THERE is a paradox about R. Balki's films, if you look at Shamitabh keeping in mind the two he made earlier. His films ride unusual story ideas but suffer due to mediocre filmmaking. Both Cheeni Kum and Paa in the past were saved by a towering performance coming from Balki's talismanic hero, Amitabh Bachchan.
Shamitabh is a veritable repeat of that fact, which is a downer actually. Just as Cheeni Kum and Paa , the film did have the potential to be very special.
But Shamitabh goes one up on both of Balki's earlier projects in a way. This time, the writer- director finds a bail- out in not one but two towering performances. Big B is solid as ever. But if Bollywood fans caught a glimpse of Dhanush's power as an actor in Raanjhanaa , Shamitabh proves Rajinikanth's son- in- law is cut out for greater heights.
That Big B and Dhanush together emerge as the only strong point of this film actually works for Shamitabh. The story after all fuses the lives of the two characters these actors portray, as a bittersweet whole.
It is a story of bonding and ego trip shared by the two protagonists. Balki has in the past shown a slant at exploring human relationships with hyper play of emotions. Shamitabh , despite its often flagging shots at comedy, ultimately remains a soppy tale.
The clever bit about the film lies in the way it uses Amitabh Bachchan's voice as an inherent character in the story.
Dhanush plays Danish, smalltowner with big Bollywood dreams and paralysed vocal cords. With no voice he cannot be an actor, of course. The narrative squeezes in a young pretty, intelligent, super- helpful assistant director ( Akshara Haasan) whose purpose of breathing, it would seem, is to help the guy. As Danish and his friendly studio- neighbourhood AD wrack their brains for a solution, enter Amitabh Srivastava ( Amitabh Bachchan), alcoholic and failed actor. With a booming baritone.
Talk of scripted realism. AD lady's daddy is a doctor, so fixing the old man's baritone into the young struggler's voice box is just a matter of some super- advanced scientific technology they invented in Finland.
There was a seed of an idea in Shamitabh that seems wacky. There is ample melodrama ( shall we say mellow drama?) that makes it wimpy. The film ends on lame note, after all of the second half is spent in Balki haplessly trying to figure out how he wants to take his story forward.
Akshara is impressively underplayed. In the end, though, the film is about a 72- year- old icon proving once again he stands taller than the rest, more so when he is heard. And it is about a 30- something unassuming actor with gigantic screen presence to stand up to the legend.
Watch Shamitabh for Big B and Dhanush, if you must.
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