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Billu (Barber): Irfan is the star!
The latest Priyadarshan film, Billu Barber is an enjoyable film that reminds us why we love Irfan Khan in every role he takes on. Minus the Shahrukh dance numbers and some prudent editing this film would have been a total charmer. Here’s my review.
I SAW Billu (Barber...ssshhh. don’t let the hairdresser’s union hear it) this evening (Feb 13) and let me say at the outset that it is an Irfan Khan film that for some reason has been talked about for over a year as a Sharukh Khan film. Shahrukh’s production house Red Chillies has made the film (his wife Gauri is the producer) but it is Irafn Khan, of the ’A mighty heart’ international fame, who is the star of the film. To Shahrukh’s credit he has given Irfan due space in the promotions and also in terms of screen space during the film.

Storyline: It is the story of a down-on-luck barber, Billu ( Irfan Khan) in a small UP town that goes by the improbable name of Budbuda (my apologies to the towns folk if such a town does exist) whose life is made miserable when his long lost friend Sahir Khan (SRK) comes to town to film his latest (crazy) film. Word gets around (via his son, Duggu, played remarkably well by the child actor) that Billu knows Sahir Khan and most of the film is about the villagers/townspeople trying to get Bilu to arrange for them to see/meet Sahir and Billu’s lack of enthusiasm for the job being thrust on him. Irfan shows us again for the nth time what a master craftsman he is at his craft and why we love him in every role he plays. He has played Billu with such quiet dignity that in that dignity we see the pain and the quiet desperation of a million other Indian men, trapped by their poverty yet somehow trying to lead lives with heads held reasonably high.

Shahrukh plays Sahir Khan and uses the role to cleverly self promote himself, while letting us see the obvious parallels between his and Sahir’s life. This film records for posterity clips from almost all SRK films. SRK is SRK and there are no surprises in this film. He dances, romances and hams his way through this role in his own unique style. But there is nothing really to say him about in this film’s case...Irfan has stolen all the attention from him inspite of two item numbers that he performs with hottie no# 1 Kareena and hottie # 2 Deepika Padukone.

Non lead roles: This film is a revelation of sorts in terms of the quality of the actors in the non leading roles. From Asrani to Rajpal Yadav to Om Puri, to child actors and other assorted characters in minor roles there is a treasure trove here of roles well enacted. There is an ease to their performances that adds to the overall appeal of the film. The child Duggu is my favorite, closely followed by Dubey ji of the local school committee.

Ambience: The sets recreating the town of Budbuda are masterly with some semblance of realism. The director seems to have followed in the steps of Shyam Benegal here...remember his sets in ’Welcome to Sajjanpur’?

Duration and direction: At 2 hours 15 minutes the film has been over extended by atleast half an hour. Minus the Shahrukh dance numbers and some prudent editing this film would have been a total charmer but having said that I must add that it is still worth watching for all the other stuff I mentioned above. It will test the patience of non-die hard fans of SRK but you must understand that if there was no SRK in this film he probably would not have financed this film. .....so we must thank him for that and director Priyadarshan for his direction. There are flashes of brilliance here and there but the compulsion to make this a commercial film has stopped this film from being an out and out winner (familiar story in Bollywood).

Music: Frankly I did not notice anything great. I don’t remember any song except the one celebrating Billu (Billu Bhayankar). Deepika Padukone and Kareena Kapoor look HOT. They sizzle on screen and SRK looks his usual superstar self as he shimmies and boogies in glittery vests and alien suits.

My biggest compliment to SRK would be that he has been man enough to take on Irfan in such a lead role and then let Irfan have most of the screen space. Only in one scene at the end do they share the screen space and no marks for guessing who comes across as a consummate actor and who tries hard to act.

Verdict: A very watchable (actually make that enjoyable) film. If you write this off as a usual ’low on content, high on star quotient’ film then you will miss Irfan and all the other great actors in smaller roles who are there in the film.

Oops, I almost forgot the leading lady, Lara Dutta. She has done a reasonably good job in her unglamorous role as the wife of the down on luck Billu (Barber).

Rating: 3 stars

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