Bollywood and culture in an emerging India
Billu: Watch it for Irrfan Khan
He gave me a refreshingly honest answer – “I am here to be a successful commercial film maker, and those are not the kind of films I will make. I want to play it safe for now.”
That is why, when I saw “Billu”, I could see the film for what it is. Don’t expect technical brilliance or a tight script. But there is heart and soul to keep this film going, in spite of its many flaws.
It’s the story of Billu, a subdued, meek barber who struggles to make ends meet while running his saloon in Dubduba village. Life changes when the country’s biggest filmstar, Sahir Khan, comes to Dubduba to shoot his film.
Word gets around that Billu and Sahir used to be childhood friends and all of a sudden, Billu’s standing in the village goes up tenfold. The village miser buys him expensive hair styling equipment, neighbours drop off biryani for dinner and his kids’ school even offers to pay for their education — all on one condition — that he introduce them to Sahir Khan.
His wife Bindiya (Lara Dutta) also begins to enjoy the attention, confessing to her husband that she has no qualms advertising his “friendship” if it means more respect from the villagers.
To save his reputation, Billu tries desperately to meet Sahir, but to no avail. When the shoot is about to end and the starstruck villagers realise Billu will not be able to guarantee any access to the big star, they turn hostile.
How Billu deals with this crisis, and whether Sahir and Billu finally meet forms the climax of the film.
Of the cast, Lara Dutta tries really hard to play the doting village wife, but her English-accented Hindi gives her away. Watch out for Irrfan Khan, he is brilliant as Billu, bringing the right amount of meekness, bumbling simpleton quality that endears his character to you.
He holds the film together and I wish Priyadarshan hadn’t taken away from his character’s struggle by inserting mindless item songs featuring Shah Rukh and a dozen leading ladies.
Which brings us to Shah Rukh; this isn’t his film — it’s entirely Irrfan’s. He plays what can be called a secondary role, but the best part is, he gets to play someone he has never played before — himself. And yet, Khan looks either jaded or hams his way through most of “Billu”.
It is only at the end that he tones down his expressions and looks interested in the film. Watch out for those scenes in which he refers to the Khan rivalry in the film industry.
On the whole, go watch “Billu” for Irrfan Khan and for its soul — and ignore the rest of it.