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4 Key Reasons That 'Secret Superstar' Stumbled At The Box Office

As I noted a few days ago, I keep coming across defensive arguments from Indian journalists and social media correspondents who assert either that Aamir Khan’s Secret Superstar is a hit, despite what the actual box office numbers say, or that it’s not a hit only because it’s not really an Aamir Khan film. Quite a few have written in response to my article to explain to me that expectations for the picture’s results should be limited because Aamir has only a “brief cameo” appearance in the film.
All of this is utter poppycock. The film is decidedly not a hit, and it’s not because it’s not an Aamir Khan movie. It most certainly, unequivocally is.
The impulse to deny one’s hero’s fallibility is a strong one, and I suspect that’s where most of the protests against the reality of Secret Superstar’s mere middling success are coming from. I get it: I’m a big fan of Aamir myself, I loved the film, and I wish it would perform much better than it has at the box office. But let’s not let our emotions overwhelm the truth.
The numbers don’t lie. Whereas Khan’s last film, Dangal, opened to ₹30 crore ($4.6 million) in revenue on its first day, Secret Superstar took four days to get there. His last three films—DangalPK, and Dhoom 3—averaged  ₹1125 crore ($173 million)  in global theatrical receipts, whereas Secret Superstar will struggle to reach a tenth of that figure (barring a not-yet-confirmed China release). Its first day was a bust with just ₹4.8 crore ($730,000), the lowest opening day gross that a movie featuring Aamir Khan has earned since Dhobi Ghat took in ₹2.78 crore in 2011 when it opened on only a third the number of screens that Secret Superstar enjoyed.
The notion that the movie isn’t really an Aamir Khan film is absurd. The Bollywood superstar’s name and face are all over the marketing campaign, he has a major and pivotal supporting role in the story, and he is the hook that was leveraged to draw in audiences. Not to mention that the name of the company that produced Secret Superstaris Aamir Khan Productions.
Here’s are the reasons why Secret Superstar hasn’t lived up to its potential:
  1. It’s not the movie that was promised. The trailer and marketing materials portray Secret Superstar as an aspirational fairy tale about a young girl (played by Zaira Wasim) who has to go undercover, literally, to pursue her dream of becoming a singing sensation. The movie does feature that subplot, but the main plot, about the girl’s mother’s facing up to and ultimately escaping her fate as a violently abused housewife, is almost completely hidden in the marketing. The two plots are interwoven beautifully and the film is well worth seeing, but as is usually the case, when the movie that’s promised isn’t the one that’s delivered, the market gets confused and the returns can suffer.
  2. The filmmakers should have chosen a genre. The interplay between the young singer’s light-hearted fantasy story and the mother’s brutally tragic drama may have played out well on screen, but the extremes of the story make it difficult to pitch in a simple, compelling way. Secret Superstar opened at the theaters in competition with a film that had a much simpler marketing premise: It was the fourth picture in a beloved comedy franchise with, a concept and characters that were well-known and easily grasped. That film, Golmaal Again, buried Secret Superstar at the box office.
  3. The release date was a major problem. It seems that practically everyone knows that Diwali day, which fell on last Thursday, is a terrible day to release a film because it’s one of the lowest attendance days of the year at movie theaters. And yet that’s the day that Secret Superstar’s distributors chose for its debut. Golmaal Again opened a day later to more than six times as much as Secret Superstar’s 4.8 crore. But it wasn’t just the wrong date, it was the wrong week. Hindi audiences are much more open to light entertainment on the Diwali holiday. Secret Superstar’s dark tone made it a tough sell during the Festival of Lights.
  4. There wasn’t enough Aamir. Far from a cameo appearance, Aamir Khan’s character Shakti Kumar was introduced at the beginning of the film and was constantly referred to before becoming a much larger presence in the second half. His performance was delightfully comic, with a sympathetic layer of pathos underneath. The film’s problem is that Zaira Wasim, as good as she is, just isn’t interesting enough to carry the film. When Shakti shows up the picture moves to a much higher, more entertaining and engaging level. Aamir’s role could have been expanded without harming the story, and it would likely have helped the picture commercially.
As I also wrote a few days agoSecret Superstar is a wonderful, important, and delightful movie. It succeeds on many levels, especially for its social advocacy. It will even make a good profit, given its modest 25 crore ($3.8 million) budget. But its box office results will fall woefully short of the expectations that accompany an Aamir Khan production.

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