Monday, December 17, 2007

Billa


Rajni's 1980 blockbuster Billa seemed like a prime candidate for an update. The combination of its strong story and racy screenplay, coupled with today's production values, seemed ideal for a present-day remake that had both style and substance. But this remake doesn't quite get it right. Its production values are top-notch but they can't inject enough energy to make up for the watered-down story and weak narrative.

Billa(Ajith) is a criminal who does it all - murder, drug trafficking, arms smuggling. He kills his enemies without batting an eyelid and doesn't think twice about giving his friends the same treatment when they cross him. Jaishankar(Prabhu) is the DCP hot on his heels but always a step behind and he gets some help in the form of Interpol officer Gokulnath(Rahman). But Billa doesn't have enemies just on the outside. Sasha(Nayanthara) joins his gang in order to kill him and avenge her brother's death. Jaishankar, with some help, finally manages to apprehend Billa, who dies in the DCP's car. Keeping his death a secret, Jaishankar gets Velu(Ajith), a pickpocket, to take Billa's place. Velu's task is to round up the rest of Billa's gang and unmask Jagdish, the top gun to whom Billa reports.

Having been exposed to more complex stories and screenplays, viewer sensibilities have changed and they are ready to think and absorb more. So when a director selects a well-known movie to remake, we hope that he retains the spirit of the original but still makes changes that surprise and challenge viewers familiar with it. So it is surprising that Vishnu Vardhan elects to dilute Billa's story to make it less meaty. He eliminates key characters, makes key sequences(like the one where Nayantara rescues Billa) rather uncomplicated and introduces plot points that actually reduce the suspense level(like the question of when Billa will be exposed in the My Name is Billa... number) in some key scenes. So the movie feels dumbed down and lacks pace and energy. That is always damaging but here, when one remembers an original that raced along with surprising twists and turns, it is rather fatal.

The movie certainly looks good. The cinematography, the desaturated colors, the costumes, the slo-mo shots and the pulsating background score create a movie that is sleek and stylish. It sometimes feels like Ajith is a model walking the ramp rather than a criminal on his way to a kill but the 'cool factor' is something missing in Tamil films and that is present in abundance here. Its this look that makes the movie work whenever Billa is in focus. Once focus moves from Billa to Velu, which is what happens when Velu goes on the run, opportunities to be stylish are not that many and this contributes to the lack of energy in the second half.

But actors too have an important part to play in a movie's look. Ajith looks dashing and Nayanthara looks great but Prabhu almost single-handedly brings down Billa's coolness. Everything about the actor - his portly look, his wig, his emoting, his dialog delivery - screams old-style and just doesn't gel with the modern look that Vishnu Vardhan is going for. And it doesn't help that he is given some absolute clunkers to mouth. Namitha too doesn't help matters. While the actress doesn't have as important a role as Prabhu, her figure-hugging dresses, mini-skirts and her dance steps make her look vulgar rather than sexy. When she shares the screen with Nayanthara, they look like the female version of Laurel and Hardy!

Vishnu Vardhan brings in a low-key touch that is a pleasant and welcome change from the loudness usually associated with Tamil cinema. Characters speak very little(though the movie could have used a few more one-liners) and sentiments are kept to a minimum. The lack of loudness is actually more evident in the action sequences. The hand-to-hand fight is rugged and feels real. The superb stunt on the aerobridge doesn't go over the top. And when Ajith's car pushes one of his pursuers' cars away during a very well picturized car chase, it just slides to the roadside and stops instead of running over a slope, flying into the air and exploding in a great ball of fire as its parts fall down!

While upgrading technology to keep up with the times is necessary, the screenplay has to be upgraded too to make sure that it works with the changes. The red diary in the original is now a pen drive but the events around it are still old-fashioned.When Ajith refuses to hand it over when asked or another character is thrilled after checking its veracity, its impossible to not wonder why someone couldn't have just copied its contents to another computer before giving it away. This - along with the fact that the climax is ripped-off from the Al Pacino-Colin Farrell starrer The Recruit - makes the entire last section of the movie feel dumb and dull.

Ajith is suitably endearing as Velu. He gets a lot of laughs during the training session with Prabhu and uses his body language and dialog delivery to distinguish convincingly between the two roles. His dance steps, particularly for Seval Kodi..., which is a very fast song, are noticeably slow and his back problems probably have something to do with that. Nayanthara looks gorgeous though that is pretty much all she has to do. The few sequences that actually gave the heroine something to do in the original have been cut out completely or watered down considerably here and so all she has to do is flaunt her now-flat abs and stroll around in bikinis and skirts.Rahman is solid while Santhanam mercifully has only a few scenes.

Vishnu Vardhan and Ajith may have intended this movie to be a homage to the original Billa. But it just ends up reminding us how good the original was in the first place.

33 Comments:

At 12:41 AM, Anonymous fans_usa said...

Ajith as a BILLA was good n the movie was good,racy as long as BILLA was alive . i liked the car chase - BILLA hiding inside container n suddenly coming out with race car n the mind games he play with his own gangster friends.
n velu character was ok with nice comedies but other characters were big let down .
prabhu looked so silly as a cop eating pop corns, chocolates .
n nayanthara looked as if she is more interested in showing her body than killing billa.
namitha- what was she doing in the movie?

the suspense(about rehman being the superboss) works to some extent but could ve been revealed in a better way.

 
At 2:17 AM, Anonymous G@|\|E$# said...

I havent seen the old Billa as a whole.... just in parts. So thankfully, the old Billa didnt keep flashing in my mind. Ajit is good in his role. Dont think any other actor would have suited the role.

Yep, I found the whole pen drive sequences dumb

On the whole, i liked the movie for its stylish look (guess, no Tamil movie has looked like this)

 
At 2:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

>>how good the original was in the first place

ORIGINAL -- i hope u mean Don by amitabh ... anyways happened to see old Billa in KTV recently ... cannot able to watch for more than 30 mins ... agreed Rajini is style mannan ... but old billa is worth enough for miss ...

it is high time not to check logic in mass movies ....

Ajith billa ia between Okie and good for me

 
At 2:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

with due respect to rajini ...

Old billa is crappy story with average screen play ....

>>> ishnu Vardhan and Ajith may have intended this movie to be a homage to the original Billa. But it just ends up reminding us how good the original was in the first place.

U made by day ... LOL ..... u project as if old one was classic ... it was just a masala flick remade from hindi .... another run of the mill kind of movie ...

it is made more stylish now with the help of technology .. but story and screenplay wise it is same crappy as old one ...

now how u say it just show that how good old one was .........??? very very funny .........

People who saw new billa and wanna see old billa after that cannot sit for more than 30 mins for old movie .... that much good it was ...

 
At 3:30 AM, Anonymous raj said...

Well, when Don was remade, it was derided much in comparison with the Amitabh Don. Manoj at minorscale.net nailed the matter thus:
"Crap begets crap".
We must now rephrase it as:
Crap(Amit's Don) begets Crap(Rajni's Don) begets Crap (latest one).

But none of you possibly watched the super-crap in this series: Yugandhar by a gigantic NTR. So, be thankful for small mercies

 
At 5:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1) Vishnu Vardhan and Ajith may have intended this movie to be a homage to the original Billa. But it just ends up reminding us how good the original was in the first place.

2)Vishnu Vardhan and Ajith may have intended this movie to be a homage to the original Billa. But it just ends up reminding us how good the original was in the first place.


Balaji,
you have carefully changed the last line in your review :) :)

Looks like you wrote the review in a hurry with double standards that you instill for an ajith film ?

Great going !! Do change these things in your future review too

or atleast relax yourself a bit before posting a review
Don't hurry dude !! ;)

 
At 6:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

//But none of you possibly watched the super-crap in this series: Yugandhar by a gigantic NTR.//
P.Vasu once again displays his lack of creativity by planning to 're-remake' Don in Telugu.My complaint is that P.Vasu seems to be utterly half-knowledged when it comes to 'hi-tech' movies.

 
At 6:06 AM, Blogger S.Ganesh Kumar said...

So what's the rating?
2 or 2.5*?

 
At 6:13 AM, Blogger S.Ganesh Kumar said...

//Vishnu Vardhan and Ajith may have intended this movie to be a homage to the original Billa.//
I still don't know what was that great in the 'original' DON(1978).
I would stick to my stand that the modern version(DON-2006) is far better than the original.

 
At 7:50 AM, Anonymous Oor Kaavalan said...

"Pee-Naatha" Vaasu making any movie itself is horrid. Him remaking great movies from the past gave us crap movies like Chandramukhi.

Now, he is attempting to remake horrible(his kind of) movies from the past and the Defecation will truly strike the Percolator.

As for Ajith's Billa, the most generous thing to say about it is that At least it was not made by "Pee Natha" Vasu. Still, despite Vishnu's efforts, there is only so far you can go with the Ajith/Vijay/Simbu Types.

The Monkeys begin to think they are "Hero Material" just because some other chimps give them titles such as "Thala", "Ilaya Thala(**)dhi" etc. Yaarukku yaaru da Hero?

And, the old Billa was as cheesy as cheesy could go. Most of the 70s era Pot boilers did not have any clue about aesthetics and could deliver neither on content nor style(except for the rare "Sigappu Rojakkal").

I would suggest that we make piracy legal for all movies starring the younger-Vijaykanths of today and start selling their VCDs for 2 Rupees + one Kadala Muttai. Even then, there will not be any takers.

 
At 10:11 AM, Anonymous APALA said...

Hi Balaji:

Have not seen this yet but in no hurry as I have seen the old crap with Rajini in it! (It might have been a HUGE, MONSTEROUS hit - but that does not change the FACT that the movie was a total crap! Sripriya, Thengai Srinivasan, Balaji --- oh my god! What a whacko cast!!! Hindi Don with Amitabh was much better!!

I can not believe people call the old Billa as a Rajini classic!!! (All that is OLD, is not classic!!) Rajini's "Mullum Malarum", Thambikku Entha Ooru (except for the climax!), 6-lirunthu 60-varai, Thillu mullu etc., can be called - CLASSIC! But NOT this stupid movie!!

 
At 10:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Havent seen the new billa yet,but to call the old billa good is definitely surprising.
Btw on a tangential note, heard the hero yapping away about "how many problems he faced.....etc" in his interview. Crybaby material. Couldnt visualise him as Don after watchin that interview.

 
At 11:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

>>Btw on a tangential note, heard the hero yapping away about "how many problems he faced.....etc" in his interview. Crybaby material. Couldnt visualise him as Don after watchin that interview.

now i know why he stayed away from media for 10 yrs ...

so u will accept only when veerapan play as DON ... as he us real DON in life too ...

comon baby grow up ........

 
At 11:25 AM, Blogger Balaji said...

fans, i agree. i read somewhere that 1st half was slow. but i thot it was good. stylish and good pace too :)

G@|\|E$#, yep the movie looked great :)

anon, i did mean rajni's billa(i havent seen amitabh's don). as i said b4, its production values r outdated. and apart from rajni, its cast is bad. but here i was just referring to its story. that after 27 yrs, vishnu vardhan had to dilute the story shows how good and interesting it was :)

anon, glad i made ur day. but as i said, i didnt mean(and never said) the old billa was a classic. just that it had a story and screenplay that holds good to this day and had to be watered down by vishnu vardhan :)

raj, i think i saw a photo of NTR as Don in rediff's article about all versions. *shudder* :)

anon, not sure what u mean by saying i've changed the last line of the review...

anon, havent heard that news about p.vasu planning to remake it. IMO he's completely unsuited for it :)

ganeshkumar, 2 * :)

apala, i wouldnt say its a classic. just a really good entertainer. but no arguments there on the cast. u left out asokan :)

anon, good in story/screenplay :)

 
At 11:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Hindi Don by Farhan Akthar was sleek & stylish.. Also, the twist at the end made way for Don-2 which I believe is going to be made next year.
Arumugam

 
At 12:55 PM, Blogger sandya said...

Hmmm.. Balaji, very interesting. You have taken quite sometime to write this review and yet, not a single line on the songs or about their picturization. I'm really surprised. Even if you didn't have nice things to say, (and we all know that song picturization like many of our other contemporary directors, is not Vishnu's cup-of-tea), I was hoping that it was deserve at least a mention in the review. (It definitely had to be better than Namitha & Prabhu's presence in the film, I suppose! :-)

 
At 2:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

" Havent seen the new billa yet,but to call the old billa good is definitely surprising.
Btw on a tangential note, heard the hero yapping away about "how many problems he faced.....etc" in his interview. Crybaby material. Couldnt visualise him as Don after watchin that interview."

He'd obviously sound like a crybaby when he's being asked insane questions and some m***** pass comments about his impotence....

 
At 3:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

did you read my mind or what! this is precisely what i thought about the movie too. Sure, the screenplay was not as peppy but the big difference was, I guess, the screen presence rajini had. Nirav shah rocks as usual and i guess that was one of the biggest reasons to watch this movie on big screen.

 
At 7:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

balaji just wants to be a politically correct. The old billa was crap.... poor production standards, poor cast... etc. Vishnu had already said no changes are in the offing. How wise is it to expect changes?

 
At 10:05 PM, Blogger Naren's said...

Balaji, that was one of the sensible reviews on billa hitting on nail the shortcomings..well on weighing the pros and cons the cons wud definitely and easily pull down the balance.. .But you should have spared some more lines for Yuvan..he and the cameraman are the real stars in whatever less good this movie can provide...and even that nirav shah has a challenge as he has to terrificly re invent himsself to crank his camera for another mostly stylised movie...and Yuvan i have no doubt evertime he gels with a team he is bound to rock.....jus check the scene where the velu character affirms hez billa ..barrels flying , men in blazers ..cool was it.....Tamil cinema has so many deterrants and Prabhu offlate is easily topping the list....someone shud do something abt this...he shud simply stop acting...

 
At 10:50 PM, Blogger Balaji said...

arumugam, srk's don was defly sleek and stylish. the final twist came as a nice surprise initially. but i thing it makes many of the earlier segments(like the paan banaraswala... song meaningless)

sandya, wasn't intentional. just slipped my mind when i was writing the review i guess. anyway, here's my 2 cents... 'my name is billa' is mounted and picturized well. but spb's booming voice is sorely missed and so there's a distinct lack of energy in that song. 'seval kodi' is bright and colorful and the Murugar idol provides a majestic, nice backdrop. but as i mentioned, ajith's steps seemed too slow for the song. 'sei ethavadhu' is my fav number but is a typical item number. 'naan meendum' is nicely picturized with some good locales and nifty special effects but namitha's dance killed it for me. 'vethalaya pottendi' was pretty disappointing. it came at the point when the movie had lost its energy and did nothing to perk it up.

anon, yeah nirav shah is the biggest reason to watch this one on the big screen :)

anon, no intention to be politically correct. i do agree on the poor production standards and cast. vishnu may have said no changes but he did make a few big changes. just that they made the story too simple and uncomplicated even compared to the original. that was my complaint.

naren's, thanx :) liked yuvan's bg score though it sounded repetitive at a few places. the theme music was awesome though :)

 
At 1:35 AM, Blogger sandya said...

Balaji, please be sure to add the gist you provided me about the songs & the picturization. It kind of completes the nice review that you have written! :-)

 
At 4:49 AM, Anonymous Prin said...

BB, is the Evano Oruvan review coming up on the main page?

 
At 6:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Still, despite Vishnu's efforts, there is only so far you can go with the Ajith"

Oh yeah, Ajith needs to be blamed for all the poorly written dialogues, bad characterization, bad casting, mediocre picturisation of songs, illogical stunts and sequences...U kidding me?? LETS JUST BE A LITTLE FAIR HERE just becos Ajith was the one who initiated remaking Billa, doesn't mean he needs to shoulder all the blame....

Nice review by the way Balaji....

 
At 7:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

BB .. I agree that the twist at the end of SRK's Don made the entire second half of that movie meaningless. After the orginal Don managed to get back to his gang by killing the innocent look alike, why on earth would he go through the trouble of getting the cd for the cops and act as a mole - made no sense at all.

 
At 10:24 AM, Anonymous vijay said...

Ennavo...sariya odalainna sari. Atleast movies like this should'nt be superhits, as it would give lesser directors like P.Vasu some dangerous ideas. Imagine him remaking Chinnathambi with his son as the hero.

 
At 10:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

vijay, how come your so mean spirited? i am not a big fan of ajith or p.vasu or his son but to wish them ill luck is highly uncalled for. what you see are the big stars and directors but the livelihood of many is dependent on movies. just cos you are paying $10 ( which i am sure you didnt in the case of billa) its mean of you to wish a movie to flop.

raj

 
At 11:32 PM, Anonymous raj said...

vijay, YOU are giving Vasu ideas :-)
anonymous raj - bad logic. Your priority need not be Vijay's.Movies are being made anyway. Those whose livelihood depends on Billa being a hit are most likely not to be the technicians or the minions involved. If good movies succeed as against bad movies, the film industry will still be in good health and the people who worked in Billa will get enough work for their livelihood. It is not necessary that Billa, per se, needs to succeed for these guys to make a livelihood. And that includes Ajith. Even if Billa flops, he is not going to suffer. Yeah, may be the distributor suffers - but then THAT's what his business is all about - taking a punt and enjoying the gains when it succeeds and suffering the loss when it fails.

 
At 11:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

just becos my priority is not the same as his i can still voice my opinion on what he said. i am sure people you know gamble will you wish them bad luck even if you dont like the habit of gambling?

raj

 
At 4:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

>>vijay, how come your so mean spirited? i am not a big fan of ajith or p.vasu or his son but to wish them ill luck is highly uncalled for.


Ada vidunga boss ... these critics cannot move a single stone in BO results .... if thats ithe case, Movies like ANBE SIVAM could have been BIG BIG hit ....

it is sad that critics are not in sync with pamara tamil cinema viewers ...

Also most of time they are not againts the movie ... they are againt the actor acted in it ... so
99 % biased .....

 
At 5:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

at above ^^ - Critics are not always right....You should have read the review that Rediff posted for a movie like ANBE SIVAM....u'd never have visited rediff again if u had a chance to read that....

 
At 5:43 PM, Anonymous gee said...

Lauren & hardy? Hahaha.. wat makes u say that balaji sir?

 
At 9:20 PM, Blogger Jai said...

Guys I haven't seen Billa yet. How does it compare to Don (SRK version)? The pics give me the impression that its a remake of Don.

 

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