One of the most treasured memories of my childhood is perhaps listening to the story of Krishna and Sudaama from my mother every night before going to sleep. There indeed is something truly magical about this legend that stands as a timeless fable of true friendship, and no matter how many times I heard it, I could never have enough of it.
Watching Priyadarshan's retelling of the story in Billu (which itself is a remake of the Malayalam film Kadha Parayumbol) instead reminded me of the khichdi my mother would forcibly stuff in my unwilling mouth as a child. Billu is simplistically told, and justificably so- but it lacks the heart-tugging warmth and charm that makes the mythological story so irresistable (it is inevitable that I wonder what wonders Ashutosh Gowariker could have done with this material).
Anyway, the fairy tale turns into a hairy tale, as Priyadarshan can't have enough of the farce-feeding. So the usual suspects- Asrani, Om Puri, Rajpal Yadav (all immensely talented actors, no doubt)- are yet again (under)utilised as they try in vain to provide er, comic relief, as you squrm watching the stunning unfunniness unfold in disbelief. Meanwhile SRK (Shahrukh/Sahir- what's in a name, you ask? Maybe the Salon and Beauty Parlour associations will tell us.) cavorts in tacky spaceships and Bentleys (evidently, this Krishna likes variety in vehicles) and indulges in some pretty dheela Raas Leela with his cohorts (VLCC advertisements Kareena, Deepika and Priyanka). He also occasionally tells us about the workings of the film industry (which of course is one big family) and how tired he is of all these silly controversies about him. Ah, yawn. OK, SRK- we're tired too, of watching you waste yourself playing these over-the-top caricatures of your grand self.
What we ultimately have left is an extraordinary actor (Irrfan Khan, take a bow again) trapped in the silly, frilly trappings of this eminently ordinary film. He is a wonderful picture of dignity and quiet resilience, and every emotion on his face rings true. Sadly, that can hardly be said about the film itself- and in this day and age when new filmmakers are trying their best to break the shackles of moribund mediocrity- it must be said that as far as films go, it is definitely no longer special to be ordinary.
Run to your mommas and grannies and hear it from them. Trust me, some things are best told the old-fashioned way.
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