Shashi Baliga, Hindustan Times
February 13, 2009
First Published: 21:03 IST(13/2/2009)
Last Updated: 17:47 IST(20/4/2009)
Cast: Irrfan Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Om Puri, Lara Dutta
It all begins when a helicopter air-drops superstar Sahir Khan into the hitherto placid village of Budbuda.
Till then, it's been a uncomplicated tale of Bilas Rao Pardesi aka Billu the local barber (Irrfan Khan), who's been upstaged by the flashy new hairstylist on the block, Madan (Jagdish) and finds himself running out of customers.
But when Sahir Khan starts shooting in Budbuda, the lines between real life and the story playing out on the screen start to blur. Check it out: Sahir wears a jacket inscribed King Khan, has worked in films like Dil Se and Chak De, answers questions about the rivalry between filmdom's Khans, is shooting for a film produced by Red Chillies Entertainment (the producers of Billu), and even has his makeup touched up by Shah Rukh Khan's real-life man Friday, Subhash.
He is Shah Rukh Khan playing a heightened version of Shah Rukh Khan the superstar and the portrayal often teeters on the thin edge between caricature and exaggeration. Can SRK carry it off? Yes, he does.
Can Irrfan, the other Khan in the film, counter the superstar's showcased charisma? Yes, he can — magnificently. If Billu the humble barber is found worthy of a superstar's friendship, Irrfan the actor earns his space in the film in a deliciously ironic case of life imitating art.
The flamboyant SRK has colourful sets, slick costumes and three of Bollywood’s current hotties — Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra and Kareena Kapoor — for arm candy. Irrfan has his crumpled shirts, bewildered expression and his trusted umbrella hooked on to his arm. Priyadarshan orchestrates a classic face-off and when they finally come face to face, it is a brief encounter, but one to remember.
To rewind, Billu's life changes overnight when the village discovers that Sahir Khan is his childhood friend. Bechara Billu becomes Billu Bhayankar, his wife refers to the superstar as devarji, his children start bragging in school, and he becomes the most feted man in the village. Everyone wants him to work just one miracle: serve them a slice of Sahir Khan. His wife Bindiya (Lara Dutta), daughter Gunja (Mitali Mayakar), son Duggu (Pratik Dalvi), local strong man Damchand (Om Puri)… they’re all banking on him. Can Billu deliver? Priyadarshan builds up to a climax that makes the wait worthwhile.
Though the film has its share of stock characters, maudlin and over-the-top moments and sags in the latter half, there’s also good story-telling, some great acting, and a healthy dose of masala in the item numbers.
However, Billu has its disappointments. Pritam’s music score is tepid (except for Marjaani) and Budbuda, allegedly in Uttar Pradesh, looks decidedly lower down in latitude. Lara Dutta is unconvincing too, with her perfectly tailored blouses and coloured hair (perhaps she got it secretly done by Madan?). She sticks out especially since the kids are terrific and Irrfan Khan doesn't hit a wrong note, whether it is his body language, dirty fingernails or well-worn rubber chappals.
Pity offended hairdressers got the second half of the film's name chopped off. For what would this Billu be without its barber?