Walking in to “Superstar”, I didn’t have many expectations. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the screenplay. Azaan Sami Khan’s story had captivated Mahira Khan and so she had promised to do the film nearly 7 years ago. And coincidentally, the film is about a promise not kept.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. The cinematography, music, and especially the production design are all great. Azaan Sami Khan’s talent for music composition delivers on most counts, even though it’s obvious that he still lacks maturity. However, the flashes of brilliance are all there. Atif Aslam’s ‘In Dino’ particularly is bound to strike a chord with the audience. Perhaps more experimentation and further polishing of his skill will yield better results. Right now it’s just a refreshing change to see someone other than Sahir Ali Bagga scoring a film.
Now let’s come to the meat of it all, the story. “Superstar” is about the rise of a young actress called Noor (played by Mahira) and her romance with already established star Sameer Khan (played by Bilal Ashraf). Noor pines for a film role while working in mediocre ads. She lives with her mother, father, younger sister, and uncle (played by veteran Nadeem Baig) whom she lovingly calls Agha Jan.
Noor meets Sameer Khan when she’s cast alongside him in an ad for a toilet cleaner.The segment had the audience in fits of laughter for mocking the stupidity of these oft-repeated ads. There are interesting tidbits like this sprinkled throughout the film. Characters remark that the film industry is only churning out a dozen films every year, that film stars arrive hours late to the film shoot and make extras wait, and that stars aren’t necessarily actors, but float by on their good looks. These details provide realism to the world created by Azaan.
Sameer and Noor are shown to fall in love shortly after the ad sequence. They go through a predictable story arc, where they can’t stop pining for one another and wax lyrical about stars in the sky to each other. Everything is going swimmingly until a conflict is introduced before the interval. But the conflict comes so out of left field that it leaves you scratching your head.
And here lies the film’s fault. It tries to do too much. Azaan Sami Khan’s script incorporates all sorts of events from a tragic death, and a failed romance to the repercussions of the Uri attack on Pakistani actors. By juggling so many subplots it fails to give Bilal Ashraf’s character, Sameer, much depth. Yet the subplots and the stories of the supporting characters in the background are quite engaging.
One of those subplots involves Nadeem Sahab. I was so relieved to finally see the veteran given a meaty role that was not just limited to ‘father’. He plays a retired film director, Saleem Malik. He is shown to have retired from the film industry in the 70’s due to a lack of good scripts and pure commercialism. He directs theater plays and reminisces about the good old days. Azaan Sami Khan clearly based the character on directors like Pervaiz Malik and Nazrul Islam who stopped making films due to an erosion of the old values that the Pakistani film industry stood for.
Javed Sheikh plays Zulfiqar Khan, Sameer Khan’s disapproving, industrialist father. While he’s not given much to do, there is a scene between him and Nadeem Sahab that is my favourite in the film. It’s when these two are on screen that everyone else pales in comparison. But then that’s to be expected when you have over 40 years of experience on either side.
Mahira Khan shines as Noor, the wide-eyed middle class girl. Her transition through the film from an innocent extra to a bona fide star in the film industry is effortless. Her innocence and ire are both extremely genuine. The present ageist controversy notwithstanding, she really has been struggling in the film industry despite clearly having the depth and talent of an actress that can deliver hits. Hopefully she can break that trend with “Superstar”.
However, Bilal Ashraf, unfortunately, comes across as an amateur. Though he has improved since the days of “Janaan”, his performance is still immature. The majority of his time on screen is spent acting against Javed Sheikh, Mahira Khan, and Nadeem Baig, and each time he comes across as unpolished. And the horrendous dance sequence for the song Dharak Bharak does him no favours. He seems extremely stiff and uncomfortable during the song.
The direction by Ehteshamuddin and the editing also leave a lot to be desired. Sequences seem to end abruptly with strange cuts in some places, which takes away from the experience. A few scenes that should leave you relishing the music and the performances are suddenly ended on an anti-climax. This happens multiple times and saps the film of its intensity.
Despite all of that, it’s Azaan Sami Khan’s script that saves the film. Subtle nods to the film industry of yesterday, clever dialogues, charming details, an overall freshness to the script despite a formula we’ve seen a hundred times, and some great performances by Mahira Khan and Nadeem Baig, give the film the emotional weight it needs to resonate with the masses.
“Superstar” is a hit through and through. It may not become the highest grossing film of all time, but it will certainly melt hearts along the way and perhaps shatter some box office expectations as well.
Subtle nods to the film industry of yesterday, clever dialogues, charming details, an overall freshness to the script despite a formula we’ve seen a hundred times, and some great performances by Mahira Khan and Nadeem Baig, give the film the emotional weight it needs to resonate with the masses.