Bollywood’s top actor Aamir Khan isn’t the driving force of his new film, Secret Superstar, and he is weirdly proud of it.
“The story is told from a 14-year-old girl’s perspective and that’s the strength of this film… that is its unique feature,” said Khan at a recent video conference with select local press.
Secret Superstar, out in the UAE on October 19, is the tale of a Muslim teenager, played by Zaira Wasim, who tries to pursue her dreams of becoming a singer despite facing resistance from her conservative father. A video showcasing her vocals is uploaded online and that catapults her from obscurity into an internet sensation.
Wasim made her debut in another Aamir Khan blockbuster, Dangal, in which she played the young version of wrestler Geeta Phogat.
“Even if I am comparing it to Dangal, which is about female empowerment, you still had a strong male character Mahavir, their father, as the protagonist there. It was through his pure encouragement as a parent that his girls achieved what they did. He was still the driving force… In Secret Superstar, there is no male carrying the movie forward. It’s the women who drive the story forward,” said Khan.
Forget playing the central character, Khan isn’t making that token star-fuelled cameo either. In director Advait Chandan’s debut feature, Khan is playing a smarmy, flashy music director who isn’t easy on the eyes or ears. His greasy attempt at flirting with his colleague is painful to watch in the trailer, but Khan claims he revelled in that role. His director believes that Khan’s character Shakti Kapoor is the polar opposite of the actor. But that’s what intrigued Khan.
“He’s completely over the top and full of himself. He is very rude and is politically incorrect. He is somebody who is not bothered by others. He is so self centred that he will ask you a question but isn’t interested in your response at all. He cuts you in and continues to speak. He wants to hear his own voice,” said Khan. He adds that Shakti Kumar thrives on everyday drama and is an incorrigible flirt who will try his hand at any women,
“Sometimes you meet people in life who come across as caricatures of themselves. I try to play it like that,” he added.
Think tight T-shirts, distressed jeans and gel-smothered hair to get the picture of his bawdy personality. While Chandan, who was on Khan’s publicity team before entering films, wrote the character with Khan in mind, Bollywood’s most bankable star wasn’t sure if he made an ideal fit. Khan put himself through a screen test before accepting the project.
“I was worried if I would be able to pull of that role of Shakti Kumar. While Advaith was confident, both Kiran [Rao, co-producer and his wife] and I were not so confident. Both doubted if I could pull it off. But once I put that wig on, it felt like it could work,” said Khan.
Both the director and the actor believe that the tale of the repressed teenager would resonate with all those who faced their share of personal battles at home.
Asked if their parents resisted the idea of them entering films, both faced a fair amount of it.
Khan said that his parents weren’t keen on him becoming an actor, while Chadan’s middle-class parents grew to accept his career choice once he joined Khan’s team.
Khan, who is an actor who enjoys tremendous goodwill and an knack for re-invention, remembers that his parents wanted him to become a doctor or an engineer, which they believed were stable professions. But according to the actor, even if he had 10 lives he wouldn’t make a good engineer.
“We have led a sheltered life in every which way. So when I expressed my desire to be in the film world, they were against it… But I just followed my passion,” said Khan.
Secret Superstar will certainly drive home the point of passion trumping patriarchy, but what makes the drama tick is Wasim, the young star who plays Insiya, was discovered by Dangal director.
“Zahira is clearly the best actress in the industry we have today. She is really gifted, honest and an amazing actor. That something just flows from within in. I am envious of her as an actor and I wonder how come it doesn’t happen with me,” said Khan.
While it is difficult to believe that the famously studious and method-style actor would feel jealous of a newcomer, Khan is convinced that she is a force to reckon with. So what are his thoughts on talents that are spawned by social media?
“The internet has given the world access. Earlier in order to showcase your work or talent, you had to break into an elite club of producers. Now the whole chain can be bypassed and that’s what matters… Here too, the story is about a girl from small town in Baroda who finds success,” said Khan.
The actor also believes in democracy when it comes to people accepting or rejecting his films. Bring on the tweet and one-line reviews, said Khan.
“That is how it should be. It’s really up to the audience on whether they should like, dislike or trash the film. It’s their right. I respect my audience … All I can say is that we are happy with how Secret Superstar has turned out,” said Khan.
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Secret Superstar releases in the UAE on October 19.