Billu (2009)


So. If you are considering a leap onto the “original is best” Malayalam bandwagon and insist that I must see Kadha Parayumbol, please take a moment, breathe, perhaps go make a cup of tea instead. I’m perfectly happy with this film! What makes Billu work so well for me is that I have a high degree of awareness and appreciation of Shah Rukh’s career so the references and sly jabs at and by SRK really resonate. I wouldn’t have that to the same extent with a different regional cast, even if it is Mammootty in the big star role.

Priyadarshan directs a deceptively simple slice of life drama. Billu (Irrfan, in no surname mode) is a barber in picturesque Budbuda. Sahir Khan (Shah Rukh Khan in King Khan mode) is a massive movie star. Sahir suggests Budbuda as the location for the village scenes in his current project. Filming in the village was essential to the story as otherwise how would the Martian brother find his long lost sibling who was wearing a matching locket that beeped. I liked the interplay of real life and filmidom, in scenes when Sahir was enduring the plot narration, or when the villagers watched the shooting as though they were seeing life on Mars.

Mayhem erupts in Budbuda once the villagers find out that Billu and Sahir were childhood friends. Everyone wants to get an autograph, to get their brush with fame, and all the bigwigs demand that Billu introduce them to Sahir. But Billu repeatedly dodges the issue, even when his wife Bindiya (Lara Dutta) and annoying kids keep asking. Eventually the villagers start to believe he lied and accuse him of defrauding them of the gifts they had willingly pressed upon him.

Irrfan relies on his slightly oddball, rumpled, everyman persona for Billu and it works a treat. He comes across as good hearted but a little cynical, proud in himself but overwhelmed by the difference in status between himself and Sahir. Billu has told his family of a childhood friendship with Sahir, but is totally unprepared for how his village reacts when they find out. He is reluctant to contact Sahir, citing bygone time and the difference in their positions. But Billu’s inarticulate objections fall on fallow ground. It’s interesting that when Billu was negotiating with the school or others he could be quite glib, if apparently simple. Billu did go to the shooting and marvelled at the spectacle of Kareena’s duckface in Marjaani along with everyone else, but he flubbed all opportunities to speak to Sahir. I think he just wanted fate to intervene and take care of the logistics so he could see his mate without forcing himself upon Sahir.

Lara Dutta is beautiful but not too filmi glam as Bindiya. I could feel her frustration, not at being poor, but at having to be subservient and cop all the crap that comes with being seen as a beggar. Bindiya dreams of meeting Sahir and of the benefits that knowing a big star could give her family, but isn’t greedy. She just knows how things are when you’re the outsiders, and wants to take opportunities where they arise. Bindiya obviously thinks the world of Billu and it took a lot for her to actually ask him if his friendship was real. I thought it said a lot that there was no rancour in the conversation, and Billu still walked her to the school to hear Sahir speak. They had a solid relationship and as more of their backstory was revealed I had more appreciation for her.

Sahir is often absent from the action, but his presence permeates everything. I like SRK as a bad guy, and as a hero, but I especially like him as a hero who still has a healthy reservoir of cynicism alongside the cheesy entertainer reflexes (I also loved OSO). I enjoyed his character’s observations on controversy, and expectations audiences have, and his little encounters with Chaubey the guesthouse manager. Some dialogue sounded very similar to things Shah Rukh has said himself so I found the added element which may or may not be a reflection of his own views very appealing. Apart from That Speech he keeps Sahil quite sensible and vaguely amused by all the shenanigans unfolding around him, with occasional flashes of crankiness that may be caused by chafing from all the bedazzled outfits.

Sahir’s moment with Billu is quite beautiful, and so much better than the big build up that preceded it. It’s a performance I enjoy both for the overt manifestation of star power and the glimpse under the glossy veneer, and the expert manipulation by a master of crowd pleasing.

Shah Rukh’s own career is referenced extensively in posters on village walls, old movie stills and promo pictures, a montage celebrating Sahir’s stardom. The film within a film device also allowed some spectacularly silly and blinged out song concepts as they didn’t have to fit in with the plot as such, and could also use a parade of Shah Rukh’s recent-ish heroines. In every song there is a moment when he gets a goofy grin and he can’t help uncle dancing a bit despite the choreographers’ best efforts. I love it. Plus I think Evil Anthony makes an appearance.

Each shot serves to express the focal character’s universe, from set design to lighting to the framing. It’s a pleasure just to look at this film. Pritam made Billu’s songs and background music more organic than the filmi stuff, and they were accompanied by lush “real world” visuals lovingly captured by V Manikandan.

“Jaaun Kahan” is a bewildered meditation, while “Khudaya Khair” is a sweetly romantic dream that could star either your husband or Sahir Khan, mood depending. The village setting was glorious and while I’m pretty sure it was in Tamil Nadu I chose not to overthink the geography/language mash up.

The standouts in the support cast were Asrani as Naubat Chacha, a rare voice of moderation and always seeing Billu’s side, and both Om Puri and Manoj Joshi throwing their weight around as self-important and self-proclaimed VIPs. I also liked Rasika Joshi as the long suffering principal who turned out to be not such a bad old stick.

Would this film make you a Shah Rukh fan if you weren’t one already? Maybe not. But it is a departure from his Rahul shtick and there is enough of a gleam in his eye and a quirk to those famous eyebrows to make me think he had a bit of fun playing with his own image. And I’m a sucker for both sublime and ridiculous visuals. 4 stars!

Don (2006)


Normally I’m not a fan of remakes since they are generally nowhere near as good as the original, but Farhan Akhtar’s Don is the exception that proves the rule – at least for me. As much as I love the original Don with Amitabh Bachchan, Iftekhar, Helen and co, the remake slickly updates the story and adds a few new twists that make the end at least just that little bit better. I love Shahrukh Khan when he’s in anti-hero mode, and this is an excellent example of how good SRK can be when he’s being bad. There are a few misses, but overall good casting, clever writing and an excellent soundtrack make Don one of my favourite SRK films.

The remake follows the original 1978 Don fairly closely in terms of the screenplay but sets most of the story in Malaysia where Don (Shahrukh Khan) is the ‘most dangerous and cunning criminal’ in an organisation than spans the globe smuggling drugs. Don heads up the Malaysian arm of the gang and works for Singhania ( Rajesh Khattar), the rival of fellow ultra-elusive gang member Vardhaan. DCP DiSilva (Boman Irani) is on the trail of the criminals along with his colleague Inspector Verma (Sidharth  Jyoti) and Interpol Officer Vishal Malik (Om Puri).

Shahrukh appears to enjoy playing the utterly ruthless and callous Don and he seems to slip effortlessly into evil mode when required. His Don is perhaps a little too flamboyant and his fashion sense is rather quirky (those terrible ties-inside-the shirt!), but his panache and flair in the opening scenes when he imitates some ballet dancers and then a few moments later causes carnage and mayhem during a drug deal gone wrong is superb. He’s cool, collected and practical when it comes to getting rid of police informers and in dealing with recalcitrant gang members, but does show his softer side to Anita (Isha Koppikar) and a little more uncertainty with fellow gang member Narang (Pawan Malhotra). This shading makes Don more interesting and generates some empathy for what is really quite an unpleasant character at the start of the film.

One of the misses is the remake of the classic Helen number Yeh Mera Dil. Kareena Kapoor takes on the role of Kamini, the revenge seeking fiancé of gang member Ramesh (Diwaker Pundir), killed by Don for his disloyalty. Kareena just doesn’t have the vibrancy or class of Helen, and her seduction routine is clinical and passionless as a result. There’s no rage, no thirst for revenge or abhorrence at getting close to the man who murdered her fiancé and it ends up as nothing more than a lot of shimmying in a gold lamé dress.  It’s not surprising Don looks somewhat disdainful and fairly unimpressed throughout.

Priyanka Chopra is much better as Roma and at least looks as if she is capable of murder. At least up until she actually tries to kill Don at which point she seems to lose her mojo. Still, it’s a good effort and she does well in the songs too, although I think Isha Koppikar takes the honours here – plus who doesn’t love a giant disco mirror ball. Both Priyanka and Isha  look stunning and are obviously included to up the glamour quotient, but both do a good job in their roles and appear as strong and confident characters throughout.

Don is seriously injured and captured by the police during a chase in India which gives DCP DiSilva the opportunity to replace Don with a local entertainer Vijay (also SRK) who is the spitting image of the gangster. SRK’s Vijay is a tad more sensible than in the original, and Shahrukh makes him a very different character to Don. He even looks quite different, using facial expressions and body movement to emphasize the difference between the two characters – at least up until the surgery to make them both the same.

However, since only DiSilva and the fake Don know about the impersonation, when DiSilva is killed during an operation to catch Singhania it all starts to go pear-shaped for Vijay. As well as dodging the police and fooling the gang into believing he is Don, Vijay has to deal with Roma’s attempts at revenge and somehow get a disc with information about the gang to Malik to prove his innocence.   Meanwhile Jasjit (Arjun Rampal) is also out for revenge after DiSilva caused the death of his wife, adding more layers to the plot and a means to bring it all to a satisfactory conclusion.

The updated film has plenty of high powered car chases and some cool fight scenes which all work pretty well. There are a couple of escapes too – the first is rather unnecessarily convoluted, but the second is fun as it involves Don wrestling one of his gang members for a parachute while plunging to the ground after jumping out of a plane. Now if this had been a Southern Indian film, Don would have had a handy gun and some explosive to deal with the problem, but here he just has to fight it out while the ground spins giddily below and rushes every closer.

The film has a great soundtrack from Shankar-Ehsan-Loy which uses two songs and the general theme from the original film. The second remix is Khaike Paan Banaraswala which fares much better than the Helen remake number, and is a lot of fun – I suspect most of the direction here was asking SRK to act goofy and he manages to do so repeatedly!

Overall the casting is excellent and the support actors all seem to fit their parts well. Boman Irani is in sensible mode as DiSilva and he makes a good world-weary cop. I find he can be erratic, depending on the director and is often better in comedic rather than straight roles, but he does an excellent job here and suits the role. Om Puri is a little under used in a role that doesn’t give him much scope, but has a couple of good scenes with DiSilva where he is suspicious of absolutely everyone and he fits that character style perfectly. Perhaps most surprising is Arjun Rampal who I remember thinking was much better here than in any of his films I’d seen previously, and puts in an emotionally mature performance as a devastated man out for blood.

I went to the cinema prepared to be disappointed in Don and was instead surprised by how much I enjoyed the film, and still love watching the DVD. Expensive production makes the stunts work well and lifts the thrill factor, but none of that would matter without good performances and a well thought out rewrite of the story. The film works for me because of SRK and Boman Irani, but everyone has their part to play in making Don such an entertaining film. The Malaysian backdrop looks amazing, the soundtrack is great and the dialogue and stunts are brilliant. It may be a remake but it’s a great film in its own right and I love this version just as much as the original. 5 stars!

Tere Naal Love Ho Gaya

Tere Naal Love Ho Gaya  is the exception that proves the rule. You know – the one that says all real-life couples have absolutely no on-screen chemistry together.  I know there are a few other exceptions out there (although mostly I’m thinking of Hema and Dharmendra films), but they’re few and far between.  But here, Riteish and Genelia share an excellent rapport which makes the film much better than it sounds on paper.  There isn’t anything too different in the way of plot, dialogue or even the characters but the excellent performances of the lead cast make up for a lot, with the end result of a light but entertaining romantic comedy.

Great disclaimer in the opening credits too – always good to see animal safety concerns addressed!

Viren (Riteish Deshmukh) is an auto-rickshaw driver who starts work early every morning in his attempt to save up enough money and realise his dream of running his own fleet of cars.  But he makes two crucial mistakes.  He keeps his savings under the seat of the auto, and he tells his boss Bhatti (Tinnu Anand) about his dream.  So when Viren turns up for work and finds four cars instead of a rank of auto-rickshaws he’s understandably rather upset.  In a weak moment, he drowns his sorrows in alcohol and turns up at Bhatti’s house demanding compensation for his loss just as Bhatti’s daughter Mini (Genelia Deshmukh) is getting engaged.

Mini makes the most of Viren’s drunken appearance and forces Viren to kidnap her at gunpoint in order to escape her rich but brainless suitor Sunny (Kartar Cheema).  Mini is the driving force behind the abduction and much of the comedy in the first half comes from her ruthless manoeuvring of the hapless Viren to escape pursuit and demand a ransom from her father.

I’m sometimes a bit ambivalent about Genelia. I like her when she’s not in manic, hyperactive pixie-mode and there are times here where she veers dangerously close to that. But for most of the film she plays the ruthlessly selfish but bubbly and personable Mini with charm and vivacity and provides the perfect impetus to drive Viren relentlessly out of his comfort zone.  I ended up liking her character more than I expected, particularly in the second half and I think that overall this is one of her better performances. She gets to pull some great faces and wear some lovely costumes, although my favourites are these pajamas covered in little flip flops.

Viren is totally over whelmed by the phenomena that is Mini and Riteish is excellent as the poor but principled auto driver whose life has been completely turned upside down.  I do really like Riteish.  His presence ensures that I will watch a film, no matter how dire it sounds and he’s always worth watching.  I’m very impressed that he has a second career as an architect but he’s a good actor, especially in comedic roles, and, perhaps rather worryingly, he frequently looks much better than he should in a dress.  As much as I love him though, he’s not really my idea of leading man material so I was very impressed that he did so well with his role here – despite a few fashion faux pas and a tendency to try to imitate SRK in the songs.

Unsurprisingly Mini and Viren end up falling in love during a rather strange drunken night at a wedding.  While it’s totally predictable that the two get together, the romance isn’t well developed at all and it’s just assumed that being forced together by the circumstances is enough of a reason for a relationship.  However the chemistry between Mini and Viren is convincing enough to give some plausibility to the proceedings and it’s hard to complain when they do look so good together.

The second half of the film moves to Viren’s family home where his father is the notorious kidnapper Chowdhary (Om Puri) – a man so well-known for his criminal proclivities that his mansion is called Agwaha house. But despite this clue he appears to live there quite unmolested by police or other persons of authority and is free to pursue his chosen profession as and when he wishes.  Om Puri is always good value and I liked his curmudgeonly and testy Chowdhary.  His scenes with Genelia are some of my favourites as she gradually wins his affection and as a result he continually increases her ransom price.

Smita Jayakar is also good as Viren’s mother and the looming presence of the silent Gurmeet Saajan as Viren’s uncle who keeps popping up in the background made me laugh more than it really should.  Viren also has a sister played by Chitrashi Rawat who was better than I expected given the few brief times I’ve seen her since her debut in Chak De India. The rest of the cast are all good in their stereotypical roles but generally they don’t have much to do.

Apart from the excellent performances from Genelia and Riteish there are other good points about the film.  The cinematography is excellent and Chirantan Das makes the countryside look incredibly beautiful. The interior shots around Chowdhary’s house are also well shot and there is good use of light and colour throughout.  The songs by Sachin-Jigar are enjoyable, although the item number suffers from poor choreography and rather too much of Veena Malik but the music is good. The other songs are better pictured although neither Riteish nor Genelia are particularly good dancers but what they lack in technique, they make up for in enthusiasm and since they’re both supposed to be drunk in this song the lack of co-ordination may even be deliberate.

Tere Naal Love Ho Gaya is the debut film by director Mandeep Kumar and writer Abhijeet Sandhu.  It isn’t brilliant, but it does have it’s moments and I found it an enjoyable watch with a very likeable cast.  The whole film has a feel-good flavour and it’s a good lazy afternoon movie for when you don’t want to have to think too much.  Worth watching for the excellent performances by the main leads and Om Puri’s scenes with Genelia.  3 ½ stars.