R Balki and Amitabh Bachchan form quite a director-actor combo. With their third film together, ‘Shamitabh’, the duo dashes off in a direction that is markedly different from their previous outings — Cheeni Kum and Paa.
But is Shamitabh really all that different from advertising veteran Balki’s first two films? The storyline of the film is unique no doubt, but in terms of its narrative trajectory it bears resemblance to what the writer-director has delivered before.
Shamitabh makes a strong start thanks to its one-of-a-kind plot and the solid performances by both Amitabh and Dhanush. But it falls away by the time it reaches its second half.
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While a lot of what Amitabh Bachchan does in Shamitabh is reminiscent of his drunken acts from the heydays of his career, he gives the character of a man who has seen better days an impressive degree of depth.
He plays a washed-up alcoholic who has muffed up his chances in life and is now beyond caring. He lives in a cemetery where the grave-digger addresses him as Jahanpanah, harking back to Mughal-e-Azam.
The man’s booming voice – he once aspired to be an actor – comes to the aid of a small-towner who has arrived in the city of dreams with stars in his eyes.
The younger man is a deaf mute. Egged on by an assistant director (Akshara Haasan), he gives stardom a shot, riding on the voice of the man who has given up on life.
A star emerges from the shadows, but so do a host of complications that set the two men on a collision course even as their fates are inextricably tied to each other.
To Balki’s credit, he manages to give Bachchan a character that pushes him to the limit of his abilities. The seasoned pro comes up trumps yet again.
Dhanush is such a natural that he effortlessly provides the ideal foil to the towering thespian, responding to every cue from his co-actor with elan. Debutante Akshara shows immense promise within the limited opportunities the script gives her.
The quirky plot and the strong acting notwithstanding, the overlong Shamitabh is only sporadically enjoyable.
– By Saibal Chatterjee