Sunday, February 8, 2015

Shamitabh Movie Review : Amitabh Bachchan puts up a class act

Shamitabh review: Amitabh Bachchan puts up a class act but fails to save the film

Ten minutes into Shamitabh, you begin to realize you’re feeling something that seems almost alien – entertainment. You’ll be glad that, after what seems like eons, we have a mainstream commercial movie with a story that’s unique and original, without the tacky underpinnings of the products from the genre. If you’re a Big B fan, the first half of Shamitabh is going to be your LSD.

Daanish, a kid from a village, grows up into a perfectly-cast Dhanush, with dreams of being an actor. Daanish moves to Mumbai and stalks whichever filmmaker he spots, and begins living secretly in a vanity van. When he finally gets a chance to do a screen test, he kills it. The only problem? He’s mute. But this is 2015, and filmmaking now has tools, like dubbing. With these tools, even a tool can be a hero. And as the protagonist mentions, if you’ve got the vocal cords of Amitabh Bachchan, even a dog can be star. So when Daanish comes across Amitabh Sinha (Amitabh Bachchan), a washed up drunkard with a glorious baritone, the collaboration reeks of superstardom. Daanish plus Amitabh become Shamitabh.

Going with the theme of the film, Shamitabh is half a great movie. This is a film about superstardom, starring superstars. It’s about the high of the rise and the constant threat of the fall; the jealousy, the disappointment and all the other emotional baggage that comes with stardom. In one scene, Shamitabh is shooting a movie where his heroine has to visit the loo, so he builds her a toilet out of snow and the commode becomes a romantic theme in the song. Yup, Shamitabh is also an unsubtle commentary of the nature of commercial Bollywood.

The ‘conflict’ in director Balki’s previous films Cheeni Kum and Paa were ham handed to say the least, but this time we have something imaginative. As Shamitabh becomes a star, his greed starts to eat him inwards. Amitabh, who is kept a secret and presented to the public as a valet named Robert, begins to wonder why he doesn’t get the lion’s share of the credit. Acting and screen presence is all about the delivery, he growls. To get you high, a bottle of whiskey doesn’t need water, but water does need whiskey. Even if a whiskey bottle is 43% whiskey and 57% water. His voice didn’t suit the industry in the ’80s, so how is it fair that someone with no screen presence becomes a star because of that very same voice? Neither can live without the other. The ego clashes and jealous bickering between the two are fun, as are Amitabh’s drunk philosophical putdowns.

However, it seems Balki took the dual nature of his film too seriously because the second half of the film crashes and burns. Balki loses the drive and is unsure of what to do with the characters, so he includes some truly horrendous contrivances to pad things up.

There is also a ton of stupidity in the movie, like the eyeroll-inducing, Finnish sci fi technology behind getting Amitabh’s voice in Daanish’s throat. Other contrivances include a random assistant director (an awkward Akshara Haasan) who rescues Daanish from being thrown out of Film City for stalking, puts him on a screen test, sends him to Finland, and convinces her director to cast him in his film as the star (twice). Talk about luck by chance. There’s also an unintentionally hilarious subplot of a tabloid reporter who realizes the discrepancy in Shamitabh’s voice and travels to Finland as an investigative reporter and then blackmails Shamitabh. Not to mention the hundred thousand product placements crammed into nearly every frame of the film.

If you were disappointed by the endings of Paa and Cheeni Kum, prepare to face something similar. During the closing minutes it becomes clear that Balki doesn’t know what point to make, so he just abruptly gives up and the credits roll, leaving you with a mixed bag of emotions.

Fortunately you’ll still remember the one thing that kept the film going – Bachchan’s performance. Such style and elegance is seldom seen in cinema. Even when he’s lying in the dirt, blabbering with a sozzled face, Bachchan is a class act. And it’s great to see him play a character instead of his own French bearded self. Amitabh points out that he’s the larger part of the name Shamitabh, and Big B is pretty much the only significant and memorable part of the film. This might as well have been called ShaMetabh.

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