MUMBAI: Every director has his muse. Farah Khan has Shah Rukh Khan, Ayan Mukerji has Ranbir Kapoor, andR Balki has Amitabh Bachchan. The one actor they admire so much that, at times, their films are nothing more than a simpering tribute to their favourite artist.
Balki’s “Shamitabh” (a play on the names of the two main characters Daanish and Amitabh) is certainly more tribute than film, not just to Bachchan but to his baritone, an aspect of his personality that lends itself to much awe and imitation. Bachchan was famously denied employment in radio because his voice was deemed too deep for the medium, and Balki makes sure that this and many other real life incidents are referenced during the film. “Shamitabh” is as much about the industry that Bachchan inhabits as it is about the star himself.
Daanish (Dhanush K Raja) is speech-impaired since birth, but his disability doesn’t stop his dream of becoming a Bollywood star. His passion and talent catches the eye of assistant director Akshara (Akshara Haasan), who asks her doctor father for help.
They discover a technology that would help Daanish talk through a voice receptor embedded in his throat, as long as someone else speaks for him through another speaker that is within a reasonable distance.
Daanish and Akshara set about looking for that “voice” and come across Amitabh Sinha (Amitabh Bachchan), a bedraggled, brusque old man who lives in a cemetery and thinks alcohol is his best friend. Sinha is a failed actor, and through Daanish, feels he has a shot at stardom that eluded him in his youth.
Balki has the germ of a great idea, and thanks to snappy dialogue, he even manages to make it work for a while. It helps that he has three electric performers in his film. Dhanush, debutant Hassan and Bachchan all share a great chemistry on screen. And the scenes in the graveyard involving the three of them are the best in the film.
But the movie never rises beyond a point and the director seems to have no idea how to take it towards its logical conclusion. So, like a pilot who has no idea where he’s going to land his plane, Balki keeps circling round and round, playing out the same conflicts over and over again.
At 152 minutes, “Shamitabh” is too long and exhausting to watch. There are some good aspects of the film, most notably the three protagonists, but several others such as the climax and the specifics of Daanish’s illness are contrived and come across as gimmicky.
If only Balki had set out to make a film and not a meandering tribute to his favourite actor, this could have turned out to be a special film.