Suspension of disbelief is the only thing you need to watch and appreciate R. Balki’s latest offering, Shamitabh. To begin with, imagine our Hindi Film Industry (Ok Bollywood) without Amitabh Bachchan – those ‘Mere paas maa hais’, ‘Mein aaj bhi phenke hue paise nahi uthaataas’, ‘Maut ke saath aaj apun ka appenment hais’ or ‘Parampara pratishta aur anushaasans’ that reigned supreme over the entire ‘Bollywood’ spectrum never took place.
Now that you’re equipped with oodles of ‘suspension of disbelief’, here’s one more, a small one at that – a live voice transfer technology can make or break an artist. Before you utter the ‘S’ Word of Spoiler, I’d leave the storyline there, purely because it’s the only thing, apart from Big B’s baritone and Dhanush’s histrionics that will keep you hooked to its ‘Piddly’ plot-line.
Bachchan, in one of his interviews said that he dubbed the dialogues of Shamitabh thrice. First for Dhanush’s character, second for his own character while shooting and third for the final dubbing. While we’re at it, I’d like to share this silly incident about the ‘secret’ of Big B’s voice:
I was doing a research for my short story about acting classes and approached few ‘leading’ acting schools of Vadodara as an ‘aspiring actor’ who wants to make it big in ‘Bollywood’ (He clearly told me I have no chance to make it big in Bollywood but can play character roles, ouch!). The ‘Acting Coach’, after spewing innumerable big names in Bollywood and his connection with them, finally revealed me the ultimate secret:
According to this ‘Acting Coach’, Big B ensures that he dubs his voice only after 3.00 am. He sleeps in the dubbing studio and asks his assistant to wake him up mid-sleep – just to get that deep baritone right. The ‘Acting Coach’ went on to tell me that he calls up his students in the middle of the night, just to check if they’ve got that ‘x-factor’ in their voice or not. I wondered whether he mean that Bachchan never speaks all through the day… Well, resisting the temptation to go any further, I thanked him for revealing the elusive, best-kept-secret of Amitabh Bachchan’s voice.
In a similar vein (well not exactly similar), R. Balki endeavours to make his audience discover the best-kept-secret behind Shamitabh’s voice. The film is essentially an ode to Indian Film Industry, right from Parinda to Parineeta (pardon the phony phonetic pun), and most importantly the superstar Amitabh Bachchan. The hero-ki-entry wala-dialogue – ‘Tum log mujhe wahan dhoond rahe ho, aur mein yahaan tumhaara intazaar kar raha hoon’ – clearly sums up the essence of Shamitabh, where R. Balki dedicates 2 hours 25 minutes to Big Master’s Voice and weaves a story around it.
Dhanush, as DaaniSH and Amitabh Bachchan as AMITABH Sinha, together make the film work at many levels, especially when their egos clash, making the film shift from SHamitabh to shAMITABH. Both as catalysts to each other’s success and recognition, nurture ‘creative egos’ and wear it up their sleeves, while Akshara Haasan’s character tries bridging these gaps and infuses the spirit of teamwork in them. It is this clash that makes room for some interesting jugalbandi between the two characters, which for some strange reason, seems unexplored and left uncooked by writer-director R. Balki.
Dhanush, with his impeccable performance, completely convinces you of the fact that only he could have played the role of Daanish. Right from ‘paying’ pirated DVD wala with pakoras, watching Nana Patekar with wide eyes, mimicking Ranbeer Rockstar, and Rajni Saarr, this gem of an actor makes you buy into the medical mumbo-jumbo that ensues. It is indeed no wonder the Big B recommended Dhanush to play the role of Daanish.
Akshara makes a confident debut but often struggles with dialogue delivery, especially when her character is supposed to be frustrated. Amitabh Bachchan is at ease with his idiosyncratic character of a drunkard, and gleefully indulges in morbid jokes and soliloquys (which are way too much even for an avowed Big B fan like yours truly). His looks often remind of his films (certainly not his best ones), Aakhri Raasta, Andha Kanoon, Mahaan, and The Last Lear.
R. Balki, like his previous outings, ‘Cheeni Kum’ and ‘Paa’, chooses to keep his storytelling simple, sans melodrama, and even resists exploring love angle between Dhanush and Akshara’s characters. He makes tongue-in-cheek comments on current crop of ‘successful’ films without blatantly criticizing them.
PC Sreeram paints the silver screen with hues of realism, especially in the graveyard sequences. Editor Hemanti Sarkar could have done away with the extended ‘Bhaabhi’ version of Piddly song in the end. As for the film’s music by Illayaraja, ‘Piddly’ written by Swanand Kirkire (also does a cameo) is the only song worth a mention. It surely couldn’t have been sung by any other singer worth his baritone, except the man with ‘god’s own voice’, as Rekha would like to put it.
The only place Shamitabh seems to falter at is its convenient ending – ekdum Hindi fillum isshtyle and the redundant ensemble of brands, right from Knorr soup (Bachchan ensures that the branded mug shows the logo clearly – aakhir paisa chahiye bhai), Lifebuoy (Even the remixed jingle can’t do to the brand what Munni Badnaam did to Zandu Balm), Seven Hills Hospital, and Kindle.
It is said that music is the silence between the sounds. Similarly, the brilliance of Shamitabh lies in the ‘performances’ between the ‘baritones’. After playing a mute character in Reshma Aur Shera (1971), Amitabh Bachchan comes a full circle with Shamitabh. His final act, laced with closing credits mentioning the names of the actors’ ‘Valet’ (personal male attendant, responsible for actor’s clothes and appearance) prove that ardent performance can make silences eloquent.