Language: Hindi | Running Time: 150 Minutes | Director: R Balki
Amitabh Bachchan attired in a suit that has seen better days and a voice that sounds like scotch married marmalade, comes out with a philosophical outburst claiming whiskey runs without water but water cannot work without whiskey. You could close your eyes at this moment and have him tell his dialogues in the manner that he does, regal and disarmingly egoistic and it would be difficult not to worship the owner of this majestic baritone. It is this voice that Balki worships and his God gives it to him liberally, too easily and too liberally that he makes it both the strength and the weakness of his third venture, Shamitabh.
Shamitabh is the story of Daanish (Dhanush), a mute boy from a small village in Maharashtra who grows up on films and wants to be a star and Amitabh Sinha (Amitabh Bachchan), a reject of the film industry who was rejected because his voice was too colossal for his time. It is about the “mixture” of this mute man who wants to be a star and the man who gives him the voice to follow his dreams, their egos and the power struggle. They are water and whiskey and their concoction is Shamitabh, the superstar. It also is a loud parody of the ways of Bollywood.
Balki has an interesting premise to his films. Even Cheeni Kum and Paa came with interesting ideas. Shamitabh is the best idea he has had so far. Daanish comes to tinsel world, lives in a vanity van, hounds the studios where his favourite filmmakers work but like a million others who come to Mumbai with the dreams of being an actor, gets spurned. But when he does get a chance and impresses a director with his ability to perform, he is refused a chance because he is mute. Akshara (a very promising Akshara Hassan), an assistant director takes him under her wing, sends him to Finland for some hocus pocus science fiction to ensure that people think he can speak. In the world where dubbing is not only accepted but a much used movie touch, I find this bit of science fiction quite bemusing and these are indulgences that come to create problems in the second half, the problems Balki always ensures his films suffer from. And the voice that transcends the screen is Amitabh Bachchan’s.
The first half hour of the film is a joy to watch. The young actors who play Daanish during his school days and the video store that Dhanush haunts and watches movies, enacting the titular characters onboard a lorry, seducing a woman based on watching Hollywood films. The usual Balki quirkiness comes to the fore the way he makes an old screen filled with movie stars into Dhanush’s shirt and the way he answers the questions of the media on opening night of his first film, Lifebuoy. The way his first film gets the name is in itself the kind of entertaining and slap-on-the-face tale that Balki is capable of churning out. And had he managed to do it throughout the running time of 150 minutes, he would have had a gem here.
A film works well only if the conflict between its actors is not superficial and has palpable tension. Shamitabh lacks this air of drama though the actors Dhanush and Amitabh do their very best, the former never speaking and only using his charm and brilliant body language and the latter bringing in that timber of a drink that’s aged significantly. By the halfway line, we are already aware of the egotistic issues at hand but the way the inevitable is prolonged is torturous. There aren’t enough moments of a face off that doesn’t end with Balki not worshipping Amitabh Bachchan that it all ends up becoming feeble.
There is a scene where Rekha hands over an award to Shamitabh and Amitabh Bachchan’s voice offers “Thank You”. You all but can feel Rekha swooning to it and when she tells him to take care of himself and his voice; you see what Balki is aiming for with this film, a plush reverent love for the man he would not do a film without. He throws in his love for the south by making a reference to Rajinikanth by making Daanish a bus conductor and parodies the world he works in by showing us the undue importance paid to everything a star does, from the way he looks to the way he speaks and everything attached to him – from his valet to the vacations he takes. He also brings in a very mediocre investigative journalist angle towards the end which gives seedy & paid journalism a good smack but does little to create drama.
The banality and insufficient drama of Balki’s sometimes engaging, self-aware and intelligent idea may bring down Shamitabh a notch but it is the indulgence and fanboi reverence of the big man which costs Shamitabh the love it would otherwise get.