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Shamitabh: An adsorbing experience

Scene from Shamitabh

Scene from Shamitabh   | Photo Credit: 07dmcShamitabh

In theatre they often say emotions surface when you speak from the gut. The term ventriloquism comes from Latin which means speaking from the belly. What if the ventriloquist has a good actor for a puppet? What if the puppet has his own mind and he finds a ventriloquist for himself.

Known for mainstreaming out of the box ideas, R. Balki, this time, tries it with Amitabh and Dhanush and puts up a show that pleases and teases at the same time.

It requires lot of suspension of disbelief but once you settle to watch the rather odd mixture, yes, it is what it is, Bachchan’s heavy voice coming out of Dhanush’s lean frame it does convey the connection between expression and voice, body and soul.

One can’t survive without the other.

The good thing is, Balki often comes on our side to question the unusual contours, like, early in the film Bachchan says my voice has more weight than his body. Indeed! Can this experiment work in the real world? Chances are low, if at all. Does the idea hold in the film? Yes, to a large extent.

The plot reminds of Satyam Shivam Sundaram which also dealt with face and voice conundrum in a different way and setting. Like the Raj Kapoor film, it is an idea which sounds substantial on paper but when you translate it on screen lot of whys need to be tackled and silenced.

Balki keeps the conflict largely comic on the surface. Born to act, Danish’s (Dhanush) passion is not limited by his inability to speak. A young assistant director (Akshara Haasan) spots his talent and decides to help him. As the two try to use technology to get over the disability they find an aging, alcoholic Amitabh Sinha (Bachchan) in a graveyard who is at war with the world but at peace with the dead. With a voice that could render any prop redundant, he could lift the spirits. The two come together to shine on celluloid but as expected egos clash. Balki smartly uses the film within a film format to comment on what all we ingest in the name of larger than life cinema.

At times, he seems too busy with getting the rhyming words right and right allegories to describe the situations his characters are in. His films are verbose and here again, despite the presence of a mute character, the film lacks the requisite silences.

There are stretches where indulgence creeps into storytelling and at times it seems that the screenplay is getting reduced to a tribute to Bachchan’s baritone but he sums it up with a punch as the film says that disability is no longer something that is meant to be apologetic about. As an adman, who has been dealing with consumer market, Balki makes us look at disability as a strength in times when ‘normal’ is no longer cool. When Rahat Ali Khan can sing for Salman Khan, Amitabh Bachchan could very well be the voice of an actor with Dhanush like physique.

Bachchan excels as the angry old man, grumpy about the rejection he has faced all his life. His blazing eyes and booming voice makes you forget the age difference between the lead players. Unlike Dhanush, Balki hasn’t given him an elaborate back story but he more than makes it up with his unrestrained performance of a loser who hasn’t lost confidence in his talent. However, his presence threatens to render the intrinsic logic pointless. Dhanush plays second fiddle without becoming furniture and Akshara’s probing eyes as the no nonsense director who has no time for love makes a satisfying debut. Apart from performances, Ilayairaja’s music is the highlight of the film and the lyrics go well with the quirky nature of the characters.

Using graveyard as a metaphor, Balki is trying to say life is too short to squabble over ego. But he seems to have forgotten that 153 minutes is too long to stretch an ad length idea to a feature film, particularly when it is not consistently speaking from the gut.

Genre: Drama

Director: R. Balki

Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Dhanush, Akshara Haasan

Bottomline: Despite solid performances and rich subtext, the novelty of the idea doesn’t really seep into the emotional core.

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Printable version | Sep 28, 2020 8:46:30 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/shamitabh-review-an-absorbing-experience/article6865142.ece

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