Shamitabh (2015): R. Balki's satire on the Hindi Film industry aka "Bollywood"

An earnest expression of love for cinema

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews 

Shamitabh, Movie Poster, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Dhanush, Directed by R. Balki's
Shamitabh (2015) - By R. Balki
Our Rating: 8.0
IMDb Ratings: 7.1
Genre: Comedy Drama | Thriller
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, DhanushAkshara Hassan
Country: India
Runtime: 153 min
Color: Color

Summary: The film revolves around a very unique plot, where it shows two different individuals having different talents and when they become one, the mixture measures up to be a very big hit in the industry. But in the meantime, ego comes in the way and prepares to shatter the bond into pieces.

Shamitabh is a 2015 Hindi feature film written and directed by R. Balki whose previous assignments include Cheeni Kum (2007) and Paa (2009). The movie stars Amitabh Bachchan, Dhanush and Akshara Hassan in the pivotal roles. Shamitabh also features cameo appearances from various famous showbiz personalities like Rekha, Javed Akhtar, Prahlad Kakkar, Karan Johar, Mahesh Bhatt, Rajkumar Hirani, Boney Kapoor, Ekta Kapoor, etc. Shamitabh is the third film that R. Balki has directed and each features Amitabh Bachchan in the lead role. Balki is renowned for making unconventional films. While Cheeni Kum was about a sexagenarian bachelor cook who falls for a woman half his age, Paa was about a young boy suffering from Progeria—a rare syndrome characterized by premature aging. And, in keeping up with his reputation, Balki delivers yet another unconventional film in form of Shamitabh, which revolves around a highly talented but dumb aspiring actor who borrows another man’s voice (thanks to some fictitious Bluetooth-based voice embedding technology developed in Finland) to shoot to fame in Bollywood—the popular moniker for the Hindi film industry.

Shamitabh, Directed by R. Balki, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Dhanush, Akshara Hassan
A Still from R. Balki's Shamitabh
Shamitabh can be best described as an earnest expression of Balki’s love for cinema. The movie offers endless tributes (it’s for the keen eye to discern them) to various stalwarts of cinema like Charles Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant, Marlon Brando, Clint Eastwood, Robert De Niro, Rajinikanth, and Amitabh Bachchan himself, among others.  Shamitabh is also aimed to be a satire on the lack of originality and creativity in Hindi cinema. While celebrating the power of cinema and its indelible impact on the masses, the movie simultaneously mocks the desperation people show (and the endless compromises they are willing to make) to climb the ladders of fame. Balki doesn’t back down from taking a swipe at the media either. Although, it may come across as a light-hearted film, Shamitabh actually does manage to pose several important questions highlighting the hollowness associated with stardom and the endless hardships and exploitation that the young and upcoming talent face (like casting couch) in order to establish themselves in the tinsel town. The movie also accentuates the importance of team bonding and coordination in professional endeavors. By subjecting his own film to atrocious product placements, Balki seems to be making a statement about the growing commercial opportunism as well the fast dipping standards of cinema.

Shamitabh, Directed by R. Balki, starring Amitabh Bachchan as Amitabh Sinha, sings Piddly Si Baatein
Amitabh Bachchan in R. Balki's Shamitabh
Cinema at its most basic level serves the purpose of amusing our senses, with both sound and images. One of the key instruments that cinema relies upon, much like prestidigitation, is deception. After all, that’s precisely what the Lumière brothers had achieved with their 1895 film “L'arrivée d'untrain en gare de La Ciotat” wherein the sight of a train being pulled by a steam locomotive into a railway station was put to such devastating effect that the audiences got so overwhelmed by what they saw on the screen (the moving image of a train coming directly at them) that they screamed and ran to the back of the room in terror and panic! While cinema has come a long way since those early days, deception still remains integral to it. In Balki’s film, we see how three people (a mute, a drunkard and an assistant director) fool the world by creating a larger-than-life phenomenon called “Shamitabh”—the screen name of the superstar character played by Dhanush in the movie. The element of deception lies at the very core of Shamitabh’s plot. In order to get a better understanding of this, the plot needs to be closely examined.

Shamitabh, Directed by R. Balki, starring Dhanush as Daanish
Dhanush in R. Balki's Shamitabh
In Shamitabh, Daanish, a cinema-obsessed bus conductor, comes to Mumbai to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming an actor. It’s quite obvious that despite his average looks, he is gifted with special acting talents. Unfortunately, he cannot speak. His luck brings him in contact with a female assistant director, Akshara Pandey, whom he manages to impress. She decides to help him realize his dream but all her efforts go in vain as no filmmaker would accept a dumb actor. Through the help of her doctor father she learns of a voice embedding technology that can make it possible for dumb men to speak by borrowing other people’s voice. After a long struggle they accidentally discover an ideal voice—the baritone of a drunkard named Amitabh Sinha who himself had come to the city of dreams four decades back with the hope of becoming a superstar but had failed in his endeavor despite his good looks and physique because ironically his high bass voice was considered unsuitable for a hero at the time.

Shamitabh, Directed by R. Balki, starring Akshara Hassan
Akshara Hassan in R. Balki's Shamitabh
After his initial reluctance, Amitabh agrees to be Daanish’s voice (once Daanish agrees to split his earnings with him). In order to keep it all a secret, Akshara makes Amitabh sign a non-confidentiality agreement. Akshara then records a sample clip of theirs (Daanish’s video superimposed with Amitabh’s voice) and shows it to her director who instantly calls Daanish for an audition. But, for this deception to succeed, Amitabh must always stay within four hundred meters of Daanish (owing to a technological constraint). So, Amitabh takes the disguise of a valet in Daanish's service. When the director asks Daanish to find a suitable screen name, he zeroes on to Shamitabh—a portmanteau made up of Daanish & Amitabh. Things begin on a good note but soon Amitabh stars feeling cornered as he continues to remain a non-entity in the eyes of the world while Daanish becomes the nation’s heartthrob. The irony that the very voice that had been his greatest undoing was now helping Daanish attain unprecedented levels of stardom begins to haunt him. Soon, things start to fall apart as ego clashes between Sh-Amitabh become more and more frequent until the point it becomes impossible for the duo to coexist. The constant tussle between the two alter egos set the ball rolling for a heartbreaking climax that may not seem perfect for a Bollywood film, but, nonetheless, proves to be quite satisfying in the end.

Shamitabh, Directed by R. Balki, starring Dhanush and Akshara Hassan
A Still from R. Balki's Shamitabh
Overall, Shamitabh is part entertaining and part thought-provoking but there are also some glaring flaws and inconsistencies which are not easy to overlook (like, say, a simple ventriloquist act would have left a greater impact on the audience than the voice technology gimmick). It’s also Balki’s most ambitious film yet; some may even put it in the experimental film category but it’s too commercial to be called one. Suspension of Disbelief is a prerequisite for anyone who wants to enjoy the film. Shamitabh relies heavily on the soliloquys and monologues delivered by Amitabh Bachchan’s character. No, they are not Shakespeare good… but, yes, they invariably pack a strong punch!  While Dhanush delivers a solid performance with some occasional flashes of brilliance, Akshara Hassan, who is making her debut in the film, makes her presence felt in a role that could easily have been a whole lot meatier. As to Amitabh Bachchan (the song "Piddly Si Baatein" sung by him is already a hot number), it’s easily the best work he has done in years (and, of course, he did the movie free of cost as he confirmed in one of the interviews) but it certainly pales in comparison to his supernal performances in Main Azaad Hoon (1989), Aks (2001), and Black (2005). The overall chemistry between the movie’s three lead characters is nothing short of brilliant; some of the scenes between Dhanush and Bachchan are pure gold. Veteran composer Ilaiyaraaja’s evocative music and P. C. Sreeram’s detailed cinematography add a lot of value to the movie. Some people may nitpick about movie’s editing but there’s nothing really to complain about, perhaps with the exception of a couple of scenes. In the context of contemporary Hindi cinema, Shamitabh does come across as a breath of fresh air, but it certainly isn't tailor-made for casual viewers on the lookout for a popcorn flick to spend a cozy evening. However, if you truly love cinema or are a diehard fan of Amitabh Bachchan, then Shamitabh is not a film you can afford to miss!

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