Secret Superstar: Domestic violence in a Diwali release is an audacious move by Aamir Khan
Domestic violence has always been brushed under the red carpet but Aamir Khan depicts the issue with brutal directness in his Diwali release Secret Superstar
Like every year, there are two major releases this Diwali - Advait Chandan's Secret Superstar and Rohit Shetty's Golmaal Again. Just like every year, the films are essentially packaged as family entertainers. Who would want to tease the box office bear by presenting a non-commercial film that intends to make its audience uncomfortable?
In fact, in an exclusive interview to Firstpost, Golmaal Again actor Kunal Kemmu says that though the makers have tried to incorporate horror into the fourth installment of the Golmaal franchise (which is essentially a true blue comedy series), they have consciously steered clear of scary scenes that are not suitable for children, the primary target group of Golmaal.
Golmaal Again is touted as an ideal cracker of a Diwali film. On the other hand, Aamir Khan takes a detour from his Christmas ritual and chooses to release his film on Diwali. While this may give him leverage heading into his bigger release, Vijay Krishna Acharya's period drama Thugs of Hindostan, it is unlikely of him to position his production Secret Superstar as a Diwali release.
Though the film boasts of his star power, his screen time is limited to a 30-minute extended cameo. It is through and through a Zaira Wasim film. The 16 year old actor plays an aspiring rockstar in this coming-of-age musical. But what is more intriguing is that the film has domestic violence as one of the crucial plot points.
Domestic violence is an issue that has usually been relegated to the sidelines by Bollywood. From Kalpana Lajmi's 2001 film Daaman: A Victim of Marital Violence to Alankrita Shrivastava's Lipstick Under My Burkha, domestic violence has always been a part of the central narrative in a parallel film. But never has this grave issue been dragged to the spotlight of a mainstream commercial film.
The most noticeable instance could be in Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's 2013 sports biopic Bhaag Milkha Bhaag but even in that National Award-winning film, the issue was limited to a passing incident and not crucial to the central narrative. But in Secret Superstar, domestic violence has direct implications on the protagonist Wasim's character as her father beats up his wife at the drop of a hat.
Also, unlike Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, the domestic violence scene is not confined to the background. It takes centre stage at the interval point of the film which is conventionally one of the integral junctures of a film. Ironically, it is unconventional to show a domestic violence scene with brutal honesty in a film that, on the face of it, comes across as a children's film.
But in the process, Secret Superstar achieves what many mainstream potboilers would shy away from for the sake of market diktats. It shows how a troubled childhood can break and make a child. For a girl who sees her mother get abused by her father almost every day, it reaffirms the central idea of the film that dreams are imperative to draw moral strength from.
Also, the scene perfectly strikes a perfect balance between not going overboard in its intensity yet being effective enough to deliver the gravitas of the situation. From exposing the victim's red eye in full vision to showing the father slapping his wife in front of his children, there is no deliberate attempt to censor the issue. Thus, the film gives you as much a jolt as it brings a smile.
It is through this scene that Secret Superstar also projects a voice distinctly different from what could have easily been dubbed its prequel - Taare Zameen Par. While the latter was an emotional roller coaster ride, it was clear about not involving any scene that is conventionally considered unfit for children's consumption. But Secret Superstar does not insult its audience's intelligence. Thus, it transcends from being just another children's film to a hard-hitting portrayal of an issue that has often been brushed under the red carpet.
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