Saturday, February 13, 2010

Billu: SRK as SRK

Since SRK is dominating the airwaves and Internets with My Name is Khan, I thought it might be a good time to revisit my review of his last film: Billu. He basically played a thinly veiled version of himself opposite Irrfan Khan's humble barber. I really did enjoy the film, which was a satisfying mix of comedy, friendship drama, and tear jerker. And it had a great soundtrack.

Honestly, I don't know why it didn't do better at the box office.

I really enjoyed
Billu Barber. The story is simple. Irrfan Khan plays Billu, a barber in the small backwater gaon of Budbudha. Billu has a small life – a wife, two adorable kids, a small house… but he has problems, too. A fancy hairdresser opened up shop across the street from Billu’s humble store and Billu’s business has slowed to a trickle. And just when Billu thinks things can’t get worse, all hell breaks loose.

While Billu is struggling to make ends meet in his humble shop, Superstar Sahir Khan (played by real life Superstar Shahrukh Khan) decides to shoot part of his new film – I won’t give away the plot, it must be heard to be believed – in... Budbudha! The celebrity descends on the small village and as word gets out that Billu
knows this celebrity, he swiftly becomes a celebrity as well.

Billu Barber’s main focus is Billu and Irrfan Khan is extremely sympathetic in the role. Billu is not only poor in cash, he’s poor in what we in the West call “self-esteem.” Billu doesn’t think that he’s worth anything and yet Billu also has a strong sense of pride. He won’t ask for help both because he’s too proud and because he feels he doesn’t deserve it. Billu is a man who is drowning in mundane worries.

All of this makes for a wonderful contrast when Sahir Khan comes to town. We see just how powerful the aura of celebrity is when it attaches to ordinary Billu. Shahrukh (and the script) do something very interesting with Sahir Khan. Actual footage from Shahrukh’s past roles is borrowed for Sahir Khan’s filmography. Sahir Khan’s public persona is an exaggerated vision of Shahrukh, as hard as that might be to imagine. Yet, we also see Sahir Khan the person behind the image – bringing to mind Dharmendra’s performance in
Guddi. Sahir is just an ordinary guy with an extraordinary charisma. Much like SRK himself.

I’m currently reading a book called
The Island of Eight Million Smiles about the role of Idols in Japanese culture. Idols cultivate a public persona for consumption by the masses. Even if you meet an Idol, you can never actually meet the Idol – the persona disappears if you get too close. In the same way, no matter how much I might wish it, I can never meet Shahrukh Khan the Superstar. And the people of Budbudha can never meet Sahir Khan – even when they finally do meet Sahir Khan, by necessity they have to meet Sahir Khan the person. The superstar remains accessible only by totemic incarnation and we see the villagers try their hardest with Sahir Khan haircuts, Sahir Khan masks, Sahir Khan T-shirts, and so on.

Along with Billu’s attempts to navigate celebrity and Shahrukh Khan’s send-up of his own persona,
Billu Barber manages to find time to fit in some dil. Billu’s transformation from a man who is trapped in his own head to a man who eventually becomes a part of village life is very touching and I can’t say enough good things about Irrfan’s acting. He hit all the right notes, making us at turns frustrated with Billu and frustrated with the village’s dismissal of him.

The rest of the cast was solid – Lara Dutta as the suffering wife, Om Puri as a local bigwig, Rajpal Yadav as a struggling poet who enjoys reading his work to all who will listen, along with the other villagers were very enjoyable. Priyanka, Deepika, and Kareena and their item songs were all well placed – although Deepika was looking very thin. The girl needs to eat something!

Billu Barber deals with some of the same subject matter as Luck By Chance, I found it to be a much more satisfying film. Like Rangeela, it affectionately teases the filmi stereotypes while telling a good story about real people and real emotions. I highly recommend everyone go see it!


Sakhi said...

I thought much the same, it was simple and sweet and sadly audiences didn't like that!

jholomorphic said...

Maybe they didn't like it because like 3 things happened in 2.5 hours? I found it incredibly dull.

Pessimisissimo said...

Filmi Girl, I'm also mystified by its failure at the box office. It's a charming movie, and it makes me curious to see the Malayalam original, Kadha Parayumbol.

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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