Following the tremendous box-office success of Dangal in China, Secret Superstar, another Aamir Khan film, is set to hit Chinese mainland theaters on January 19. While Indian films that screen in the Chinese mainland usually debut at least six months after their premiere on their home turf, Secret Superstar is coming out after just a three-month delay, indicating that the Chinese distributors of the film, China Film Group and Huaxia Film Distribution, has high hopes for its performance.
The film marks the directorial debut of Advait Chandan, Khan's former manager, and stars Zaira Wasim in the lead role. Wasim will be a familiar face for Chinese audiences since she played a major role in Dangal - one of the daughters of Khan's character. Secret Superstar sees Khan once again play a supportive role as he plays a washed-up singer with a notorious reputation that mentors Wasim, a young woman with musical talent who must deal with an oppressive father.
With a reported production budget of 150 million Indian rupees ($2.4 million), Secret Superstar was a commercial hit in India, grossing 830 million Indian rupees. Longing for another craze among Chinese audience, both the director and lead actress kicked off a mainland tour last week, and Khan is expected to join them in late January.
In an exclusive interview with the Global Times, Chandan and Wasim provided some insight into the film as well as shared their thoughts on Chinese and Indian society.
According to Chandan, Secret Superstar largely went unnoticed at first in India since most Indian films feature men as the main character, while his film focuses on a daughter and her mother, which is what drew him to the film in the first place.
"The story really moved me… and I am very close to my mother so I thought it could be an emotionally good film… and I am able to bring that emotion to the film," said the director.
Besides the unique female perspective and the way it deals with serious social problems, another "difference" that sets Secret Superstar apart is Khan's character.
"This character is completely the opposite of Aamir Khan in real life. I thought it would be interesting to break his image and it would be interesting for his fans to see him in a completely different light. I wanted to just have fun with his image," Chandan told the Global Times, adding that Khan enjoyed the role since he usually played serious parts and yet this time he "could just be like a monkey and flirt with girls."
While the father in Dangal is supportive of his daughters, both that film and Secret Superstar reflect the prejudices women face in a patriarchal society. Since women face similar prejudices to a certain degree in China, this social angle was part of Dangal's success in China.
"It's really sad that people are relating with that part because it is true that some families may want boys and not girls. I hope that a film like this makes people reconsider their thinking," the director said. "If some man feels uncomfortable, and [therefore] thinks about his behavior or thinks about the way he treats women, that would be nice... If a woman who watches it feels more empowered, or feels inspired or feels that she deserves the [same] chances, because everyone does, that would be a good thing. I also feel that it's not just women, if there are boys out there who are not supported by their family in pursuing their dream, they may also feel inspired.
Wasim noted that she herself comes from a very supportive family, so although the film may show one section of Indian society, "India is a big country, we should not generalize too much."
Since this was his first trip to the Chinese mainland, Chandan took the opportunity to see the recent Chinese hit movie Youth, which he called "beautiful."
After Chinese President Xi Jinping visited India in 2014 and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited China in 2015, the two nations launched a few coproductions such as Xuan Zang, Kung Fu Yoga and Buddies in India. In 2017, Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke also led a co-produced project featuring directors from BRICS countries, which included India. Though such works have not been big hits, Chandan is still excited about their potential.
"I've not been able to watch Kungfu Yoga, but I am a big fan of Jackie Chan. I think that it's a huge opportunity because I feel that China and India enjoy the same type of films. If I watch more Chinese films and you watch more Indian films we can get to know each other better and I think these coproduction is really exciting and I hope I can someday make an India-China coproduction," he said.