Cast: Amitabh Bahchan, Dhanush, Akshara Haasan
Director: R. Balki
Rating: 3 stars
In times when Bollywood breathes in and breathes out South remakes and international film adaptations, an original story does provide a welcome twist. Score for 'Shamitabh'. However, this is a story that requires you to look past a bunch of coincidences and let your scientific imagination run wild, before you settle down in the world that 'Shamitabh' creates. Considering Bollywood doesn’t exactly pack realism in a bottle, and we see laws of Physics freely being violated in every South remake that comes our way, sans a caveat, we appreciate that Mr Balki does us the courtesy of a disclaimer right at the start that says, “all characters and technology you see in the film are purely fictional.”
That settled, we can move on. The story traces how the film industry, especially where the arc lights shine their brightest, is built of combined talents. Edgar Allan Poe had said, perhaps in a very different context, “Believe only half of what you see and nothing that you hear.” But that forms the backbone of 'Shamitabh'.
Daanish (Dhanush), a mute Igatpuri boy of very limited means and unlimited dreams finds his way to Mumbai. He has the talent, the madness required for stardom, but he doesn’t have a voice. He does find a godmother though, in the form of Akshara Haasan, an assistant director, who spots his talent. A series of coincidences follow where things remarkably fall in place for Daanish and thanks to some miraculous Finnish technology, he finds a voice, or at least the hope of one. A microchip is implanted in his throat which can take in and reproduce any voice it hears. The world is his oyster now and he can choose to go with the best voice. So when more forces of serendipity lead him to a grizzly, potty-mouthed Amitabh Sinha (Bachchan) or rather his baritone, Daanish cannot look beyond.
So what if Amitabh’s baritone is heavier than Daanish’s entire body weight put together? “Meri awaaz ki wazan tumhare wazan se bhaari hai”, says the failed actor-turned-whiskey addict who lives in a graveyard now. But then this is also his one chance to take another shot at half-stardom. So together they hatch a plan to make a ‘c’ out of the industry. Only until their egos play party pooper.
In the story Amitabh maybe the behind-the-scenes guy, but in the film Balki ensures he becomes the towering presence. The story almost seems to suggest that indeed without the Bachchan baritone, Daanish’s talent is nothing but a ‘sh’— a whisper. The clear bias is perhaps endearing in parts. Bachchan has the best lines, the best moments, and the most fun on screen. Balki even inserts a precious inside joke that has Rekha, marveling at Big B’s voice, calling it God’s very own. Whistles guaranteed.
But as things progress, the director gets a little too carried away by his Bachchan eulogy to actually explore the nuances of the story he has weaved so far. After a healthy dose of chuckles and witty banter, the story meanders into repetitive territory before culminating into an unexpected but a highly sentimental climax. From wicked humour to tearjerker, the transition is not as seamless as the director would have liked it to be.
However, there are some sound takeaways. It does make you ponder on the plight of dubbing artists, the psyche of the film industry and its audience and how real life unlike cinema doesn't give you time to prepare.
We’d have liked if Dhanush’s character was explored more, a deeper look at his insecurities of living a lie but we don’t get to see him go past his ego. However, the actor delivers a confident performance, working only with his expressions and mannerisms and holds his own in front of Mr Bachchan, who is not only the superstar in the film, but also the director’s muse. Dhanush’s job wasn’t easy but he gloriously lives up to the challenge. Big B is of course in his element, riding on the best lines and scenes cut-out for him. The director gives him every mood to play and Bachchan revels in it. Also, I must mention his grave-keeper friend in the film whose silences, monosyllables and awestruck gaze make some of the most delightful bits. We are not optimistic about Akshara’s flat dialogue delivery and deadpan face. It’s Balki’s brilliant characterisation that lets her get away with it.
This hiccup aside, Shamitabh’s strength lies in the mighty performances of its two leading men, which to a large extent fill the holes in the plot and allow us to look beyond the many flights of fancy.