Billu Barber or the Problem of Stars ‘Playing’ Themselves


I think there is a problem (though not necessarily in box office terms) when the diegetic and non-diegetic are ‘melded’ this way. In a film like Sarkar it is actually the very aim of the work to twin the two. But with something like Billu Barber (and this is not unique to this particular film by any means) it sometimes creates a bit of an imbalance in the story if the director is not able to adequately separate the film’s two realities. So in Hrishikesh Mukerjee’s Guddi everything is always seen through Jaya Bachchan’s eyes. The film never goes over to Dharam’s side of the story, it never becomes his film. We are always, even as we witness film shoots and so on, on the outside. But many other works don’t respect this balance and a certain confusion arises. I personally think that imaginative possibilities are always greater when a regular actor plays a superstar as opposed to a major star playing himself. At the very least everything with the former exists on the same plane. If the two are not well executed or seamlessly the ’star’ becomes a huge distraction for the film. This is why it was always spectacularly absurd to take Rajni for Kuselan. The one star who could never be ’subordinate’ in this sense! But part of the reason also is that this kind of part is a huge challenge for most stars who play such roles even if this is something lost on the latter more often than not. So Shahrukh for example shouldn’t just be playing Shahrukh but also giving the audience this impression of ‘playing’. In other words the very process of ‘acting’ has to be represented and this is extremely hard and certainly challenging even for great talents. This is why many Shakespearean parts are so difficult because these involve strong characters that often ‘act out’ other characters. As the latter happens the audience must always see the character ‘acting out’ and not just the actor creating two different characters that don’t have ‘commerce’ with each other. The latter scenario is a disaster. And in the same vein this is also why Hamlet is such an ‘impossible’ role. Because it is minimally the case that Hamlet is always ‘acting’ and yet this paradoxically renders him most ‘in character’!

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7 Responses to “Billu Barber or the Problem of Stars ‘Playing’ Themselves”

  1. ideaunique Says:

    nice write up – although i’ven’t seen BB – but failure of it was a tight slap on srk as a producer and an actor – no one can fool the audience today – i thought that the basic plot of modern-day krishna-sudama had/has tremendous potential but it was screwed up here by priyan, srk himself and a shoddy script….

  2. ideaunique – we keep on saying that no one can fool audience or electorate and they are intelligent to differentiate but I see just opposite of that in every election or with a blockbuster movie.

  3. Did you see SRK’s “Duplicate”? There he not only plays two different characters, but also both those characters pretending to be the other. I thought he did an excellent job of distinguishing between the “real” character, and the character as being “imitated” by the other. There was never a moment of confusion on the viewer’s part of which of the four creations we were seeing. So, do you think he has lost that capacity now, or that he didn’t bother to try, in Billu?

    • But he wasn’t playing a ‘star’ in Duplicate which is what I’m addressing here. I did enjoy Duplicate when it first released. I do believe SRK has lost quite a few steps since. I think what he always had going for him in those years even when he wasn’t necessarily doing a good acting job was energy and flamboyance. He lost these qualities very quickly. These days I find him labored more often than not though there are understated moments in films like swades and CDI or part of RNBDJ that I think come at the expense of his strengths in many ways.

  4. ideaunique Says:

    munna, that is because audience or voters decide to fool themselves:-)

  5. why_so_serious Says:

    Haven’t seen Billu barber..

    “why it was always spectacularly absurd to take Rajni for Kuselan. The one star who could never be ’subordinate’ in this sense!”
    It worked in Anbulla Rajinikanth. Rajini never gives the impression of ‘playing’ here. Moreover, the film is seen through the kid’s POV. And no excuses to exploit Rajini’s brand that could come in way of the main story.

    It’s up to the filmmaker. Vasu is a hack and I always expect the worse in his films. He added some extra material for Rajini, for filmsy excuse, so it was destined to go this route.

    Mammootty’s cameo worked in ‘Katha Parayumpol’ because like in Anbulla, the role was gauged well..

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