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Billu-Barber-2009

Two Fridays back in the last special appearance of Zoya Akhtar’s Luck By Chance, Shah Rukh Khan says: “Kabhi usey na bhoolo jo tumhein tab jaantey thhe jab tum kuch nahin thhe.”

What sounded like some starry advice for Farhan’s rising hero was actually a plug for SRK’s new production Billu (the Barber’s gone from the title and also dubbed out at several places, following protests and pleas from barbers).

Remade from the 2007 Malayalam film Kadha Parayumbol starring Mammooty, which in turn was remade in the 2008 Tamil film Kuselan starring Rajanikanth, Billu is a touching testimony to the spirit of friendship. Friendship between two very different people.

On the one hand you have Billu Bilas Pardesi (Irrfan), a barber in an obscure village called Budbuda in Uttar Pradesh, whose broken chair and toothless comb have driven away all customers. The Nirupa Roy of barbers (that’s what the locals call him), cannot pay the school fees of his two kids and the electricity bill of his home.

On the other end of the spectrum is Sahir Khan (“incidentally Shah Rukh Khan”, say the closing credits), the biggest movie icon of the country, who is self-confessedly “the only star who’s got more men around him than women”. Before you start thinking of this being a Konfessions with Karan show, he is talking about the security cordon surrounding him!

So when Sahir decides to shoot his next film in Budbuda, hell breaks loose. From the moment the helicopter touches the village turf, the quiet little hamlet turns into a chalta-firta circus, spinning off several new endeavours to cash in on the shooting schedule.

And Nirupa Roy becomes Rakhi Sawant overnight. Word spreads that Billu used to be a childhood friend of Sahir’s and before you can say snip it, Billu’s rundown kesh kartnalaya becomes a swank salon with a long kataar of customers.

But there’s one small problem — Billu can’t touch base with Sahir. Rather, he doesn’t want to.

A bittersweet tale of values and relationships and how name and fame can swing equations and switch sides, Billu is a charmer all the way. After a long time here’s a film which exudes warmth, celebrates goodness and slips in a message without being preachy.

Priyadarshan is the perfect man to handle a subject like this. His forte is to create quirky characters and put them in the most awkward situations. And in Billu it works like magic. Whether it is Om Puri as the mercenary seth Damchand or Rajpal Yadav as the aspiring movie lyricist Jhallan Kumar or Manoj Joshi as Damodar Dubey, the guest house manager who wants to act, they all bring their share of laughter to the enterprise.

But the one man who makes Billu brilliant is Billu himself, Irrfan Khan. In his second shot at playing the leading man of a mainstream movie after Rog, Irrfan turns in a performance nothing short of genius. Funny, sad, confused, happy, hurt… emotions run like rivers across his face. He is certainly in the running for the best screen barber alongside Charlie Chaplin (The Great Dictator), Billy Bob Thornton (The Man Who Wasn’t There) and Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd).

Giving Irrfan great support in a very natural performance is his screen wife Lara Dutta. A complete departure from her item ways, Lara looks radiant in the simple saris and does really well. Watch her in the last scene adjusting her palla and you realise how far the ex-Miss Universe has come. The kids (Pratik Dalvi and Mitali Mayakar) are also very good making every conversation of the Billu household hilarious.

Ok, now the answer to the question which made you read all this: How much of Shah Rukh Khan is there in the film? Well, there’s quite a lot (including snatches from almost all his films) and while that may not necessarily help the movie, it will surely get in the people. Yes, SRK in the Rajanikanth wardrobe (and antics) looks tired in the songs and even his performance is just way over the top. But his stirring speech in the end is the best part of the film, guaranteed to have you reach for the rumaal.

Of the item numbers, Kareena’s is clearly the best. But the music by Pritam is so weak that none of the songs stay with you and are at best ice-cream breaks. The cinematography (V. Manikandan) and art direction (Sabu Cyril), though, are top notch and make Budbuda really come alive.

A krishna-sudama fable set in a village with Irrfan Khan in the lead may not be your idea of a Valentine weekend but you can do a lot worse than Billu. At least this is sure to make both of you smile.

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