As Billa 2 gets ready to hit the screens, ace actor Ajit Kumar talks to Nikhil Raghavan on the making of the film that's been billed as the season's biggest release
A dreaded gangster became a household name when Amitabh Bachchan played the character in the 1978 Hindi film Don, directed by Chandra Barot. In 1980, producer K. Balaji roped in director R. Krishnamurthy to make Billa, starring Rajinikanth. The Tamil film, extensively based on Don, became a runaway hit. Twenty-seven years later, director Vishnuvardhan remade Billa, with the blessings of Rajinikanth, starring Ajith Kumar. He took the suave and stylish character of Billa to a different level, creating a storm at the box office, re-establishing the cult status of the underworld don.
Now it's time to re-visit the franchise with Billa 2 by exploring the origins of the don. Says Ajith, who had no hesitation in signing up for the film, “This is probably the very first time a prequel is being made in Tamil cinema. That was the most exciting part of the whole project and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the psyche of the character in his formative years as David Billa.”
Billa 2 focusses on how David, an ordinary man from the coastal regions of South Tamil Nadu, becomes Billa, a dreaded underworld don. “There is a scene where I am accosted by cops and asked who I am and where I come from. All I say is: ‘David Billa. I come from the sea.'” When said in Tamil, there is magic in those words. Obviously, there will be this and many more punch dialogues to keep the ‘thala' fans excited.
Forty-one years old, 50 films under his belt and 20 years in the industry — Ajith is a contented person. “Acting is my profession and I ensure I give my best to every movie I star in. That's the least an actor can do, when the producers and directors have reposed so much faith in me to portray the character. During the course of my career, I have played so many different roles; each has given me immense satisfaction. Playing Billa and now the formative role of the central character in the prequel has been a gratifying experience. But, as I said after Mankatha, I would like to do roles that suit my age and looks. My next film is with director Vishnuvardhan, which should be completed by September/October, after which I am committed to do the Nagi Reddy Centenary Year production under director Shiva (Siruthai). Both these films will have characters compatible with my age.”
Ajith has of late refrained from talking about his film or his role because, “I would like the audience to watch my film without any preconceived notions, influences or expectations. I am as eager to know from my audience what they think about the film after its release. TMI (Too Much Information) is sometimes bad for the film.”
Says Sunir Kheterpal, CEO, IN Entertainment, “Being a prequel, Billa 2 looks at the life and journey of an ordinary man who metamorphoses into what we have come to know as David Billa. For the rest, please wait for the film.”
But, Ajith cannot restrain himself when he talks about the one scene that has remained etched in his memory. “It is a stunt scene and I was required to hang out from a helicopter at a height of 300 metres, flying at a speed of 140 knots. This was shot over three days in Georgia, in freezing cold; it was minus 8 degrees. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision for me to do the scene myself rather than use a double. How many people would get the opportunity to be kicked out of a chopper (laughs)? I had confidence in Stefan, the choreographer of a company called Action Concepts (Don 2, Cobra, a German TV serial). In hindsight, I can't believe that I did it. The feeling of having done this three-day shoot is indescribable; it's surreal. I have done some crazy stuff in my earlier films. But this is the craziest action scene and I am sure it will be one of the highlights of Billa 2.”
As with all his films, Ajith ensures great camaraderie with the cast and crew. His humility and down-to-earth nature are well-known. “It is necessary to have a great connect with all concerned. I am lucky to have worked with very talented directors such as Vishnuvardhan, Venkat Prabhu, S. J. Suryah… and now, Chakri Toleti joins the list. If there is compatibility between the actor and the director, irrespective of whether the director is new or successful, then the work goes on smoothly. I am a professional actor and paid to do my job. When there are good vibes and a sharp focus on the job at hand, the overall production values get enhanced,” says Ajith. “The Billa 2 project progressed at a brisk pace because the producers knew their job and understood the requirement of the director and gave the unit every thing needed without making a fuss about it. This ensured the film got completed in time.”
Billa 2 may have missed the usual May 1 release to coincide with Ajith's birthday, but the producers, IN Entertainment and Wide Angle Creations, have ensured enough promotional and marketing inputs to publicise the film. While Aascar Films have bought the theatrical distribution rights for Tamil Nadu for a sum upwards of Rs. 26 crore, the producers have confirmed that all distribution rights of the film, except Kerala, and the Hindi dubbing rights have been sold at a record price, garnering revenues exceeding Rs. 40 crore. This makes Billa 2 Ajith's highest revenue generator.
Confirming his association with the film, Aascar Ravichandran says, “Billa 2 is a hugely anticipated summer release this year and we are very happy to associate with INE for the release of the film in Tamil Nadu. It is an Ajith-starrer, part of the hugely popular Billa franchise and the first big film to hit the screens post-IPL this year. We are working towards giving the film tremendous publicity, marketing and promotional push in May.” The audio release of Billa 2 will take place on May 1 to coincide with Ajith's birthday.