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Why Shamitabh Is A Travesty (In Two Reviews)

06/02/2015 12:18 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST
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MUMBAI, MAHARASHTRA JANUARY 07 : Amitabh Bachchan and Dhanush at the trailer launch of SHAMITABH.(Photo by Milind Shelte/India Today Group/Getty Images)

Below, in italics, is the review of Shamitabh for the film that R Balki thinks he has made:

Shamitabh is a wickedly funny tribute to the greatest baritone in, arguably, the history of cinema. Amitabh Bachchan's voice and persona take centre-stage in this quirky dramedy that tells the story of a young struggler, Danish (played by Dhanush), who rises to become a huge Bollywood star with the enigmatic name 'Shamitabh'. The twist? Danish has been mute since birth.

How does Shamitabh pull this off, you might ask? Through some clever writing, is the answer. Danish grows up in the small town of Igatpuri, only 120 kms away from Mumbai, the home of Bollywood. What he lacks in vocal cords, he more than makes up for in curiosity, especially when it comes to the movies.

His obsessions runs so deep that his poor mother, a snack vendor, frequently fakes illnesses so that her only son won't run away to Mumbai to realise his dreams of being a star. Lovers of world cinema will doubtless recognise Danish as a fitting homage to young Salvatore Di Vita from Cinema Paradiso, Giuseppe Tornatore's much-loved Italian classic.

Inevitably, the day arrives when Danish must arrive in the city of dreams to pursue his destiny. Through a series of coincidences, after many disappointments, he runs into Akshara (Akshara Haasan, making a fine debut), an assistant director who appreciates his acting chops and resolves to help him realise his dream. Her father, a doctor, finds out about a revolutionary technology developed in Finland that allows people with damaged vocal cords to "speak" with another person's voice. Thrilled with this development, Danish is flown to Finland and the procedure is successful. Now the only thing standing between him and stardom is a great voice, especially one that compensates for his less-than-conventional looks. As luck would have it, he runs into an old drunk with a voice that sounds like box-office gold. His name? Amitabh Sinha.

The rest of the story is too tantalising to give away. To writer-director R Balki's credit, the writing is fresh and witty, and the film is never boring. Bachchan plays Amitabh Sinha like his life depends on it and Dhanush is palpably brilliant. Ultimately, Shamitabh ends up exposing the hypocrisy and mediocrity of Bollywood while subtly recalling a simpler era when movie magic actually meant something; when acting was more about passion and less about biceps.

It is also a fitting tribute to one of the greatest superstars alive -- he of the single-malt baritone. Mr Bachchan, take a bow. You are the whiskey, the water, and everything else.

Now, here's the review for the film that R Balki actually ended up making:

All films must be judged by the difference between what they intended to deliver and what they actually delivered. The smaller the difference between the two, the better the film, and vice versa. It's only February, but I'm willing to wager my vocal cords that we probably won't see a worse film than Shamitabh in 2015. By which I mean that of course we will see worse films in general, but none that have been so blinded by the supposed originality of their concept that they end up making a farce of a movie that disrespects its own internal logic, its audience's intelligence, and most importantly, Amitabh Bachchan.

Where does one even begin? The early scene in which a young Danish daydreams in class that ends bizarrely, with him mutely acting out a revenge scene and beating up his teacher (who happens to be roughly thrice his size) in front of his cheering classmates? Or the fact that a lowly AD decides to help out a mute, average-looking, skinny struggler, so much so that she helps him get treated in Finland, for no discernible reason? Or the fact that the fictitious speech technology shown in the film is of less practical value than sign language, since the user is completely dependent on someone else nearby who needs to speak for him? For heaven's sake, did the makers not realise that even Stephen Hawking's text-to-speech transmitter is more practical than this ridiculous invention of theirs?

shamitabh

Shamitabh makes Bachchan play an amplified version of himself wherein he and the film are constantly making meta references to his own legend to the point of embarrassment. A case in point is an astonishingly indulgent sequence set outside a pub in London, which involves an inebriated Amitabh doddering around and chewing scenery in the worst manner possible - which is basically his entire performance. If Anthony Gonsalves were to watch this scene, he would have only one response: "Pakka idiot dikhta hai, idiot!"

What is hard to imagine is that grown men and women with undeniable talent worked hard to make and promote a movie this infantile and badly-thought-through. That dichotomy sticks out even in the technical department. PC Sreeram's cinematography is horrendous (I lost count of the number of frames that featured out-of-focus objects blocking up to a third of the screen), while the great Illaiayraja's overly lush background score is manipulative and obtrusive, often drowning out dialogue to comical effect (much like enthusiastic acceptance speeches are cut off at awards ceremonies).

The only saving graces of Shamitabh are the competent and sincere performances from Dhanush and debutant Hassan, saddled as they are with the most ridiculous script this one-line idea could've spawned. That aside, the supporting cast is uniformly bad, with special mention for the actor who plays Anay Verma, a film director with the (re)acting skills of a third-rate TV actor.

R Balki aims high and yet, somehow, ends up shooting himself in the foot. If this movie's speech technology worked across space and time, I'd use it to manipulate Mr Bachchan into refusing this film.

Note: All opinions expressed above in italics were in jest and meant to be sarcastic. All that followed afterwards were true. You'd think I wouldn't have to state that explicitly, but certain recent events have led me to believe that many of us are confused about what is said in jest and what isn't.

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