Art & Culture

Every child needs a champion and Aamir Khan is everyone's

Kaveree Bamzai
Kaveree BamzaiOct 21, 2017 | 10:28

Every child needs a champion and Aamir Khan is everyone's

There's something extraordinary happening with Indian women currently. Anyone who watches the news, from triple talaq to Banaras Hindu University protests, will tell you that. But the role of popular culture in encouraging change and emboldening the weak cannot be over-emphasised. Whether it is Piku, PinkDangal, Lipstick Under My Burkha, or now Secret Superstar, women are changing, in real life as much as on screen. And there are a few good women and men who are enabling this.


Aamir Khan's name will be pretty much near the top of the list. Making socially relevant entertainment is not new to the actor. But female empowerment is a cause he has really embraced. If I were to pick a moment in recent pop culture history which fully symbolised this for me it was in Dangal, in the wrestling face-off between an ageing and angry father and a young and restless daughter/disciple.

As a lumbering, undershirt clad raging bull of a man, Mahavir Singh, squares off against Geeta (Fatima Sana Sheikh) in the prime of her youth and the peak of her fitness, you can see where the match is headed. He is soon winded and she is in full aggression mode as she wrestles him to the ground, wounding his pride. It's a rare image – the patriarch being humiliated by his daughter, who is also his no-longer-blinded-by-devotion protege.

In Secret Superstar, he has a less catalytic role on screen but it is his production, directed by his former manager, and you can see his steady guiding hand throughout the 150-minute movie. There is the usual crescendo of emotion but also moments of laughter and instances of lightness.


Almost perfectly executed to tug at your heartstrings, Secret Superstar is also inspiring. Sapne dekhna sabko allowed hai, says Insia, the 15-year-old secret superstar who studies in a Vadodara school and has been singing since the age of six when her mother handed her a guitar.


Every child needs a champion, and Insia's is her mother (a brilliant Meher Vij). But sometimes every champion needs a child too, and Secret Superstar is effective because it realises that – sometimes we can empower our parents/our leaders as much as they can enable us.

Insia (the charming and uninhibited  from Dangal)  is a free-thinking, independent-minded young girl who writes her own songs and vocalises them on her youtube channel, wearing a burkha because she – or rather her mother – is terrified of her father (played with feral perfection by Raj Arjun). 

She manages to keep the secret rather well, going to school by day and dreaming of songs by night, until the inevitable happens. Her brute of a father, who never really wanted her to be born, decides the family will move to Riyadh with him and Insia will make a nice conservative man a good wife. Here, perhaps it is no accident that Insia has been made a Muslim.


As the triple talaq issue has shown, Muslim women are rebelling in large numbers against certain unequal laws and practices which stunt their growth and deny them dignity. For Khan to bankroll such a film requires, even more, courage – unlike what some would like to believe, he is a true Indian, and if he is critical of some of the indignities in Hinduism, he is equally critical of some in his own faith. For those blinded by their religions, it is difficult to accept or even understand such secularism. 

He also provided the light touch to what would have become too much of a melodrama playing Shakti Kumar, a cross between Anu Malik and Shakti Kapoor with an easy and comic style. But, of course, no one can cry quite like Aamir Khan, so when the emotion hits us, as it does when young Insia sings Nachdi Phira, there is not a dry eye in the auditorium.


For the rest, between his leering (naughty, naughty), his flirting with various "babes", and his sexy baliye moves, there is not a single false note. There is nothing I like more than a man having fun while making a sensible movie. It translates itself into cinema that people enjoy – authenticity is an overused word these days but it is precisely that which works here. 

And not before he takes potshots at a few of his pet peeves – awards shows (all rigged, all rigged – in true Shakti Kumar style everything has to be repeated at least twice), Bombay Times front page (easily bought), and TV news channels (Shakti Kumar ki shaadi to toot gayi, Salman ki shaadi kab hogi, asks an anchor). 

Sometimes how a film is made is almost as important as how it is watched. I am happy to report that it is being watched with care, with young mothers and their daughters, fathers with their daughters. A few more young boys in the audience would also be welcome – young Chintan, who is Insia's supportive friend and partner in crime, is the role model for the perfect man of the future. Boys, watch carefully. That's what you need to be. The wind beneath your women's wings. This century belongs to them. You've had quite a few of your own. 

Last updated: April 29, 2018 | 12:57
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