Last Updated: 09.19 PM, Jan 12, 2022
I still distinctly remember coming across the movie poster of Billu on a rain-drenched wall through the window of my speeding school bus. Almost immediately, I was propelled towards the hooded eyes of a certain man featured in that poster who conveyed so much solely through his eyes. After a few months, while shuffling through channels on the television, I stumbled upon a dance number from the same movie starring Shah Rukh Khan, along with his leading heroines. Being an ardent admirer of Shah Rukh and having grown up hearing tidbits about him in his childhood neighbourhood which is also my residence (Delhi’s Rajinder Nagar), I could not contain my fascination and remained glued to the screen. To my befuddlement, Shah Rukh merely had an extended cameo. It was Irrfan who was essaying the eponymous lead role.
I hadn’t seen Irrfan in a movie before, but the naivety portrayed by him through his character enamoured me even when Shah Rukh maintained a brief absence from the frame. What drew me even more towards the movie was the how Irrfan breathed life into his character. Acting came so naturally to him that for a moment I thought he was living the character for real. Billu’s struggle as a barber juggling to make ends meet for his family is juxtaposed with the sumptuous life led by his childhood friend, Saahir Khan, now a superstar engulfed in immense fame and wealth.
Despite living in sheer poverty, Billu does everything in his capacity to keep his family going. However, his life is upended once word of his childhood friendship with Saahir Khan spreads. All those people who had spurned him until now began showering him with respect and unsolicited gifts. But good things don’t last long. Soon Billu finds his shop being ravaged by aggressive locals who thought he deceived them about his friendship with the superstar. I could relate to this episode as even I had refused to believe my father when he told me of how Shah Rukh Khan was an occasional customer at his shop in Karol Bagh before he had ventured into movies.
At this point, I empathised with Billu, felt the vulnerability and disappointment he harboured towards himself for being unable to get his family and the villagers to trust him. Through Billu, Irrfan aptly depicted the present-day dilemma and skepticism of the mythological Sudama to approach his well-off friend for fear of being shunned for his penury. Haven’t we all shared that predicament at some point in our lives?
Irrfan interweaves magic on the screen through his presence. Sharing the same frame with Shah Rukh Khan, and yet bewitching the masses through his profoundly intense eyes and method acting was something that only Irrfan could have succeeded at. Recognised as an exceptional actor of his times, his legacy lingers on through his dazzling work and demeanour in the movies and beyond.
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