Year Released: 2009
Directed by: Priyadarshan
Starring: Irrfan Khan, Lara Dutta, Shah Rukh Khan
(Not Rated, 138 min.)
"The best mirror is an old friend." George Herbert
If you liked your taste of India from Slumdog Millionaire, then sidle up to the full buffet in this Bollywood tale that is brimming over with sly satire, broad comedy, and bigger than life song and dance. Mix equal portions of schmaltz and humanity and you have all the ingredients that made the big screen what is was in Hollywood’s golden years.
Billu (Irrfan Khan), the title character, is blessed with riches, just not the material kind. He has a beautiful wife Bindiya - not surprising, as she is played by Lara Dutta, Miss Universe of 2000 – and two more or less sweet children. But his barbershop is all but empty, his old comb nearly toothless, and his customer chair about to lose a leg. The local school is threatening to send his children home for lack of tuition payments, and at home, the power has been shut off.
Enter mega movie star Sahir Khan, (Sha Rukh Khan, more or less playing himself), who chooses Billu’s village of Budbuda for his next film, and everything changes - though not necessarily for the best. Billu has told his children that he and the star were once childhood friends, and in no time at all, the whole star struck village knows. Now the struggling Billu is awash in “goodwill,” from the fancy upholstered professional barber’s chair courtesy of penurious moneylender Daamchand (Om Puri) to the sudden offer of free tuition from the school principal. Of course, all of these “gifts” have strings attached; Billu is to use his friendship to garner favors from his film star friend.
In the hands of another actor, the comedic events that ensue would be routine, but not so due to the casting of Billu. Irrfan Khan, whom you may remember as the police inspector from Slumdog Millionaire, is not conventionally handsome by any means, but his, frankly speaking, bug eyes are the most soulful I’ve ever seen. His gentle fluid expression anchors the film when it veers off into slapstick silliness and brings tenderness to what otherwise might be looked on as a shilling sentimentality.
But what comes across most of all is Billu’s unflappable humility. He wonders if his friend will even remember him, and recoils from asking him for favors as much as he resists the gifts that are forced upon him. When, under duress, he does try to contact Sahir Khan, the results are just as fruitless as they are humiliating. Finally, in doubt, his wife asks if he in truth has ever known the film star. Billu’s response says everything there is to say about him: “It does not make any difference in our lives if I did or did not know him.” His response also keeps the audience in a nice state of wonder as well.
Meanwhile, interspersed with the simple village life, we get a behind the scenes view of the filming, as well as excerpts from Sahir Khan’s other films. And what a series of perfectly choreographed spectacle here, complete with well-known Indian beauties Kareena Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone. The color, motion, and vitality leap from the screen like some amazing workout video spiced up with romance and playful sensuality.
This film within a film also has a bit of self-parody about it, an acknowledgement of the over the top nature of the genre and the great gulf between it and the everyday lives of the villagers, who are nevertheless, the greatest of fans.
Like the celluloid reels that lighten the drab lives of these villagers, Billu Barber ends on a note of optimism and hope. But the filmmakers have not lost sight of the original purpose of drama, amidst the song and dance, humor and pathos: to teach. Quite seldom is a lesson so utterly enjoyable.
The heralded visit of a film star to their village would be an occasion for feasting. This simple rice pudding has the elegant touches of shredded almonds, rose water and Cardamom seeds to add to its sparkle. I’m sure Billu’s wife could serve up her own lovely version featuring the milk of her goat, and it would be quite delicious even without the almonds and rose water.
I have linked to a site on how to make your own rose water for those ambitious types and given a few alternatives for the rest of us.
Enjoy along with these other Indian dishes:
Indian Rice Pudding
- 1/2 cup Rice
- 4 cups Milk
- 1/4 cup Raisins
- 3/4 - 1 cup Sugar
- 1 tsp Cardamom Seeds
- 1/4 cup Shredded Almonds
- *6-8 drops Rose Water
- 1/2 cup Water
- Wash and drain the rice. Soak in 1/2 cup water for 1/2 hour.
- Boil the rice in the same water until it is coated and the water dries up. Add the milk and simmer on low heat for 1 1/2 hours.
- Scrape the sides and bottom frequently to prevent sticking and mash rice while stirring. When it is creamy, add sugar and stir in well.
- Remove from heat and add crushed cardamom seeds, rose water and shredded almonds.
*Find out how to make rose water here. Or you can be a rebel and just use plain water, or even water with a few drops of almond, vanilla, or whatever your favorite flavoring is.
Recipe Source: India for Visitors.com