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“Look up there,” Sameer (Bilal Ashraf) prompts Noor (Mahira Khan), pointing up into the sky. “I want you to outshine every star in the sky.”

While the scene happens in the fictional world of Superstar, in our very real world one should tap Bilal Ashraf on the shoulder and tell him: “Look up at that star. You’re that Superstar!”

Actually, someone did.

Bilal Ashraf and his co-star Mahira Khan deliver mature and, to an extent, believable performances as an A-list film actor and a fledging theatre actress who fall in love without much melodramatics.

Sameer, notwithstanding his habit of arriving late on shoots, is a charisma factory — a hot, chiselled film actor women swoon over. Despite his super-stardom, he’s a softie at heart without ego or tantrums, who somehow doesn’t have time for his family.

With its emotion-raising climax, director Ehteshamuddin’s Superstar is an intelligently crafted film that has only a few snags

His mum, Laila (Marina Khan, splendid and more enigmatic than her co-stars in scenes), is a once-iconic film actress who chose to settle down with an industrialist (Javed Sheikh). Sameer and dear dad, however, don’t see eye to eye — and although the money-minded patriarch of the family rattles the hot-blooded Sameer, with the way his life is going, it’s no big deal to him.

Sameer is preoccupied by his success. He lives large without being excessive, crude or vulgar (which, I believe, is a staple of Momina & Duraid Films). Shaan (Ali Kazmi, outstanding), an aspiring director, is his one lonesome friend in the world.

One day Sameer meets Noor, a strong-willed theatre actress who aspires to be a ‘superstar’. Noor performs hardcore theatre; she’s an artist, but wants desperately to act in movies. Without many opportunities, she has to either fend off casting couches, or contend playing programme host for late night infomercials (the product she is seen selling is Magnet Oil — a potent cure for everything from coughs to cancer).

Exactly how, why or when Sameer falls in love with Noor is deemed inconsequential in the screenplay by Azaan Sami Khan; it just magically happens. In director Mohammad Ehteshamuddin’s hands, their budding romance feels as authentic as a soothing bedtime fairy tale.

But then the plot takes an incredulous, head-scratching turn, throwing a very realistic — and very predictable — twist in the tale.

In that brief moment — that starts and ends on both ends of the interval — the screenplay forcibly makes Sameer forsake the very characteristics that the film was building him up with. For the next 15 minutes, he becomes someone he is not.

In a later scene, Sameer himself reviews this very film with a very apt passing metaphor. “The love story started out strong, but fell short in the middle,” he says. How candid and observant of him and the filmmakers.

Mahira Khan as Noori | Hum Films
Mahira Khan as Noori | Hum Films

Sameer’s bad decision (which I will not disclose) is referred to as an inciting incident in screenwriting terms, and it adds a role reversal to the plot. Noor, as seen in the trailer, becomes a superstar, but she no longer has love for Sameer.

As the story soon lets the audience know, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned — especially if that woman exerts influence over you.

At that moment, one worries for the storytelling. Ehteshamuddin and producer Momina Duraid, though, have things under control. Superstar has a predictable, yet grand finale, pumped up by a fantastic closing song. It’s an emotion-raising climax in an intelligently crafted film that has a few snags.

Throughout the film, the word ‘Superstar’ is revered with fascination. Now and again Duraid’s film tries to differentiate between actors and stars, and their desire to gain celebrity status without consideration of what they may lose in the process.

To be a superstar or not becomes the question, I guess. The very question, however, fizzes itself out as the story shifts its priorities to romance.

The songs from Azaan Sami Khan sound fantastic to the ears. Irrespective of Ashraf putting his best foot forward, some songs — such as ‘Dharrak Bharrak’ — have timing and editing issues; a lack of zest, in a zesty song.

Subsequently ‘In Dinnon’, a perfect ballad from singer Atif Aslam, is let down by vague editorial choices. When Sameer and Noori dance in the rain for a few brief cuts, it feels that they are in an old Hollywood musical, but then, perplexingly, the entire song shifts to a long montage. The two worlds hardly gel.

The cinematography, though well-lit and aptly framed, feels nondescript. Personally, I feel that the lens choices and framing were either a bit too wide, or quite often, a bit too constricted.

One does see some unexplained story bits rushed through the film, however, nothing sticks out like a sore thumb. Scenes, characters and actors — especially veteran actors Nadeem Baig (playing Noor’s grandfather) and Javed Sheikh sharing a rare, excellent, scene — keep one’s attention transfixed.

Ashraf’s growth as an actor is phenomenal, and Mahira Khan, who has been improving in diverse roles, delivers one of her finest character plays yet. Actually, every actor is fine in their limited capacities (the supporting cast includes Alizeh Shah, Saife Hassan, Waqar Hussain and Asma Abbas). Ehteshamuddin, an excellent actor himself, is an actor’s director with a clear-headed, astute influence on his cast.

Techniques and technicalities aside, for the lay viewer, the romance and chemistry should be spellbinding. At the end of the day, that — and good-looking leads in a well-made, well-performed film with catchy songs — sell tickets. Who am I to disagree?

Published in Dawn, ICON, August 11th, 2019