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’!