Billu Barber is an Irfan Khan movie in the jacket of a Shah Rukh Khan movie - and thus facing the expectations of a Shah Rukh Khan movie. The left side of that hyphen above means that it is Shah Rukh Khan trying to carry an Irfan Khan movie, and the right side means that it is Irfan Khan trying to carry a Shah Rukh movie. Neither is good news, mostly because it is movie that needs carrying.
The story of Kuchela/Sudama in the Bhagavatha Purana is 1 chapter. You could possibly make a whole movie out of it, but you'd last find audiences for it in 1980, when people were still devout and patient and did not have a thousand other entertainment options, many coming with remotes. Billu Barber, a modern-day version, is painted richly with Shah Rukh Khan, but when the fans who dutifully land up open the gift-wrapping, there's more to appreciate than enjoy. And that's not what Shah Rukh Khan fans are trained to do.
Billu Barber is a 1Â½-hour movie stretched into 2Â½ hours. The moral of that sentence is that it should be the other way round. And they stretch it so much, they don't have space left for the ending. So the one thing you await all through, looks like it got there just to formally declare the movie over. Like we at fullhyd.com always say, directors should never skip the full and proper ending of a movie. They should leave that to the audiences.
Everybody knows the story, at least in this part of the country. Billu (Irfan Khan) is a poor and soft-spoken barber in a small village with wife Bindiya (Lara Dutta) and 2 kids. Once a unit shooting a film featuring the country's biggest movie hero, Sahir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan), sets up camp in the village for a schedule. The village is going berserk at its first exposure to the superstar and to movie-shooting, and word soon spreads among the folks that Sahir Khan was Billu's bosom buddy of their childhood days.
Mostly scorned for his poverty, Billu soon finds himself voraciously serenaded by all and sundry in the village who see him as their ticket to access Khan. Billu himself wants to avoid Khan as he is plagued by feelings of both inadequacy and apprehensiveness that Khan might see him as a gold-digger. However, the pressure on him from the entire village and his own family is over-powering, and he finally decides to approach Khan.
The problem with Billu Barber is that it's a vegetable sandwich packaged as a chicken burger, with the result that even people who might have enjoyed it as a vegetable sandwich will now carp about how it's hardly a chicken burger. Unfortunately, it's no great vegetable sandwich either. The movie ambles through its duration, and there's no scenery by the wayside to keep you interested either. Shah Rukh Khan feels more like a commercial break every now and then than an integral part of the movie.
Irfan Khan, an acclaimed actor, cannot bring his usual flair to the role of Billu - though that may not be of his own doing. You almost get bored every time Billu is on screen, thanks to the lack of nuances and expressions on Irfan Khan's face (indeed, he seems to have just one expression all through the movie). Lara Dutta is lively, and SRK is his usual energetic self. The speech at the end, that Rajnikanth had all of us moved with in the Telugu version
, has SRK at his best, too, but unfortunately, too much of your focus goes on to his nicotine-stained teeth.
The movie suffers most in the ultimate payoff - the reunion of the friends. There's hardly anything there, and when the ending happens, you know it mostly because the credits are starting to roll rather than because the story has ended logically. That apart, there's a little too much poverty courting the lead character, and that's not very appetizing either for those of us who go to the movies to escape.
Billu Barber is mostly for SRK fans who'll pay even to watch an ad featuring him. Which, actually, this movie is, if you can read between the lines.