R Balki has a knack of coming up with brilliant ideas but falling just a little short of perfect execution. His previous films, ‘Cheeni Kum’ and ‘Paa’ were very high on thought, thoroughly enjoyable but do not really make it to your list of ‘my god, what a film!’ With Shamitabh, writer-director Balki, once again shows that he is a master when it comes to envisaging the unusual and unique. Yes, it takes a lot of guts and conviction to juxtapose arguably the nation’s most recognizable voice over someone else.
Apart from the novelty of its idea, Shamitabh is also a very quirky ode to the Hindi film industry (read Bollywood). There are smart puns, quick jibes and also some heartwarming sequences that underline an average Indian’s fixation and fascination with Mumbai and its star-studded film industry. Dhanush plays Daanish, a poor young boy who cannot speak but dreams to become a superstar. With a sympathetic assistant director (debutant Akshara Hassan) by her side and aided by a technology that’s tough to be explained here in a review (pun intended), Daanish convinces a drunkard, homeless old man Amitabh (Yes, Big B plays a character called Amitabh Sinha) to be his voice. Daanish’s acting prowess and Amitabh’s stunning baritone come together to give birth to ‘Shamitabh’, who goes on to become an overnight sensation. Post initial success, the two collaborators fall prey to ego clashes that lead to an inevitable fall out, only to later realize that neither can actually survive without the other.
Let’s get it straight. There are several questions in the film that have been conveniently left unanswered. The way Akshara makes Dhanush’s dreams come alive is rather unbelievable. It is inconceivable how nobody notices an old, burly man mumbling lines from the script every time superstar ‘Shamitabh’ is shooting on the sets. The second half of the film is somewhat wayward with an odd, tacky sequence that effects a patch up between Big B and Dhanush. It seems the writer-director run out of steam post interval and become a little self-indulgent. So, the otherwise funny ‘piddly’ sequence is stretched too far, so is the whisky-water analogy and Big B’s drunken monologues at the graveyard.
Despite these shortcomings, the film never really becomes a drag thanks to its two leading men. Amitabh Bachchan breathes fire as a destitute drunkard, his booming baritone and powerhouse performance will stay with you for long. It is amazing how he comes up with nuanced portrayal of a drunkard despite having played similar characters umpteen times in his long, illustrious career. Dhanush matches up to Big B’s acting prowess with his own brand of ‘believable’ performance. Credit to him for lip syncing Big B’s voice without ever really making the audience feel uncomfortable.
Making her debut, Akshara Hassan comes across as an unpolished but natural actor. However, the film’s best performance is that of Rekha who makes a guest appearance (wink)! Yes, you read it right. Her expressions when she hears Dhanush speaking in Big B’s voice is priceless (wink, again).
The film’s music (Ilayaraja) is groovy and effective, aided by Swanand Kirkire’s quirky lyrics. Editing is just not crisp enough with some scenes just going on and on indulgently. Background score is over-dramatic at times but yes, we are talking about a film that’s a tribute to Hindi films itself!
Overall, Shamitabh is a rare, original seed coming out of Bollywood’s brain that is mostly filled with inspirations and repetitions. Despite its fair share of loopholes, watch Shamitabh simply because its unique, brave and oozing with Bachchan magic.
Rating: *** (Good)