|Cast: Shahrukh Khan, Irrfan Khan, Lara Dutta, Kareena Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone
|Producer: Gauri Khan
Billu, the remake of the Malayalam blockbuster Kadhaparayumbol AND also the Tamil remake Kuselan, is a contemporary Krishna-Sudama story.
Instead of a celestial being, we have a film actor, which is a fitting parallel in our celebrity-obsessed times. And instead of a poor Brahmin, we have a poor barber.
Billu, played by Irrfan Khan, lives in a UP village called Budbuda, He is a simple man leading a simple life, until a film unit arrives to shoot a futuristic film.
Why the director wanted to shoot an inter-galactic saga in a village is never explained but Bollywood throws Budbuda into a total tizzy. More so because Billu is a childhood friend of the film’s hero, superstar Saahir Khan, played by Shah Rukh Khan. Billu and Saahir inhabit different worlds. When their paths intersect, there is anguish, humiliation and ultimately redemption.
Kadhaparayumbol is propelled by emotions. The film’s poignance comes from the barber’s character – his acerbic tongue, his mouse-like insecurities and his sadness at being unable to give his family a better life. The superstar, played by Mammooty, has very little screen time. The star is seen as a distant, mythical creature whose charmed life fills the villagers with awe. Their passionate, reverential response to his stardom is a comment on celebrity and the relationship between stars and fans, especially in India.
Now, the advantage of casting Shah Rukh as a superstar is that the fact doesn’t need to be established. Shah Rukh Khan is short-hand for stardom. But director Priyadarshan and writer Mushtaq Sheikh spend way too much footage underlining this: there are three film-within-film songs with leading heroines and several gratuitous sequences, including one in which Saahir arrives in the village in a helicopter which has King Khan written on it.
The result is that we get little sense of Billu, his family or the other villagers, who play a critical role in the disruption of Billu’s life.
The village itself is a curious contradiction. It’s supposed to be in UP but the landscape is lush green Kerala interspersed with what looks like a studio-version of a small town chowk.
The villagers speak with various accents, the local school-teacher talks about parent-teacher conferences and in one sequence, we see a newsstand that sells Vogue magazine.
Detailing obviously isn’t Priyadarshan’s forte. He paints in broad strokes but at least in films like Bhool Bhulliya, he maintains a narrative momentum.
Billu is oddly staid and passionless, as if everyone involved was simply going through the motions.
The second half gathers some steam and the climax of the film is moving, but it is too little, too late. Billu remains a strictly average film, which given the talent involved, is disappointing. This one is for die-hard Shah Rukh Khan fans only.