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Based in Budbuda, Uttar Pradesh, Billu Vilas Pardesi barely makes a living as a barber. His wife, Bindiya, looks after the household, and his children, Gunja and Ronak, are on the verge of being expelled from Gyaan Bharti Vidyalay Higher Secondary School due to non-payment of fees. Then everything changes when Bollywood actor Sahir Khan makes an appearance to film a movie in the town. Rumors spread that Billu is Sahir's close friends, and he becomes a celebrity virtually overnight. His shop gets donations and clientèle, and the school decides to educate his children for free. The trouble begins when townsfolk want to meet with Sahir but Billu is unable to contact him. Written by
Billu Barber, 2009, 138 min, Red Chillies Entertainment An Excerpt
Priyadarshan's film produced by Gauri Khan, Billu is the story of a small-town humble barber, from a sleepy Indian village who is having a tough time making ends meet with overdue electricity bills and unpaid school tuition when a film star enters his life with an arrival of Sahir Khan, mega star to town for a shoot. Interestingly, a famous larger-than-life star arrives in town for a shoot sending the village into frenzy as they try to catch the glimpse of the mega-star Sahir Khan, played by non-other than Shahrukh Khan. Billu's poverty-stricken life is contrasted beautifully against the mega star until the face off of the two characters when they finally meet. This is a movie about unconditional childhood friendship, cutting through age, status or fame. At the end, childhood love and friendship heals any wound and bonds broken relationships.
What really makes the movie is the character Billu himself, played by Irrfan Khan, surely one of the most talented but underrated actor in Bollywood today. Some of you may remember him from Mira Nair's film Namesake which he gave superb performances as Gogol's father as well as the mean police inspector in Slumdog Millionaire. He is the emotional core of this movie. The film starts with his desperate and innocent attempt to bribe a government officer in order to get a business loan for his barber shop. While listening to his plea, you can't help it but feel for him. Apparently, it is believed that this role was first offered to Ashkay Kumar. I can't imagine him playing this role. Irrfan brings a certain human dignity and respect not only to the character Billu and his profession but also to the life of poverty, convening so much by saying very little. He manages to make his character extremely believable and likable with ease.
A surprising and refreshing character is Bindiya, Billu's wife played by Lara Dutt. She should be commended for delivering a captivating and believable performance s; you would not know she is former Miss Universe. This is a different role for her; she usually plays the sophisticated beauty and I might add it is refreshing to see her in this role. The stage presence of both Lara and Irrfan is impressive as husband and wife. She gives the character strength with moments of depth, love and respect which I find very inspiring given their poverty level.
What makes this movie great its realism and depiction of rural life in India, unlike other Bollywood movies, with no pretension or smug. The cinematography of this movie is amazing, showcasing the lush of rural India. The simplicity of the film, portrayal of poverty without overwhelming the audience makes this film a delight to watch. I liked the clever way the director unfolds the story. It invites you in, but leaves you to your own considerations as the story progresses. This film lets certain details out when the moments are right, but not before the audience is fully involved in the somber life of small town man. You get the feeling that Billu is lying until the heartwarming climax. Billu is deeply touching not only in details of an ordinary man's life, but also our shortcomings and our insecurities.
This film also states that what seems trivial at any given moment in life could be important later on. Besides all this, great acting, thoughtfulness, genuine sincerity, and total emotional honesty are what one can expect from Billu without the loss of a typical grandiose of Bollywood musicals. If you want to see a movie that affirms the meaning of friendship, this is your movie. Billu is extraordinary film in an ordinary town.
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