You can snip off the ‘barber’ from Billu, but you cannot take off Billu from Barber. In other words, you can get Irrfan Khan to alienate himself from his persona, but you cannot get the actor to get away from his character! His act is complete. And his Billu is a believable character, who could be you.
Irrfan fascinates in his portrayal of a struggling family man with a wife and two kids, with no knowledge of where is next income will come from. His barber’s shop in a village in Gudgude is doing bad business, he has no clients left and even his barbers chair can give way any moment. His acerbic tongue, peppered with humour (the joke life has played on him is evident here) does not leave him with many friends and he is constantly requesting the school principal for more time to pay off his children’s school fees. Even his children take off after him, where giving a repartee is concerned. BILLU takes it all in good humour and continues his struggle while adding some laugh to his measly existence. His wife (Lara Dutta) is a perfect foil to his character. No one understands Billu better than her.
Then, one fine day, the village is in a tizzy. Shahir Khan (Shahrukh Khan), the reigning superstar of Bollywood, has chosen this very village for his next film’s shooting. Suddenly there is news of him being Billu’s friend. The whole village takes a U-turn. The Principal comes to his home to give him the good news that his children’s education will now be funded from the school Trust and all he has to do is to get Shahir Khan to their school function. Billu’s dilemma has just begun. There are hordes of other such requests, which Billu cannot deny and he portrays it brilliantly with his eyes and body language.
So, does Billu really know Shahir Khan? This is the suspense that Priyadarshan builds up. And as a viewer, you are impatient to know the truth as well. Billu does not help matters, with him not forthcoming with any information. Even when his wife asks him whether he really knows the superstar all he says with a wry smile is, ”What difference does it make.” You wonder then what BILLU is all about.
Priyadarshan has veered slightly away from his trademark comedy and he handles the subject with sensitivity. Yes, there is his humour, where one scene in particular has you in splits, where the hotel manager requests Shahir for a bit role in the film. On the whole, he juxtaposes the lives of two contrasting characters to make for an inspiring climax.
All Shahrukh Khan has to do is play himself. It comes off effortlessly. In one scene, where one of the school trustees tries to get too familiar, he puts him in place in his own inimitable way. He also refers to the ”Khan fights,” as something that happens in any family and ”this film industry is one big family.” His speech to the schoolchildren is inspiring; full marks to the scriptwriter. Here is when he tells the kids of this being the best years of their life. Here is when he reminisces of the best years of his life and of the time when he had nothing and how a friend helped him out. Sharing his tiffin in school, because he never had food, inspiring him and regaling him with impersonations of film stars, thus igniting in him a desire to reach for the stars; giving him a hair cut sneaking into his father’s saloon and even selling off his earrings and giving him the money to go to the city to pursue his dreams. That was the last he saw of BILLU.
Billu who is at the venue with his wife is teary-eyed. His wife looks back with such pride that their whole relationship is captured in one freezing moment. Never once had he mentioned what relationship he shared with the superstar. Shahir comes home to meet his Billu. The reunion is poignant. Both the Khans elevate the scene with their power-packed emotional performance.
While Irrfan is outstanding, SRK lends his class and appeal to the script. Lara Dutta is a revelation. She blends well into Billu’s life. Irfan’s kids played by Pratik Dalvi and Mitali Mayekar are first rate. The rest of the cast combine well with their support. What’s surprising is that Priyadarshan has got the usually ‘over the top’ Rasika Joshi (the school principal) to give a restrained performance.
The director has got the mood and feel of the film spot on. This movie has soul. It will move you.