Director Priyadarshan can safely be labelled as the king of remakes. Not surprisingly, for his latest venture Billu (earlier titled Billu Barber) he borrows the story from the original Malayalam film, Katha Parayumbol. This is the second time that this critically acclaimed film is being remade after last year's heavily panned and box office disaster Kuselan featuring Rajnikanth. Keeping this in mind and also Priyadarshan's recent decline as a prolific director, I went in with absolutely zero expectations. I just didn't want to witness another Priyadarshan film like Mere Baap Pehle Aap. Sadly enough, Billu disappointed me even with those low expectations. Billu is that kind of a film which defies the practice of good filmmaking and is solely aimed to rake in the moolah while the initial hype lasts.
If you tend to use the idiot box frequently then you must have witnessed the aggressive promotions of Billu, many of them being the "item" numbers featuring Shahrukh Khan and his gang of pretty ladies. That's very much what you get to see during the film's first half without much story progression taking place. However, the film's premise is promising which is based on the bond of friendship that Lord Krishna shared with his childhood friend Sudama. Here Shahir Khan (Shahrukh Khan) is the rich guy and Billu (Irrfan Khan) is the somewhat impoverished friend.
The film tells the story of how these two childhood friends go on their separate paths early in their life to achieve different heights. While Shahir achieved his dream of stardom and the riches, Billu was content with his simple and humble life as a barber in Budbuda village. Billu's life takes a U-turn when Shahir arrives in Budbuda to shoot for his next film. Villagers are thrilled about the filmstar's arrival and every other person is desperate to get a glimpse of him including Billu's wife and two children. When the village folk learn that Shahir Khan was Billu's childhood friend, they leave no stone unturned to please Billu so that they can somehow get to meet the superstar through him. Meanwhile Billu is hesitant to meet Shahir as he feels that he would embarrass himself with his shabby state. What consequences does Billu have to face for his hesitance and how does he finally meet Shahir Khan? That forms the crux of the remaining story and its climax.
Priyadarshan hasn't really made a film that he should be genuinely proud of since Hera Pheri and that was way back in 2000. The films that followed were either formulaic entertainers or so-called comedies like Mere Baap Pehle Aap and Bhagam Bhag. Harsh but true, he hasn't evolved much as a filmmaker and it's rather sad because he's the man behind brilliant films like Kala Pani and Virasat. Unfortunately Billu has only extended his list of ever-growing duds. Billu doesn't have Priyadarshan's trademark comedy nor the intense dramatic depth. Even the characters look like extensions from his previous films. Blame the writers for that. While the original story has been credited to Sreenivasan, the screenplay for Billu has been adapted by Mushtaq Sheikh, who has previously scripted Om Shanti Om. Sheikh's adaptation is uninspiring, devoid of creativity and doesn't have a well-formed structure.
Irrfan Khan as Billu the barber (or rather hairstylist to be "non-controversial") is the only saving grace of this average film. He delivers a good performance but not one that can raise the bar of his previous work. Billu as a character had immense potential to become memorable, something like Munnabhai or even Gabbar Singh, but poor writing plays the spoilsport again. Lara Dutta is completely miscast as Billu's wife. The casting director should have watched the actress in Mumbai Se Aaya Mera Dost before casting her in Billu. She needed a de-glamorized look and more importantly some lessons about the mannerisms of a village woman.
I'm not sure if Shahrukh Khan made a cameo or almost appeared as the lead actor. Whatever that may be, he isn't too impressive and fails to live up to the magnitude of his character. His emotional breakdown in the climax looks like an extension from K3G. Now the actual cameos by the three ladies; Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra and Kareena Kapoor, are quite forgettable. Blame that on garish make-up, unbelievably poor costumes, tacky sets and bad choreography. Rajpal Yadav is hilarious as always, especially in the film's finale. I wish he was given a little more screen time. The rest of the supporting cast is strictly average, mostly comprising of Priyadarshan regulars like Om Puri, Asrani and Manoj Joshi.
Pritam's music is purely for the masses and doesn't have much to offer in terms of variety. The soundtrack is of-course a huge hit in the markets but in context of the film's plot, it doesn't work for me. Billu Bhayankar is the only decent track which has been penned by Gulzar. Technically the film is average to good. Special effects by Red Chillies VFX are amateurish. Ditto for art direction where attention to detail has been overlooked. For example, the likes of Vogue and Cosmopolitan magazines are seen in the village news stands and Billu's house looks unusually large from the exterior considering his poverty-stricken state. Editing by Arun Kumar isn't crisp enough and some scenes which appear repetitive require trimming. V. Manikandan's cinematography is commendable with some scenes framed and shot exceedingly well.