Shamitabh Hindi Movie Review
There is a vast gap between conjuring up an ingenious idea and developing it further. And there is an even bigger leap to be taken from fleshing out an idea to executing it well on-screen. Director R. Balki's Shamitabh, unfortunately, is a film that not only stumbles on the first gap, but it also falls through the crack while taking the leap.
Considering the amount of secrecy that surrounded the film, with its story being kept under considerable wraps, it's ironical that the story itself should act as the villain in a film without villains. Conceptually, Shamitabh is attention-grabbing. A mute aspiring actor Daanish (Dhanush) hires a drunk, former struggling actor Amitabh Sinha (Amitabh Bachchan) to be his voice not only in his films, but also his daily life and routine interactions.
To make you believe in Daanish's talent and his insatiable desire to be an actor, we are shown through flashbacks his childhood and his obsession with films since the very beginning. He beats up his school teacher while enacting a scene, repeatedly tries to run away to Mumbai from his small village and trades pakoras for access to a DVD shop's enviable movie collection. These childhood portions are extremely over-the-top, and not in the good way. It's hard to garner sympathy for a character who chooses to blow money on films rather than helping out his old, working mother.
When he eventually manages to reach Mumbai, he is aided by an Assistant Director Akshara (Akshara Haasan), who's motive for helping him is as clear as muddy water. After a series of events, they come across Amitabh, who lives at a graveyard, but has some serious ego hassles. He reluctantly agrees to lend his voice to Daanish, who gets rechristened as Shamitabh (Get it? So clever!).
The ensuing success of their first film Lifebuoy (the soap brand, who probably ended up paying for the entire budget of the film for their product placement) brings the duo under the limelight and earns Daanish the tag of the next big thing. If the film had managed to strain credulity up till this point, their sudden and drastic success is less believable than the existence of space monkeys.
At no point is director R. Balki sure of what to do with either the film's concept or his two talented leads. He subsequently tries to focus on the ego clashes between the face and the voice of the enigma that is Shamitabh, which might've been a good idea in the hands of another director. But Balki is in the habit of trying very hard to make an audience cry, almost to the point of pleading. While this approach proved to be successful with his last film, the superlative Paa, Shamitabh needed a less strong-handed approach.
The film too frequently devolves into melodrama. Whether it be the jail incident in London or the final climax, everything is either too convenient or completely far-fetched. Instead of letting the story take its own course, Balki tries to force its hand, shoving one cockamamie episode after another down the audience's throat in the name of drama. Also, the way that the two leads go about their daily lives, it is quite impossible for them to have kept up the act for even a short period of time, let alone the lengthy duration of shooting and releasing two blockbuster films.
The one thing that is worse than squandering away a great thought and a perfect opportunity is wasting the time and talents of your skilled cast of actors. Amitabh Bachchan is pretty much the captain of this sinking ship, trying his best to ebb the flow of water on-board, but to no avail. With a mane of long white hair and a matching lengthy beard to go with it, he looks the part of a washed-up drunkard with a disproportionately large sense of self-pride. But more importantly, he plays his part with the sure-footedness that only age, experience and miraculous talent can bring. He especially shines during his character's low moments, using his reddened eyes and unruly appearance to great advantage.
Dhanush's performance is a bit more problematic. As the mute Daanish, he is absolutely breathtaking, bringing to the fore a myriad of complex emotions using only his face and body language. The intensity with which he performs during his character's silent outbursts is stunning to watch. But as Shamitabh, every time he is mouthing the words dubbed for him by Amitabh, he is wooden and unsure. He always uncomfortable in such scenes, never quite understanding how to conduct himself, for which the blame squarely rests on Balki once again.
Akshara Haasan, the latest daughter of Kamal Haasan to grace the silver screen, makes an absolutely terrible debut. Not only is she expressionless, but she lacks any sort of confidence and screen presence. Her dialogue delivery is devoid of conviction and although she has a cool hairstyle, it doesn't really help her cause.
Shamitabh could've been just what Bollywood needed, a smart, concept-driven film within the space of commercial cinema. Instead, it serves as a reminder how even the best of intentions can be let down by crummy writing and ham-handed direction. Shamitabh is too melodramatic and outlandish for its own good. The only thing that you'll take back home with you is Dhanush and Amitabh's chemistry, which is why you shouldn't be leaving from home for this film in the first place.