Release Date: 12th August 2019
Director: Mohammed Ehteshamuddin
Review By: Hassan Hassan
They say the best way to give a shut-up call to your critics is via your work. And Mahira Khan is lucky enough to have a film that released right in time which she can proudly flaunt as clear evidence of her talent. After the recent controversy, Khan was embroiled in, where she was a target of an industry veteran’s ageist and sexist remarks, the release of Superstar has proved why Mahira Khan’s is touted as the country’s biggest superstar. Superstar may not be a path defining film in Pakistani cinema, but will surely stay a noticeable cinematic affair for the year 2019, and a memorable feat in Khan’s acting career.
The film’s story follows Noori (Mahira Khan), a talented theater actor working with her grandfather, Agha Jan (Nadeem Baig), who owned a hustling bustling film studio back in the golden days of Lollywood. To make it big, Noori by chance meets Sameer (Bilal Ashraf), who is the current era’s popular film star, born to the rich Zulfiqar Khan (Javed Sheikh) and ex film star Laila Khan (Marina Khan). Sameer is smitten by Noori’s spontaneous personality and love blossoms between the two. The two actors face a sudden conflict which results in various personal and professional setbacks for both. With their careers following an opposite trajectory, the two characters go on a journey of self-discovery, love requital, prioritizing family and friends, and learn a lesson that there is a difference between an actor and a star.
The basic plot may look like a formula that’s tried and tested many times in various films, in various film industries even. However, Ehteshamuddin’s version surprisingly comes across as a fresher take on the dynamics of the theater and film industry, as well as the rise and fall of stars, especially in the first half.
However, it needs to be said that the film’s story relies heavily on fictitious elements instead of a realistic portrayal of the world the story is based in. Baaji, for instance, showed a darker and grittier version of the life behind all the glitz and glamor. Superstar, on the contrary, chooses to depict this often misunderstood world of the entertainment industry as a fantasy instead of diving in the deeper and more complex reality of it.
The film portrays the reality through a very idealistic lens where a nobody theater actor rises to peak stardom in a span of three years with nothing but a few TV dramas and television commercials to help her reach there. A top star falls to the pits despite having a bustling career in one of the biggest film industries in the world. Superstar‘s version of reality is very hard to compromise with, especially when the real-life audience has now become so well-aware of the mechanics of the industry.
Being a love story of two artists developing in the world of film and drama, the film understandably has a heavy dose of powerful performances and an equal amount of melodrama. Those who prefer realism over impressionism in the film may find it over the top, but for the most part, Superstar remains an engaging enough watch.
Mahira Khan proves herself as the ultimate namesake of the film she’s starring in. Superstar is a strong argument in Khan’s favor, asserting that she isn’t just an ordinary actor who has happened to make it big in the industry by chance. The character of Noori with all its layers is a dream character for any actor and Mahira does this character complete justice.
Starting from her numerous remarkable skits as a theater actor to her struggle as a budding artist, her persona as a next-door girl, and then her ultimate transformation to a glamorous Superstar, Khan fully exploits the opportunity that is given to her. Almost everything that happens in Superstar goes in Khan’s favor. From the theater sequences to dance and romantic numbers where she is clad both in traditional dresses as well as the bolder ball gown dresses, she looks like a dream and a treat for sore eyes. Noori’s transition from a struggling actor to a reigning superstar is portrayed brilliantly by Mahira Khan, and the trio of Khan-Azaan-Ehteshammuddin deserves a nod for its execution.
Bilal Ashraf as Sameer Khan is another surprise. He as an actor undoubtedly has made a striking improvement since his initial projects. Except for a few occasions, he manages the emotions of anger, love, and frustration with quite an ease. He sounds and looks comfortable in his skin and actually impresses the audience with his acting skills. His chemistry with Mahira Khan is enthralling.
The moments he seems a bit off could be attributed to flaws in direction and the script which leaves his character underdeveloped at a few vital instances. For example, Sameer knows his stardom and shows tantrums accordingly, being consistently late on sets is one of those. There is an element of arrogance and self-conceit in his personality that ultimately leads to the main conflict, but since the audience isn’t shown that side conspicuously, the transition and the main twist that comes near the interval is confusing. The script never portrays him as the brash spoiled brat and that’s the reason the audience has difficulty accepting him, and hence his performance.
Ali Kazmi as Shaan is impressive and believable and comfortable in his small but significant character. Same goes for veteran Javed Sheikh as Sameer’s father. There is a powerful scene in the second half where he confronts Nadeem Baig. This scene takes the story back to the 70s and connects it with Sameer’s current crisis beautifully.
Speaking of Nadeem Baig, he delivers one of his best performances since his retirement as a hero from films. Portraying a retired filmmaker who loves the art more than its economics, Agha Jan is not just a prop or just another elder character. Agha Jan is a fully fleshed-out character with a proper back story with motives and influences the lead characters in their journey too.
Alizeh Shah as Chutki, Noor’s younger sister, is equally impressive and brings freshness and perfect comic relief.
The Azaan Sami Khan factor
Superstar has one of the sweetest music albums of recent times. Azaan Sami Khan has definitely given the audience a double treat this Eid because both Parey Hut Love and Superstar have cemented his position in the industry as a remarkable music director.
Speaking of Azaan, he has also written the screenplay of the film. But unlike the stupendous work he has done on the music of the film, his contributions as a screenplay writer are not up to the mark at all. The film’s first half is written well enough and despite the heavy use of willing suspension of disbelief, it is still engaging enough to disregard any concerns about the logicality of the development happening on screen. However, the minute the second-half starts, all of that is tossed out of the window as the story nosedives into a rather absurd territory that becomes too much to digest.
The first half is an easy, smooth ride but the second half tries to juggle with too many things, all at once and ends up becoming a mess. A character death, dwindling careers, a struggling romance, the glitz and glamor of the industry, as well as the repercussions of the Indo-Pak political tensions and their consequences on the exchange of art between the two countries – the film digs its fingers in all of these heavy subjects and what ends up happening is just messy.
The major problems
The main issue of the second half is the central conflict upon which the film is based on. Superstar is essentially a story of the rise of a star and the fall of another one. There is an element of revenge, alongside love, that ties these two stars together. But how the film tells this story does not seem convincing at all.
It’s just hard for any layman audience to digest the fact that a top star, a male top star on top of that, becomes so gaya guzra that he virtually becomes a nobody overnight. Not only all his national and international success is disregarded, but he also becomes a punching bag for the heroine to take out her frustrations on by using her power as the current top star of the country. The story and screenplay do a rather shoddy job in convincing the audience of this very implausible turn of events.
Superstar as a film demanded a larger scale and grander production values. The larger than life world that the film creates is not reflected well visually enough. It needed the extravagance portrayed in Parey Hut Love. The cinematography is adequate at some points while dazzling at other places, and this inconsistency does not help take the notice away from the weak script. Poor editing is another reason the film seemed pressured, especially in the second half.
Strong performances and beautiful music make the film an engaging affair but the haywire second half and the very unrealistic depiction of the entertainment world makes it hard to connect with the film.
Rating: 3/5 stars