‘Shamitabh’….Amitabh unleashed!

MUMBAI: R Balki’s films are described as novel by Shamitabh’s lead actor, Amitabh Bachchan. But the system of a Hindi-speaking person dubbing for South Indian actors or vice versa is age old reality. So is that of one person dubbing for another. There is nothing new in Shamitabh except that here a mute person aspires to be a star and a voice is found for him.

Dhanush is a small time lad from Igatpuri in Maharashtra helping his mother sell batata vada at the local state transport bus stop. Whatever money he gets, he spends on movies. When the cinema hall is brought down he barters with a video library, giving free batata vada and pakoda in exchange for a movie. That is where he also gets introduced to Hollywood movies.

Dhanush is mute but is convinced he is an ace actor and can somehow make it big in the films. He often tries to run away from his village to reach Mumbai but is brought back once by convincing him that he is still too young to become a film star and again when his mother pretends to be sick so that he stays back.

There comes a time when his mother is really ill and passes away. The way is open for Dhanush to go to Mumbai and try his luck. After a couple of failures in entering studios and trying to reach the famous film directors like Raju Hirani, Karan Johar, Rohit Shetty and so on, he finally makes it to a studio where he comes across Akshara Haasan, an assistant director who sympathises with this mute guy from a small town. She asks him to perform a scene and shoots it on her cell phone. Her director boss is duly impressed and decides to give him break. But what to do about his voice?

Producers: Sunil Lulla, Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, RK Damani, Gauri Shinde, Abhishek Bachchan.

Director: R Balki.

Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Dhanush, Akshara Haasan and cameos by Rekha, Javed Akhtar, Karan Johar, Rohit Shetty etc.

The way out is to find a voice for him who will not dub for him but will playback his dialogue on his behalf. After some voice tests, they suddenly come across Bachchan, a weird character and a drunkard with a Christian cemetery as his abode. Bachchan has no solid back story for turning into what he has. The cemetery keeper charges him rent and also doubles up as his Man Friday. Now everybody knows about Bachchan’s rich voice, which does not quite match Dhanush’s personality. But, in the film’s story, that is what works for Dhanush since the film highlights mainly this aspect leaving aside his famous acting prowess which impressed those concerned.

After some coaxing, Bachchan agrees to be the voice of Dhanush because he can get even with the entertainment industry; he had come to Mumbai forty years back to try his luck first in films and later on radio (the radio rejection happened to him in real life). Both rejected him because the filmmakers found his voice like that of a villain (no idea why he did not get a villain’s role!). He can now make a star out of Dhanush on the strength of his voice.

Dhanush’s debut film makes it to the screen and in the very first weekend, he has become a superstar breaking the collection records of Aamir Khan as well as Salman Khan! He has taken the screen name of Shamitabh, combining his and Bachchan’s name as that makes him complete as an actor. But, no sooner does Dhanush become a star, he gets into an ego struggle with his voice, Bachchan: is he successful because of his acting or is it the rich voice he borrows from Bachchan?

The voice acting conflict is introduced too early and goes on and on, becoming repetitive. If acting is what took Dhanush to the top, it is not emphasised on with most of the time the focus being on Bachchan and his booming voice. Finally comes a time when the ego clash leads to a parting of ways. While Dhanush attempts to prove himself with a film about deaf and mute love story, Bachchan tries to prove his point by lending his voice to another aspiring actor, who stammers and can’t deliver dialogues. Both fail in their respective efforts and realise that they complement each other. Akshara plays the mediator to bring them together.

If Bachchan were to play only Dhanush’s voice, there would not have been much to do for him in the film. So there is extended footage on his lifestyle. Also, what he did very successfully for the first time in Amar Akbar Anthony, the mime in front of a mirror, and later in another film has been overused here. Bachchan is made to give multiple monologues which not only stretch the film but also bring negative returns. Director Balki seems to sell Bachchan more than his idea of a ventriloquist for mute actor.

With a loose script which comes in bits and pieces as it moves from one artiste to another while also trying to build a romance between Dhanush and Akshara (one sided though from Dhanush) it leads to many tedious moments. The director seems to have little control thereafter stretching the film to 153 minutes with a story based on just three artistes. The music by the legendary composer, Illaiyaraaja, is mediocre, best of the lot being two ringtone kind of numbers in Ishq e phillum…. And Piddly si baatein…. Background score is fine. Dialogue, mainly Bachchan’s lines, are good. Editing is slack. Climax is abrupt and poor.

It is an Amitabh show all the way though he is overburdened. Dhanush overacts at times and is just passable. Akshara fails to make a mark, her dressing may be contemporary youth kind but makes her lack femininity.

On the whole, Shamitabh fails to deliver.

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