Whatever Aamir Khan touches, turns into gold. Here, we mean box-office gold! Advait Chadan, debutant director of Secret Superstar, would definitely agree. A decade-old journey with Aamir Khan, as a production hand and then manager, finally found fruition when the superstar agreed to co-produce and act in Advait’s film. Starring Dangal girl, Zaira Wasim, and Aamir Khan, Secret Superstar, tracks the journey of 15-year-old Insiya, whose aspirations to be a singer are thwarted by her misogynist father. Aamir plays a maverick music director, Shakti Kumar, who spots her talent, while Meher Vij plays Insiya’s resolute mother.
The spirited tale that also spoke of feminism and domestic violence crossed the 50-crore mark and buoyed the sedate movie market. What’s more, it won immense praise for Advait. “It’s a dream come true. I want to repeat this dream again and again,” he says his sense of euphoria palpable. “The big deal is that people are talking about the scenes, the characters and the moments. They say the film has left them shaken and moved,” he shares.
Advait started his career as an intern with Prahlad Kakkar’s advertising house. Later, he moved towards Excel Entertainment and assisted Reema Kagti during Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd. But the bright curve in his career can be said to be his decade-old association with Aamir Khan Productions (AKP) as also his friendship with Kiran Rao. Starting off by looking over catering on the sets of Taare Zameen Par (TZP) and then being Aamir Khan’s manager for four-and-a-half years, it’s been an exhaustive process of learning. In fact, he’s done nine projects with Aamir including Satyamev Jayate, Talaash, Dhoom, PK and Delhi Belly.
The catalyst of an idea for Secret Superstar came from Satyamev Jayate. “There were two episodes that struck me. The first was about a girl, who worked to support her mother’s dreams and the second about a boy who learnt to play golf online and become a champion,” he shares. Advait blended these two ideas – the grit of a girl and the power of technology – and Secret Superstar took form. “The internet gives you a democratic platform. If you’re talented your work can immediately go viral. Artistes get exposure to a whole new world. They’re able to showcase their talent. The biggest gift for an artiste is an audience,” he insists. The sordidness of abuse, the harshness of misogyny and the fact that we tend to take our relationships for granted was sensitively portrayed in Secret Superstar.
“I made someone laugh, I made someone cry. Like someone said, ‘I went home and gave my mom a hug’. These are the compliments I cherish,” says Advait who watched the film in a theatre with 10 of his friends. “I reached before time and sat in the stalls. It was amazing to see 600 people come in and sit. When they laughed at a joke, it felt like a compliment,” smiles Advait even received congratulatory calls from industry bigwigs like Rajkumar Hirani, Karan Johar and Sooraj Barjatya. “Shatrughan Sinha sir said the film reminded him of Hrishida’s (Hrishikesh Mukherjee) work. That means a lot,” he beams.
He recalls the time when Aamir heard the script and liked it. ‘‘Then I auditioned Aamir sir for the role. We were sure that nobody could pull off that role like him,” he says. They went to Panchgani for 10 days for the rehearsals. He was aware that he had to match the standards of his mentor. “Aamir sir doesn’t approve of mediocrity. It’s scary to meet his standards. I was nervous. But he made it easy. He gives you the power to direct him. He allows you to change his performance. He’s receptive and approachable,” he says. “Aamir sir watched the film only after it was complete. There was no interference at all. He said you’ve got to be the mother of this film,” he elaborates. “Aamir is a team player. He treats all as equal. He doesn’t let you feel small,” he says. In fact, directing Secret Superstar has increased his admiration for Aamir. “Earlier I was a fan of the actor but today I am a fan of the person. His willpower and discipline is incredible. The way he worked out and lost weight post Dangal at his age is no mean feat. He pushes himself so hard,” says Advait.
He goes on to share an interesting anecdote about Aamir. “It’s said that once Aamir sir sleeps, nobody can wake him up, no matter what! That’s when he’s not working. So, once we were in New York where a special circus show was on. The tickets were steep. But we bought them as I was keen to watch it. But Aamir just wouldn’t wake up. I missed the show!” he laughs adding quickly,“But when it’s about professional commitment, he arrives half an hour before time.”
He’s extremely fond of Aamir’s wife Kiran Rao. Their bond developed during his stint as a production assistant on Taare Zameen Par. “I’d take care of the catering, the travel, the boarding and lodging. Kiran was the producer. She was the boss of my boss so I had to report to her. I interacted with her the most,” he says. Later, Kiran hired him as an assistant for Dhobi Ghaat.
He’s glad that he could zero in on Zaira Wasim to play his protagonist. “Zaira was first selected for Dangal. I hoped she wouldn’t do Dangal so that I could give her the full-fledged role in my film. But I had to wait till she finished it,” he smiles adding, “Zaira is an incredible talent. She’s gifted and natural. The moment you hear her read a line, you know she’s an amazing actor.” He insists he’s an audience first. He’s passionate about watching every new release. “I love masala movies. I love Hrishida’s films. But my favourite director is – Rajkumar Hirani because his films have everything – humour, emotion, drama and the message!” he opines.
He takes pride in being a writer. “I’m first and foremost a writer. The joy for me is watching the characters come alive. Like when you see PK, you get attached to that character. You feel his pain. You should be able to relate to the characters,” he insists. He’s enjoying his stint in showbiz and views it as a circus. “You’re part of this beautiful circus. You entertain people, you make them laugh. When they clap, it’s an amazing feeling,” he smiles.