The first Billa made in 1980, itself a remake of Don, was a re-launch of sorts for ‘Superstar’ Rajnikanth. (The actor had renounced cinema and had gone on a hiatus of sorts when he had to be coerced back to the silver screen. So Billa is dearer to Rajnikanth fans for more reasons than one.) The second Billa in 2007, featuring Ajith Kumar and made by director Vishnuvardan, was spoken as a tribute to Rajnikanth; and though by no means could it achieve the cult status of the 1980 movie, it managed to be a box office success, thanks mainly to its lead actors and its highly stylised treatment.
Now the producers have tried to milk Billa a third time at the box office. It is a prequel on how David Billa (Ajith Kumar reprising his role) becomes the dreaded mafia don. It traces the initial years of the gangster, learning his trade from the various crime circles of what is ostensibly the early 1980s.
David Billa is revealed as a Sri Lankan refugee, who arrives at the Rameswaram camp carrying scars of the ethnic war there. He quickly establishes himself as a leader of men within the camp. Thereon, the child of destiny that he is, Billa moves from one situation of providence to another, establishing himself within the crime circles of the diamond smugglers in coastal Tamil Nadu, later with the drug peddlers in Goa and eventually with the arms dealers in Russia. Towards the end, he seats himself as the emperor of a worldwide crime network and signals that it is just “the beginning”.
The treatment is darker than ever before, so much so that it is hard to imagine the last time any mainstream actor with box office appeal as much as Ajith Kumar appeared in a movie so grim and unrelenting. He deserves praise for attempting to do something that most mainstream stars would hesitate to do. But no amount of effort can pull off such a weak script.
The first half an hour of the movie is the most interesting, also the most bearable. The attention to detail at the Rameswaram refugee camp, aided by some good camerawork, manages to kindle one’s interest.
That does not last long though as the director-writer Chakri Toleti seems to have bartered character development for action sequences filled with gore. There is hardly any emotional connect with any of the characters. The script relies solely on selling the Ajith Kumar’s off-screen synergy with fans, so much so the story remains half-baked and banal.
The most successful gangster movies have relied more on scripts than stunts. But the situations in Billa II will only leave one laughing for all the wrong reasons: Billa can get stabbed one moment and stand up and pose with arms akimbo the next; he can infiltrate an army arms depot and get away with a container truck with just one sidekick; he can get the chief minister assassinated in probably the most laughable of plots; and he can go to Russia and make a mockery of the plans of an international arms dealer single-handedly. As if to prevent the audience from wondering just how bad the movie is turning out to be, the director introduces gratuitous amounts of Ajith Kumar walking in slow motion with explosions in the background.
There are plenty of gaping holes in the script. But if one can narrow it down to just two things, it would be the lack of a proper adversary pitted against a character that audience has long ago accepted as menacing. None of the villains match up in terms of characterisation. And most importantly, where is the heroine? Parvathi Omanakuttan as Jasmine, Billa’s niece, has the shortest role possible for a leading lady, appearing clueless right through. So when a henchman puts an end to her misery, don’t be surprised if the audience heaves a sigh of relief. Bruna Abdullah as the moll has more screen time than the leading lady.
Where the movie lacks in substance, it does try to score with technical aspects. The camerawork by R. D. Rajasekhar, background score by Yuvan Shankar Raja and editing by Suresh Urs are superlative for the most part. The climax stunt sequence that has Ajith Kumar and Vidyut Jamwal (Russian arms dealer) is a ripper of a sequence, but sadly the audience is completely at a loss by that time and is probably just praying for the movie to end.
The best thing about Billa II is its length, which is at least half an hour shorter than the standard for Tamil cinema. The only way to enjoy this one is to gift a friend, who is an Ajith Kumar fan, your time. Just so that he can discuss later why what you have watched is not all that bad.
Genre: Gangster Flick
Director: Chakri Toleti
Cast: Ajith Kumar, Parvathy Omanakuttan, Bruna Abdullah, Vidyut Jamwal
Storyline: The making of Billa the don
Bottomline: Does not live up to the hype