For all but a few of Shamitabh‘s two hours and thirty minutes, I wished I was anyplace other than the theater. I would spare you that same pain.
The element of Shamitabh that should’ve precluded it from ever being made is its asinine premise. Dhanush plays Danish — all three leads play characters with variations of their own names — a mute, small-town guy who wants to be an actor. He fails to break into the Mumbai film industry until a sympathetic assistant director, Akshara (Akshara Haasan), takes him under her wing. Akshara’s father is a doctor whose colleagues in Finland have created a revolutionary technology to aid mute people.
The technology involves implanting a chip in the patient’s throat that acts as a receiver. When words are spoken aloud by someone wearing a connected earpiece/microphone, the sound comes out of the mouth of mute patient when he moves his lips. In essence, the technology turns a mute person into a living ventriloquist’s dummy.
This invention is idiotic. Why would a mute person want to speak if he always had to do so in someone else’s voice, never able to speak his own thoughts? Who would want to be the person permanently tethered to mute person, effectively rendered mute themselves for the sake of someone else?
Somehow, Danish becomes a superstar actor after he hires Amitabh (Amitabh Bachchan) — a drunk with a great baritone — to supply his voice while making movies. No one on the movie set wonders why a 30-year-old guy sounds like a man in his 70s.
The sheer stupidity of the premise is reason enough to avoid Shamitabh, but there are many other reasons to dislike it as well. Writer-director R. Balki clearly intends for Shamitabh to be an exploration of the actor’s craft and filmmaking in general. The stupid premise might have worked as a satire, but Balki’s Shamitabh is a straightforward wannabe tear-jerker that provides no insight on its subject matter.
For a movie about filmmaking, there’s a distinct absence of craft in Shamitabh. Shots are framed awkwardly. Transitions are jerky. The editing is poor. Scenes are too long. A romance scene between Danish and an actress is totally out-of-place. The dialogue is too on the nose.
More distracting than any of these flaws is the movie’s music. The songs are horrible, but the incidental music is downright clownish. Any emotional moment is punctuated with garish musical cues so amateurish that it’s hard to believe that this is Balki’s third film.
Perhaps the greatest indictment of a film that’s supposed to be about actors is that the acting is terrible. Dhanush’s movements are exaggerated to a ridiculous degree, as though his body is rebelling against the fact that he can’t talk. Akshara’s facial expressions are bizarre, and she delivers her dialogue in either a monotone or hysterical screaming. She needed better direction in her debut film.
There are moments when the legendary Bachchan shows his skill, in subtle reactions to some ridiculous request by Danish. But Bachchan gives a number of excessive monologues that would be tiresome no matter who delivered them, and they destroy the flow of the film.
Watching Shamitabh is a uniquely painful movie-going experience that should be avoided at all costs.