Shamitabh: Idly Piddly Upma

Dhanush and Amitabh in Shamitabh  

Why is R. Balki regressing into this gimmick filmmaker he showed signs of becoming with Paa? If Paa was the heights of fanboy filmmaking (solely made to showcase a tall, old, handsome, baritone Amitabh Bachchan play everything he’s not — a progeria-afflicted, young, ugly, squeaky-voiced zoozoo), Shamitabh is yet another star-obsessed indulgence where the sole objective is to pay tribute to all things South, starting from the script which is usually written primarily as a star vehicle with a lot of self-referencing about their real-life personalities and an all-South principal cast and crew.

So Dhanush gets to play a mute bus-conductor from humble origins (and play to his strengths — he wouldn’t need to speak, he can ride on pure charm of being ordinary and pay tribute to the Paa and his paa-in-law) and Amitabh Bachchan gets to once again play everything he’s not. In Shamitabh, he plays a bitter old failure whose voice came in the way of his fame. What’s this? His falter-ego?

We all know about R. Balki’s love for Ilaiyaraaja and the cinema he grew up on. There would be no Shamitabh without the Punnagai Mannan influenced irony and there’s nothing wrong with the plot per se — it’s easily one of the best endings. But the execution… right from script to the edit is an epic contrived mess.

Before I rant further, it must be said that the first fifteen minutes of Shamitabh are just lovely. So richly detailed, beautifully performed and full of love for cinema. Dhanush and the actors playing the younger versions of him are just too endearing for us to even imagine the slow car-wreck of a film lying ahead of us as the screenplay unfolds with a ridiculously contrived technological conceit and frustratingly lazy, convenient excuses that labour hard to manufacture willing suspension of disbelief.

I was fully willing to overlook the conceit if it helped us discover a conflict that would have otherwise not been possible. But no, the same film could have worked a lot better, in fact more effectively, if Amitabh (Amitabh Bachchan) just dubbed for Daanish (Dhanush) rather than being given control over the latter’s vocal chords through blue-tooth-powered-wireless-audio technology-developed-in-Finland-and-conveniently-made-available-to-a-bus-conductor-turned-struggler-who-conveniently-gets-divine-help-from-an-assistant-director-who-conveniently-lies-to-her-director-and-manages-to-cast-a-mute-actor-as-a-talking-actor-without-anyone-finding-out-in-a-ridiculously-titled-product-placement-excuse-of-a-film-called-Lifebouy-that conveniently-becomes-a-superhit-overnight.

It’s not just that the scripting is full of convenient enablers for plot progression; it’s also incredibly lazy and devoid of any imagination, spelling out each analogy and metaphor through dialogue and exposition. The films are called Lifebouy (and it is hard for the film to recover after this), Ha Ha, Issssshq, Thappad and Sorry — and Balki never seems as effortless as Farah Khan and even the spoofing seems to draw attention to how clever it is with celebrities endorsing the creativity. There’s nothing more annoying than a film trying hard to be likable.

Yes, Balki gives himself a pat on the back with meta-references of how Piddly is used as a realistic refreshing take on romance in snow-clad mountains (Where would a girl go in the cold when she needs the restroom?)

And there are analogies of water and whiskey, life (Boy, of course) and death (the drunkard literally has one foot in the grave, he lives there), silence and dialogue and endless monologues full of self-pity intended to showcase Amitabh Bachchan and give him a chance to share the screen with Robert De Niro (an amateurishly staged scene where a character almost shoots a cop and gets away with it without the big secret coming out).

Finally, there’s a terribly staged car conversation that proves there is a God to put an end to this endless farce. While R. Balki has lofty ambitions of giving us a poignant ending full of irony, a cautionary tale of what ego can do and poetic justice for all characters — all of which this story could have delivered — he botches it up with over-written contrived exposition and even more recklessly staged execution. We can bet Mrs. Balki (Gauri Shinde who made the fantastic English Vinglish) smacked him in the head after watching Shamitabh.

It’s a shame because the performances are all so good.

Amitabh Bachchan turns in another scenery chewing performance (but is allowed to ramble on), while Dhanush is absolutely brilliant in understatement (but is given melodramatic outbursts) and debutante Akshara Hassan is fairly impressive in a narrative (that often forgets she’s in the film). Hers is the character the makers have fully let down.

And finally, after making fun of manipulative mush, the film is guilty of doing exactly the same. With the scale, budget, resources available at their disposal, Shamitabh makes you wonder: How much time did they spend on the script? Oh well, Piddly.

They just recycled the obvious film clichés. Since R. Balki loves analogies and all things South Indian, Shamitabh tastes like reheated upma made from leftovers idlis.


Genre: Drama

Director: R. Balki

Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Dhanush, Akshara Hassan

Storyline: A mute struggler finds a voice in an alcoholic to become a successful movie star but soon, egos clash

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Printable version | Aug 4, 2021 8:39:41 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/shamitabh-idly-piddly-upma/article6864836.ece

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