It's not often that you come away from a film thinking, "Oh hell, this one is far better than I thought!" Original, vibrant, tongue-in-cheek and yet moving in its sincerity, "Superstar" acquires its power and energy purely from its maker's ability to infuse potentially hammy situations with a bristling believability.
You've seen films about doppelganger-transference where look-alikes cross the line into each other's realm of vision to exchange lives. "The Prince and The Pauper" did it long before "Raja Aur Runk" and "Duplicate". Most films about double roles simplify the moral lines to the extent that Ram and Shyam become figures on either sides of the coin.
Rohit Jugraj tosses that coin into the air and lets it fall languorously and neatly to the ground.
That he has set this feisty, funny and exhilarating fable of the prince and the super-prince (forget the pauper) in the film industry, is a happy occurrence that gives the narrative a zest to make in-house jokes without tripping over on its own cleverness.
This would be as good a time as any to state that Kunal Khemu, who plays the earnest junior artiste and the spoilt but still-decent producer's son who cannot value the gift of Bollywood like his more humble middle-class doppelganger, is a revelation. He brings to the two characters more than just a surface dissimilarity.
Khemu doesn't try to make the characters of Kunal and Karan different from each other. Often, as in a critical pre-interval sequence when the plot takes a literal somersault, we see the two as the yin and yang, mirror images looking into one another's soul with disarming transparency.
Not too many 20-something actors today can carry off the discomforting predicament of baring their soul through tight close-ups. Khemu dares the unthinkable. Not too many actors have carried out the double-role tradition with such casual aplomb. Happily, the special effects bringing the two Khemus together is not the only thing special in the narration.
Khemu has a director who also dares to dream the impossible. While keeping the narrative on a fun and frisky plane, Jugraj brings in moral and ethical issues in the second-half when the junior-artiste is forced to replace the guy from the affluent producer's family.
Watch out for the sequence where the junior-artiste poses as the star to visit his grieving parents. The camera microscopes the son's dilemma as he must pretend to be a stranger before his bereaved parents. The background score by Sanjay Choudhary creates just a hint of melodrama before backing off.
Fully filmy? Yes, but not quite. Jugraj always leaves scope for subtleties. There is a mildly stirring dimension of authenticity in Jugraj's narration as though Ram Gopal Varma's "Rangeela" had suddenly and happily mated with Farah Khan's "Om Shanti Om" to produce a film that takes us beyond the expected in pursuit of happiness that's got very little to do with celebrating the spirit of the double role.
At times the glam-quotient required to make Bollywood's dream factory look believable is overly sham. The affluent Khemu in a swimming pool with various bikini-clad blondes looks just too much like whoosh-fulfilment.
"Superstar" represents the wry and slightly cynical view of the outsider peeping nervously and enviously into the glittery world of the entertainment industry. But the sense of wonderment is well contained. Neither the humble wannabe nor the privileged producer's son are portrayed with cynicism so that when the personality transference between the two occurs unexpectedly, we aren't looking at a morality-play but a Bollywood take on Bollywood with the conventions turned on their head.
Jugraj constantly refers to Bollywood biggies from Amitabh Bachchan in "Deewaar" to Ayesh Jhulka in "Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar" to Salman Khan in "Andaz Apna Apna".
The in-house humour pervades the plot without overwhelming the basic layering of storytelling.
We watch the characters as s