This is my first Bollywood movie watching experience (and movie review in a while) after 16 odd months in Singapore; the last being the slapstick comedy ‘Besharam’ on holiday. This time around is an art house-ish film called ‘Shamitabh’ starring the legendary Mr. Amitabh Bachchan and the Southern star Dhanush better known for his ‘Kolveri di’ viral hit in wider India. The film is a satirical, spoof like take on the antics of Bollywood with a quip that why don’t Maharashtrians get a major break in Bollywood and the dual protagonist says that is the way it is in here, an artificial entry barrier. Danish aka Dhanush in the film is mute, but a obsessive film fan since he was a boy breathing cinema (there is a song track in the film conveying that thought process and persona). Amitabh Bachchan aka Amitabh Sinha on screen is a fail actor turned alcoholic who lives in the graveyard who calls it the house in ‘Mumbai with a garden’ at 500 rupees per month. Mr. Bachchan in real life was turned down by the All India Radio early on in his career due his iconic baritone and there are dialogues in the film eulogising his trademark baritone in his later years . His weakness became his greatest strength.
There are instances in the film where the award ceremony corruption has been mocked and the inevitable casting couch. Akshara Hassan as the enthusiastic Assistant Director does everything to give mute Danish a break in Bollywood. They stumble across a medical technology in Finland that gives the mute an artificial voice if they can find a voice. Amitabh Bachchan is the voice who shadows Dhanush’s character and gives his acting life. So Shamitabh is born, with Amitabh Bachchan’s voice and Dhanush’s fire in the belly to be an actor. His desire is more than his talent he says in the film and the author of this post whole heartedly agrees with the ethos. Amitabh Bchachan’s drunk/injured mirror scene from the 1970’s film ‘Amar, Akbar, Anthony’ is subtly recreated.
The tension between the voice and the mute actor’s acting explodes with both parting ways and badly faltering as independent entities. Ego tussles are emotively covered in this cinematic landscape. Love is depicted sensitively between Danish and his mother in rural Maharashtra as with Danish and his Assistant Director confidant which is romantic, but more platonic.
The ending of the film is the best as it is disability is sensitively portrayed when Shamitabh wish to confess to the world that they are two talents working as one person. They meet an accident in which Danish dies and takes up Amitabh’s so called reserved place in the grave where he usually spends his time. Amitabh who is proud of his vocal chords loses his ‘voice’. The irony is well understood. Never be vain about ones talents as it can be snatched away in a matter of seconds.
Akshara Hassan (quite a find i must say) is fresh and holds her ground in capturing screen space while scolding Danish and Amitabh on managing egos. Music is strategically used as a device to convey the story and the southern master Illiyaraja is spot on. The cinematography is documentary-esque in its technical treatment.
Balki, the Director is an Amitabh Fan Boy and he makes no bones about that. It is a sensitive but enjoyable watch in the era of mega commercial hits without any acting prowess. Amitabh, Dhanush and Akshara make the film an intellectual and entertaining watch. Dhanush is a powerhouse of an acting talent. We should see more of him in Bollywood fare.
Finally, the film is a dedication to the Valets and support staff of the acting superstars who make their life easier. They deserve the dignity. Thats a beautiful message. Kudos, Balki and Mr. Bachchan.