I decided to check out both versions of Billa before going into Billa 2. The 1980 version of Billa starring Rajinikanth is the laziest act of filmmaking I've seen. I expected less from the 2007 remake. Highly stylized, it improves on the original with its slick execution. Unlike most, I went into Billa 2 with the lowest of expectations, which is why I was slightly pleased with what I got.
While Billa was hardly centered upon its titular character, David Billa (Ajith Kumar), the character certainly let his presence be felt. Billa 2, being the prequel focuses on his rise to power; the man he was before he began to hide behind those sunglasses. Going by his actions, he appears to be dominated by the anger of losing his parents. He's got nothing else to lose. He takes what he believes he deserves and he believes he deserves the world for having been put through this hardship. His anger never subsides and the film doesn't tells us why.
His first assignment involving moving a huge stash of heroin meets with unfortunate circumstances. The buyer is unreasonble; to the point where we don't believe it. It's not even a move made to outsmart Billa. It's a move made out of sheer spite. And even if Billa manages to physically outmatch him and his comrades, I am hardly in awe. The scene sequence, however, is staged well. The violence is generous and Ajith's facial expressions tell us something about Billa we didn't know- that he is a thinker. He just sits there thinking with watchful eyes; contemplating his next move. In an unfortunate turn of events, his friend's arm is chopped off right before his eyes. What could witnessing something like that do to him? These are questions that linger in our minds but filmmaker Chakri Toleti thinks they're questions that don't deserve to be answered.
We believe the fun will begin when Billa becomes the Don. But when it finally happens, you realize that the better half of the film just got over. David Billa's strength lies in managing people. We see him observe, weighing options, contemplating as if he were playing chess with a world champion. Then he makes his move. Ajith does a fine job here. And while he doesn't get under the skin of David Billa (lacking effort in characterization to begin with), he emulates his pain, frustration and tact at dealing with people.
I like the way Toleti introduces the antagonist, Abassi (Sudhanshu Pandey). The camera scans his bare back from bottom to top. He's lying on a bed getting a massage from a professional masseuse. He gets up, picks up his robe and slowly slips into it. His body's well-cut; but not the kind that reminds you of those metrosexuals in Jockey men's wear commercials. He's got an aura of authority around him and his nervous servants remain alert for orders. His eyes communicate vitality and power. He is someone not to be taken lightly. Great screen presence.
Billa works with him and after a period of time, they part ways on a bitter note. Later, Abassi orders to have Billa killed. Toleti plays another scene of him getting a massage, shot in the exact same way, but after he's ordered to have Billa killed. Normal routine isn't broken because of this decision. Or maybe, this is routine?
Billa and his comrade are surrounded by armed cops outside a building. They burst out from inside, in a truck, while shooting at them. It evokes the scene in Billa where he races out in a car, steering it acrobatically with one hand and shooting at cops with the other. Poor excuse. Shoddy execution.
One among many fight sequences has Ajith beat up a group of guys. He seems to take glass articles and shove it in their face. He does it so swiftly it looks like he's shooting glass with the same accuracy and frequency that spider man shoots web. Quite silly and overdone.
After Billa takes down Abassi, he steals his girlfriend Sameera (Bruna Abdullah). There's one scene involving the two that's worth mentioning. It's dusk. We see them both, all smiles and talking, but we don't hear their voices. Behind them is the sun just about to set. A one-note track drones in the background. They walk away from the camera and we just see the sun. It almost feels as if this is a point-of-view shot of Abassi's ghost witnessing his defeat from above helplessly. A subtle way to communicate to the viewers that Billa has killed his arch rival and boasts his success by sleeping with the man's wife.
Just like in the sequel, there's a traitor in Billa's force, in his vicinity waiting for the right moment to strike and settle scores. There are also a few traces of Brian De Palma's Scarface. The music numbers are useless except for the one that shows him moving up the crime world. It looks like an excerpt from a black-and-white comic book. Nice.
Chakri Toleti's a serious filmmaker. But he seems ambivalent about the film's objective. What really is his objective? Is he trying to tell us Billa's story and understand him? Or is he trying to simply engage our senses? The final product, a combination of the two, doesn't work. I get the impression that he wants to tell a story but somehow, the film is punctuated by music numbers, fight sequences, explosions, car chases and other stuff you don't care about. When all is said and done, Billa 2 is an underwhelming film experience.
Critic: Rohit Ramachandran
(2.5 / 5) : Above Average