Secret Superstar : The effect of the internet | Sunday Observer

Secret Superstar : The effect of the internet

24 April, 2022

Secret Superstar is a 2017 Indian Hindi-language musical drama film written and directed by Advait Chandan, and produced by Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao under the studio Aamir Khan Productions.

The film stars Zaira Wasim, Aamir Khan, Meher Vij and Raj Arjun. The film tells the coming-of-age story of a teenage girl who aspires to be a singer, uploading videos on YouTube while disguising her identity with a niqab, and her relationships with her mother, father and mentor.

The film deals with social issues including feminism, gender equality and domestic violence. The film received overall positive reviews from critics. Wasim won the National Child Award for Exceptional Achievement. Secret Superstar received ten nominations at the 63rd Filmfare Awards, including Best Film, Best Director for Chandan, Best Actress for Wasim, and Best Supporting Actor for Khan. It won three Filmfare Awards, including Best Actress (Critics) for Wasim, Best Supporting Actress for Vij, and Best Playback Singer (Female) for Meghna Mishra.

Secret Superstar became one of the most profitable films of all time, grossing 965 crore ($154 million) worldwide on a limited budget of 15 crore (US$2.0 million), with over 6,000% return on investment (ROI). The film is also the highest-grossing Indian film featuring a female protagonist, the highest-grossing 2017 Hindi film, the fifth highest-grossing Indian film worldwide, and the second highest-grossing Indian film overseas. In China, it is the fifth highest-grossing foreign film of 2018, and the second highest-grossing non-English foreign film ever (after Dangal).

Abusive father

Insia Malik, a 15-year-old girl, lives with her Gujarati Muslim family in Baroda: her mother Najma, her brother Guddu, her paternal grandmother, and her abusive father Farookh, who often beats his wife. Insia is very passionate about singing but her father is against her dream of being a singer.

She records a song wearing a niqab, so Farookh can’t find out her identity, and uploads the video on YouTube under the name of ‘Secret Superstar’ using the laptop gifted by Najma.

She becomes an overnight sensation and grabs the attention of Shakti Kumar, a talented but pretentious music director based in Mumbai. He requests Insia to record a song, but she refuses as she hears a lot of negative reviews of him. Due to her poor academic grades, Farookh rips out all the strings from her guitar.

The next night, after discovering that Najma sold a valuable necklace to buy Insia’s laptop, Farookh thrashes her and tells Insia to throw out the laptop. Insia gets so angry that she snatches the laptop and drops it from the balcony where it falls and shatters on the street.

Insia persuades Kumar to arrange a meeting with his ex-wife’s lawyer. The lawyer prepares papers for Najma to sign, and gives them to Insia. After fleeing from school to record a song for Kumar, she is unable to sing a certain party song. Insia tells this to Kumar who reveals that it is a remix. He tells her about the original version which was launched ten years ago. After singing the original song, her fame grows and she is nominated for the Best Female Singer.

Insia gives her mother the divorce papers to sign, but her mother angrily rejects Insia’s demand that her parents divorce. Insia becomes frustrated with her mother, but later forgives her, after her grandmother reveals how Najma struggled to keep Insia alive. Farookh is offered a job in Riyadh and he makes it known to Insia that he plans to marry her off to his friend’s son. Devastated, Insia gives up her dream of singing and deletes her YouTube channel. Farookh confirms their departure on the last day of Insia’s exams.

At the airport, Farookh spots Insia’s guitar case. Unwilling to pay the extra fee for the case, he demands that Insia throw the guitar in the nearest trash can. After initially holding back her emotions, Najma finally stands up for herself and boldly protests.

Najma then unpacks the divorce papers, signs them, and thrusts them into Farookh’s hands. Najma says her goodbyes to Farookh’s mother (Insia and Guddu’s grandmother) and storms out of the airport with her kids in tow leaving Farookh yelling and pounding his fists behind airport security doors. Najma borrows a stranger’s cell phone and asks Insia to contact Kumar.

All three ultimately end up at the awards ceremony where Insia has been nominated for Best Female Singer. Unfortunately, Insia does not win the award. But the winner, Monali Thakur, graciously offers Insia her award believing she rightfully deserved it. Kumar stands up and calls attention to Insia’s presence in the audience. On onstage, Insia dedicates her award to her mother and proclaims her the true ‘Secret Superstar’ since Najma supported and fought for Insia even before her birth.

The screen fades to a message dedicating the movie “To Mothers And Motherhood.” Later, Shakti releases a cheesy party song on YouTube dedicated to Insia.


Chandan conceived of the film during the first season of Aamir Khan’s television talk show Satyamev Jayate. While doing the research on the episode about domestic violence, Advait Chandan came across Shanno, a single mother and a victim of domestic abuse.

After her husband died, Shanno decided to join a driving school and become a driver so as to run her house, a decision that had the full support of her daughter who was willing to work as a maid so that her mother could go and learn driving.

Shanno was successful in becoming a driver and through that she managed to support her house. This story redefined the word hero for Advait Chandan who says, “That is when I realised that my idea of a hero was really narrow. Shanno’s daughter is the real hero here. The definition of a hero for me and what I was writing about, it totally changed at that moment.”

During the third season of Satyamev Jayate, the first episode narrated the success story of ten year old Shubham Jaglan, son of a milkman and the youngest golf champion of India. Shubham revealed that he learned 60 per cent of Golf through YouTube videos.

The story of Shubham further helped Advait Chandan in the development of his film Secret Superstar. Advait says that, “I feel like the middle class is really getting affected by the internet. I never went to film school, but I can sit here and watch a lesson on Stanley Kubrick’s camera movements, for example. The internet is empowering the middle class in a way that really needed to be captured on film. That was the umbrella idea — a mother and daughter in middle-class, small-town India getting empowered by this amazing tool that is giving a platform to talent.”