the unfathomed, if they occupy urban space. In the movie, an urban female minor marginalized in her family due to her gender – a problem which is exacerbated due to her non performance in studies too- finds hope and stardom via internet technology.
So, Secret Superstar attempts to sing for the unsung heroes, and yet does not forget to highlight the already acknowledged ones.
In fact, there are certain things, which don’t need to be stated, since they have been repeated as recurrent images or themes, so much so that they become a part of the public schema to be reckoned and conjured any moment with an oblique reference. Hence the image of a wife-beating tyrant husband looks realistic, which not only reeks of heteronormative marital nightmare, in which man rules and keeps woman under his thumb, especially in case, the woman is financially dependent, but it also reinforces the stereotype of Muslim men being atrocious and violent.
On the other hand, the source through which emancipation of the dependent members of the family comes about is Chintan and Shakti Kumar. It is difficult not to notice their religious identity in the present context in which the saviors of the minority women seem to be the men of the majority community. Similarly, the religious identity of the family does not appear merely incidental, given the current discourse and debates around the status of Muslim women in India especially vis a vis the talaq issue -triple or fewer- it is rather writ large in bold letters over 150 minutes running time of the movie.
Hence, an important idea or rather caveat in the movie is that if reform from within is the need of the hour, but remains awaited too long, external saviors may exploit the opportunity and even be welcomed as heroes. Interestingly, the process of talaq or divorce in the movie is initiated by a person who otherwise looks the weakest: the minor female child of the family who wants to leave the father by persuading her mother to leave him.
It is well known that life mimics art especially, visual art. Hence, a few important concerns about the movie being presented as a family drama look like:
- Virtues like honesty and sincerity are undermined in the movie. It may not be a movie, parents would, uninhibitedly, like to treat their kids with. Insia’s decision to travel alone without taking even her mother into confidence also raises the question of safety concerns for the female child. The entire chain of serendipitous events is very unlikely and unrealistic and would make parents uncomfortable at the idea that their kids might get inspired by the movie and take a similar course of action.
- Education is totally neglected. Children should rather be prepared to face life with a plan A, so that children are focused, and a plan B, so as to avoid obsessive tendencies and heartbreaks to survive in this world full of uncertainty. The movie hardly remembers this and creates a gossamer of dreams for the wannabe stars.
- Another important point is that the way, Insia, a school girl, is found online throughout night while the mother is not so much troubled, looks problematic. This liberty ignores many apprehensions parents have in the cyber age, for example, how to ensure that children stay in touch of benign people only and avoid negative contents online, especially after incidents like online radical indoctrination and suicide inducements have come to light.
- The kids in the movie sound a little precocious. Since they not only have a crush, something which is realistic, but also go on to make an independent decision about meeting a stranger who lives in another city.
The level of serendipity involving children leaving education and trusting strangers that the storyline hinges on makes the movie look utopian for viewers well aware of child trafficking and pedophilia rampant in the society we live in.
However, the message that emancipation of the women rests on financial independence, which may result in a more egalitarian relationship between man and woman, is highly commendable. The broadening of the idea of heroism as a quality that is also possessed by women, contrary to popular notion, is a way to question the social construction of gender. So the mother is eulogized in the song “Meri Pyari Ammi”: “Jaise kismat ki chaabi hai who/Jo khole har taala” (she is like the key to kismet, which can open all the locks)
Besides that, Insia too is a savior for Shakti Kumar who has lost direction in music and has turned into a butt of ridicule. So the savior becomes the saved and the association between Insia and Shakti Kumar is mutually beneficial.
The movie highlights one of the advantages of the cyber age: it is that anyone can be a star if the medium of YouTube is available and that real talent may not depend on unnecessary glamour and exposure to get recognition.
In the movie, Secret Superstar, the unsung heroes like the mother and the daughter in their association with the well established music composer Shakti Kumar and Chintan, make a good case of inter-communal harmony, while the image of Farookh Malik as an ineffectual desperate bully of a husband and father fades as a dispensable nonentity.
Photo Credit- Poster of Secret Superstar