Posted: 21 February 2009 at 4:50pm | IP Logged
Irrfan Khan steals the show in charming film about friendship
Docky Dockrat's Bollywood Scene Published:Feb 22, 2009
Billu Barber (8/10): "It's so simple to be difficult yet so difficult to be simple" was a famous dialogue sprouted by Rajesh Khanna in Hrishikesh Mukherjee's 1972 classic Bawarchi. The late Mukherjee was the master of "simplicity". If another Indian filmmaker was required to step into his shoes, Priyadarshan would get my vote. To put it plainly, he is simply taking "simplicity" to another level.
For evidence, take this engaging film about a village barber with bleak prospects who suddenly becomes popular with his neighbours after a top Bollywood star, with whom he claims to have enjoyed a childhood friendship, arrives to shoot in their locality. As the star-struck villagers go berserk, so the barber is elevated from ignominy to local celebrity.
Getting to meet the star to prove this "friendship" ends up being almost impossible as the star's minders are under strict instructions to keep the public at arm's length, and the barber is uncertain if the star remembers him and is afraid to find out. As a result, the people who previously celebrated him resort to belittling him.
It's the classic tale of a commoner reluctant to claim ties to the king as he is unsure if he will be welcomed to the palace or thrown out, and that's essentially all there is to the story, but Priyan embellishes it with a moving screenplay that delivers a heart-warming movie brimming with moments of joy, humour and tears.
Priyan's direction meanders, he takes the scenic route through the countryside rather than the highway that would have got him to his destination quicker. As with all his films, there is a stage-like quality to the proceedings, with the cast delivering their lines in an orchestrated manner.
Shahrukh Khan, though, is excused. As the producer, he is allowed to do as he likes and he relishes the freedom. This is probably the least-demanding role he has done as all he is required to do is be Baadshah Khan. SRK uses the opportunity to mock the absurdity of his superstar status and poke fun at his (though not always true) rivalries with Salman and Aamir.
Shahrukh's role is defined as "incidental", as it's mainly confined to performing songs that resemble aerobics. He does secure the movie's defining moment through a lengthy soliloquy delivered as only he can, with warmth and passion. He also includes some memorable footage from his past roles that further highlight his superstar status. His colleagues Kareena Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone prance and dance and do little else. The film's charm lies in Irrfan Khan's performance. If SRK brings glamour to this film, Irrfan instills it with heart. He carries proceedings and his presence sets this film apart. Unlike SRK, Irrfan never resorts to an "in your face" approach to be noticed, he simply gets on with it.
Although his acting is not spectacular, it's so self assured that, with seemingly little effort, he towers above the rest. He is so commanding that Lara Dutta, who has the next big role as his long-suffering but star-struck wife, plays in his shadow. The test that his ordeal places on their relationship and his relationship with his children is well captured.
Of Shahrukh's four productions for Red Chillies thus far, this one is the most uncomplicated. It may not possess the pizzazz of Om Shanti Om, the thrills of Main Hoon Naa or the supernatural riddle that was Paheli, but its heart is in the right place, and it spreads its message of friendship and loyalty in a charming manner that exudes joy and goodwill.
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