One thing I love about Indian movies, is that they are often, at least partially, about Indian movies as well. Frequently you see people sitting in a cinema watching a movie, in the dialogues they refer to other movies, or the stories even revolve around someone trying to make it in film business. You watch (one of) the following movies and you know what i mean: Om Shanti Om (2007), Mili (1975), Rangeela (1995), Bombay Boys (1998).
I would say it shows that Indian cinema is a very selfaware cinema. India is a cinematic society, movies make up an integral part of the social cement. How we talk, how we walk, what we sing, what we drink. By making all this a theme in the films themselves, this is great fun to watch of course. Because now the films are about the stars, but also about the people watching, thinking and talking about those stars. Very much a cinema of and for the people. (Although some Marxist cynics claim this 'making cinema about cinema and the viewers' is the best way to make people addicted to cinema, and keep them buying.)
But recently this backfired. Yesterday we watched Billu Barber. It's about a small time barber, in a small time village. Then, his fate changes dramatically when the superhero Sahir Khan (played by Shah Rukh Khan) and his team come to the village for shooting a new SFX film in Matrix style. The rumour spreads that Billu used to be Sahir's friend in childhood, and suddenly everyone respects the poor barber. The storyline of the film is simple, and revolves around the question: 'Will Billu and Sahir meet again?'
The interesting parts of the film are about how the village is affected by the luxurious invasion of cinema. Business is going up, people become star crazy, and all try their best to get a glimpse of the hero or even a part in the movie. We see actual villagers playing actual villagers who want to play film villagers. We are supposed to believe the movie is about it's morals, that no matter if you're rich or poor, filmstar or barber, it's friendship that really matters.
But i couldn't help seeing in everything a glorification of the real life star, Shah Rukh Khan. He plays himself, under a slightly different name. People sing actual songs of his actual past movies.
He is shown loving his fans, but also critical of the people (politicians) underestimating his honesty and hard work. Even if he's not there, the movie revolves around him, by showing the effect he has on others. And in the end, the fate of the poor barber is finally changed for the good. Why? Of course, because the star takes care of that.
I couldn't help getting the idea that Shah Rukh Khan wanted a film about himself, showing the person behind the star. He wanted to show that Shah Rukh once was a little boy as well, just like everyone else. The film, produced by Shah Rukh's wife Gauri, is about Shah Rukh Khan about Shah Rukh Khan about Shah Rukh Khan.
But King Khan was someone else, NOT SR, but Irrfan in the role of Billu (whom many will know as the interviewing policeman in Slumdog Millionaire). Irrfan shows that a movie is much more interesting if an actor can actually act. And that it is high time stardom is not something that should be managed. It could, possibly, also be left to the opinion of the audiences, who I'm sure have a voice of their own. (Although the villagers in Billu Barber don't seem to be anything more than dumb, fame-following sheep.)