Posted: 21 February 2009 at 4:38pm
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Komal Nahta reviews Billu-
Red Chillies Entertainment's Billu (formerly titled Billu Barber) is the story of friendship. Billu (Irrfan Khan) is a barber in Budbuda village, who lives with his wife, Bindiya (Lara Dutta), and two school-going kids, Gunja (Mitali Mayakar) and Duggu (Pratik Dalvi). Since he can barely make two ends meet, he takes each day as it comes. His life changes when a film unit comes to the village to shoot. Superstar Sahir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan) is the hero of the film being shot at Budbuda.
Somehow, word spreads that Billu and Sahir were childhood friends. Eager to be photographed with the superstar and rub shoulders with him, the villagers suddenly start behaving extra-sweetly with Billu. The moneylender (Om Puri) gifts him a new chair and provisions for his hair-cutting saloon. Even the ladies of the village are kind towards Bindiya, all in the hope that her husband would prove to be their ticket to meet the superstar. The principal (Rasika Joshi) of the school in which Billu's children study, asks Billu to get Sahir Khan to the school and, in return, proposes waiver of fees of the two kids.
Pressurised by his wife, children and the villagers, the shy and simple Billu tries to get in touch with Sahir but fails because the superstar's staff never lets him meet the actor. The villagers, agitated after waiting for so long, conclude that Billu and his wife had lied about their closeness to Sahir and they now turn their ire on Billu who bears the humiliation silently. On the last day of shooting, Sahir Khan visits the village school to address the children. In his emotional speech, the actor makes a mention of his childhood days of poverty, his childhood friend, Billu, and of how he (Billu) had helped him to realise his dream of becoming an actor.
The film has a very simple story and its narrative style is also simple. While the first half is an assemblage of incidents, it is in the second half that the drama picks up as Billu tries hard to connect with Sahir Khan. Srinivasan's story, inspired by the Malayalam film, Kadha Parayumbol, and the Tamil film, Kuselan, is basically the story of Krishna and Sudama. Screenplay writers Priyadarshan and Mushtaq Shiekh have injected the drama with humour but it is not a laugh riot. Therefore, while the jokes do evoke laughter at places, the comedy is not hilarious or constant. Among the comic incidents which bring the house down with laughter is the scene of the lodge manager (Atul Parchure) repeatedly getting his lines wrong in front of the camera and the one in which the moneylender threatens to show a taunting co-villager the ninth wonder of the world.
The pre-climax and climax of the film are emotional and would draw tears from the eyes of the weak-hearted. However, like the comedy, which does not prompt the viewer to guffaw often, even the emotional track does not lead him to cry buckets. In a way, everything is subdued. Also, the entire track of Sahir Khan shooting in the village looks like an appendage to the main story as interaction between the villagers and the film unit is not interesting enough.
The screenplay writers have failed to juxtapose the two stories – of Billu and of Sahir Khan – meaningfully and interestingly. Billu silently walking away from the school when his friend, Sahir Khan, is talking about him, and even his children returning home doesn't look convincing. Of course, all that is done so that Sahir Khan (Krishna) can visit the home of his impoverished friend, Billu (Sudama), but again, the writers could've done a far better job of it. Overall, while the story is good, the screenplay could have been more interesting, entertaining and emotional.
Irrfan Khan plays Billu extremely well. He gets into the skin of the barber's character and does full justice to the role. Lara Dutta plays his better half beautifully. Shah Rukh Khan shines in a special appearance. In particular, he is splendid in the pre-climax and climax and in the scene in which he ticks off the school manager. Om Puri is in top form. Manoj Joshi does a truly fine job of the irritating school manager. Asrani leaves a mark. Rajpal Yadav is cute. Rasika Joshi is okay. Atul Parchure gives a fantastic account of himself. Master Pratik Dalvi and baby Mitali Mayakar lend very good support. Kareena Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone provide plenty of glamour in song-dances with Shah Rukh. Jagdish and the others in the cast are efficient.
Priyadarshan's direction is good but he should've taken more care to weave the two stories more efficiently, not just at the script level but also in the narrative style. Manisha Korde's comic dialogues are a major asset of the film. Pritam's music comprises popular songs but the music is not super-hit. 'Love mera hit hit', 'Marjaani' and 'Khudaya khair' are the appealing songs. Song picturisations (Farah Khan, Pony Verma and Prasanna) are stylish and rich but similar to each other. Sandeep Chowta's background score is effective. V. Manikandan's cinematography is very nice.
On the whole, Billu has fair merits but they are not commensurate with the price it has been sold for to distributors. Further, given its dull start at many places, distributors would stand to lose a good part of their investments. No doubt, the film's collections will pick up due to positive word of mouth, but that won't be enough.
Released on 13-2-'09 at Eros, New Excelsior, New Empire (daily 1 show), Liberty (daily 1 show), Maratha Mandir and 100 other cinemas of Bombay thru Eros International Media Pvt. Ltd. Publicity: very good. Opening: dull. …….Also released all over. Opening was quite weak almost everywhere. A spurt in collections was noticed as the day progressed...