Starring: Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Dhanush, Akshara Haasan
Directed by R. Balki
At the very outset, there are two things that irritate you a lot about Shamitabh. One is the in-your-face, blatant and unashamed in-film brand promotion. It’s tacky, and not even an attempt is made to integrate the products into the storyline of the film. So much so that they could as well have called this film ‘Lifeorr’ or ‘Knobuoy’ (portmanteaus of Lifebuoy and Knorr, the two major presences).
The other is to do with Amitabh Bachchan’s baritone. “Ye awaaz ek kutte ke moonh se bhi achchi lagegi,” his character says in the film. Well, not quite. A voice that has an identity and mythology of its own is difficult to accept on anyone other than the one who it truly belongs to. Especially for someone like me, who has grown up on a healthy diet of the superstar’s ‘Angry Young Man’ movies. And Shamitabh is all about smothering this larger-than-life voice, cruelly rendering it disembodied. Which is not to diss the great, big idea of the film itself: about how stardom is a chimeric creation, cobbled together by borrowing elements from here, there and everywhere. In this case, it’s the voice of one and the face of another. It’s about how individual egos can spell doom for fame and glory and destroy the jury-rigged construct that stardom is. All fine on paper, but Balki executes it in a manner which is more silly and stupid than profound and philosophical.
A mute Dhanush wants to be a superstar. With the help of a philanthropic assistant director and writer Akshara Haasan, he is flown abroad for an experiment in “laryngology”, thanks to which he can talk in the voice of the alcoholic keeper of a burial ground, that is, the deep-toned Bachchan. This entire “live voice transfer technology”, which is accomplished by implanting a chip in Dhanush’s throat, feels utterly daft and dim-witted. It’s hard to take it with any amount of seriousness. Moreover, the voice-face disjunct, given the grandeur and iconicity of Big B’s voice, proves too hard to bridge.
For a film that has a mute character at the centre, Shamitabh is excessively loud. Be it the acting or the emotions, everything is pitched high—as a result of which even silences become deafening. Both Dhanush and Bachchan are forced to overact. What works are the spontaneous moments of humour. Like when Amitabh asks Dhanush his weight and then tells him that his voice is weightier. Or when Rekha (playing herself) gives Dhanush a quizzical look on hearing the voice. Has she heard it on someone else before? It’s in the wry, self-mocking humour that Amitabh comes alive. One wishes there were more of them than those drunken soliloquies. One wishes the same light touch for Dhanush as well.
It all ends at the hospital, as most of Balki’s films do. Coming out of the theatre, I couldn’t help but think of his morbid fascination with sickness, disabilities and abnormalities. Sadly, the film feels more manipulative than sensitive. And also extremely boring.