2.5 Stars (out of 4)
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He might be the title character, but Billu the Barber gets eclipsed in his own movie by Shahrukh Khan.
Billu (Irrfan Khan) is a poor barber struggling to earn an honest living. The one thing that his wife and bratty kids respect about him is that he knew superstar actor Sahir Khan (Shahrukh Khan) before he was famous.
When a film crew arrives in the village, Billu’s kids quickly spread the word that their dad is a friend of the movie’s hero. Billu, who’s not even sure Sahir would recognize him — even if he were able to get past the actor’s bodyguards — becomes a celebrity in his own right. Suddenly, the barber is showered in gifts and attention from neighbors who want to meet Sahir, to the dismay of Billu and to the delight of his family.
When the story focuses on Billu, the film is an insightful examination of the price of fame. Lara Dutta gives a nuanced performance as Billu’s wife, Bindiya. She’s not greedy, just tired of being poor, so she encourages her husband to contact his old friend.
As the film progresses, most of the insight on fame comes in the form of speeches by Sahir Khan. At those points, Billu Barber feels like a Shahrukh Khan vanity project. The ending is sappy and predictable, right down to Khan’s trademark tears.
If you’ve seen a few SRK dramas before, you might as well leave the theater at the intermission. You already know how the film is going to end.
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I liked it a bit better than you did, but I would agree that SRK did his own project a diservice by blowing his own horn too much. I don’t think it was intentional, really, but I found myself saying, “if he’s in it over one third of the screen time, why isn’t Shah Rukh actually acting more?” It didn’t give me near enough time with Irrfan, who I love. And as easily as I will admit that I appreciated SRK’s looks in his musical numbers, I am beginning to be annoyed at his being credited in the movie as a star, when he is actually only a fantastically well paid cameo.
When this same story was made into the Tamil movie Kuselan, there was a big to-do about the fact that it was advertised as a Rajnikanth movie, even though his role as the superstar was very small. SRK must have felt the need to beef up his own part in Billu Barber in order to avoid the same problem. He skirted controversy, but I’m not sure the movie was better because of it. I would’ve been happier had SRK taken the approach Hrithik Roshan did in Luck By Chance, playing a supporting role and actually acting. I’m with you, JennyK; I wanted more Irrfan.