Cast: Irrfan Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Lara Dutta, Om Puri
Storyline: A poor hairdresser becomes the centre of attention when his long lost childhood friend, now a superstar, checks in to his village for a film shoot.
Bottomline: Stay far away if you’ve seen the original or even the Tamil remake
Warning: If you’ve seen the earlier versions (Katha Parayumbol in Malayalam and Kuselan in Tamil), and haven’t had a hair-cut in months, watching Billu may make you pull your hair out.
Apart from Irrfan Khan’s magnificently subtle performance and Shah Rukh Khan’s larger than life onscreen persona, there’s not a single strand of sincerity in this lazily made patch-work production that’s looks so obviously staged.
The film’s fake as a synthetic wig.
Not that we are looking for realism in a story based on folklore (the Krishna-Sudama friendship), but right from the setting, nothing seems genuine – it is difficult to imagine locations seen so often in Tamil Cinema (the kind you usually associate with Chinna Gounder movies) inhabit the same world as the horribly kitschy North Indian set. The villagers talk in a curiously old-fashioned filmy dialect and the cast (but for the Khans) goes gloriously over the top.
Lara Dutta personifies everything wrong with this film. First, it’s an over-dramatic portrayal that’s clearly artificial. Second, she speaks a language she can’t speak well enough. Three, she sports a backless choli that’s a little too sexy for us to believe she’s a goat-herd/milkmaid. Four, she’s got kids that don’t look like her or their father. Yes, the only thing that looks 100 per cent poor is the casting.
Ironically, the superstar’s larger-than-life world looks considerably realistic, even if he’s shooting for a lost-and-found Matrix-meets-Star Wars film, flashing a light-saber. But for that one grin and a maybe couple of SRK quips, the film fails to evoke any response, until the last fifteen minutes – the famous speech scene in the end.
Shah Rukh does reasonably well, probably getting emotional a tad too early in the speech compared to Mammooty or Rajnikant who kept it together for most part of it and broke down only towards the end. Irrfan on the other hand, delivers another one of his masterfully controlled and finely nuanced understatements, letting his body language speak more than any dialogue could. But then, whoever did the score, underscores the sentimental scenes to ridiculously soap operatic levels that after a while it is difficult to appreciate Irrfan.
Billu is ‘Filmed by Priyadarshan,’ the credits tell us.
High time a filmmaker of his experience actually directs his actors and the flow of the narrative instead of just filming it (simply translating it from paper to film). It is impossible to believe this is the same director who made ‘Kanchivaram’. The lack of direction in Billu is shocking to say the least. Sample the scene when a riot breaks loose on the sets of the superstar’s film after someone randomly slaps a policeman at the barricade when they are refused permission. Priyadarshan films it exactly as it reads and makes P.Vasu seem like Spielberg.
Billu may still work for those who haven’t seen the earlier versions of the story and kids who are Shah Rukh Khan fans.
But for those of us who like our hair, the film once called Billu Barber ought to be trimmed. By an hour and a half please.