Billa (2009)

Billa is a remake of Billa (Tamil) which is a remake of an earlier Rajnikanth film of the same name which is a remake of the Amitabh Bachchan classic Don (Salim-Javed are credited for the original story). I’ve seen all of them, plus the more recent Hindi Don starring Shah Rukh, so I didn’t expect the unexpected and largely this is faithful to those predecessors. Meher Ramesh adheres to Telugu film conventions requiring happy endings and righteous heroes so there are a few changes. I enjoyed the total disregard of inconvenient logic and budgetary challenges. It is a modern, slick film with a dash of B movie and the spirit of making do for the sake of entertainment.

Prabhas plays the title role of Billa – a gangster with a puzzling penchant for black satin and three piece suits. In the tropics. No wonder he was always so irritable. The chafing must have been a nightmare.

Billa works for ‘Devil’ and seems to be a model employee. He is out to eliminate the competition and stay ahead of the law while selling arms, drugs and who knows what else to villains all over South-East Asia. He lives a luxurious lifestyle on his private island where he continues to overdress for the beach.

He is a cranky intolerant man, and Prabhas does well to be so unlikeable and dour. I did like Billa’s catchphrase ‘Trust no one. Kill anyone. Be only one”. It was a bit reminiscent of Highlander.

The English dialogues were often very funny though I am not sure the level of cliché was intended.  The subtitle team made their mark too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prabhas also plays Ranga – a naive thief and layabout who has a heart of gold. Ranga is Billa’s duplicate and when Billa is out of circulation, the police use Ranga to infiltrate the gang. This role is a better fit for Prabhas as his likeable goofy side is given more rein and he is more expressive.

Ranga is sympathetic without being overly complex. Prabhas gets an opportunity to play up the confusion as Ranga impersonates Billa but his characterisations are so broad that there is no ambiguity at all.

Ranga has a far more colourful inner life than Billa, so that allowed for some variation in the song treatments.

Subbaraju makes an all too short appearance as Vikram, the gang member who tries to leave Billa for love.

Once I realised he was marked for death I was a bit sad. But I cheered up when Hansika (his love interest) was hit by a truck. Seriously – casting Hansika for the role requiring a seductive dance? What were they thinking? Her costumes don’t help; a floor length evening dress (for clubbing, of course) is replaced with cut-off denim shorts and an oversized jumper. It was all quite daft and compared to Helen … well. Say no more.

Vikram’s sister Maya (Anushka) goes undercover to avenge her brother and his flattened fiancée.

Anushka is not exactly wasted in this role but despite being a strong personality, Maya is not all that integral to the action. The swimming pool has a more important role as it is the means of getting the heroines into their skimpiest outfits. Maya vies with Lisa (Namitha) for Billa’s attention and there is more chemistry, albeit toxic, between the ladies than there is with the hero.

I liked that Lisa was allowed to fight to get rid of her competition, and surprised to see that her repertoire included a fencing bout.

The action scenes by Stun Siva (what a great name!) are a blend of impressive fight choreography and some quite lame stunts. I could see the inspiration for a few scenes was directly lifted from Farhan Akhtar’s Don (2006) but it felt as though they got to the location, realised they didn’t have the budget or know-how and just went for it anyway. Prabhas seemed much more at home in the high adrenalin action scenes than with the dialogues he was given as Billa. The action scenes are sometimes quite creative.

Every good hero/anti-hero needs a good villain and Kelly Dorjee’s character Rashid is flamboyant and slightly unhinged. Krishnamraju (Prabhas’ uncle) is the dedicated policeman after Billa, and gives a nicely balanced performance. Adithya is a cop under suspicion of collaborating with the baddies and is effective and understated. Rehman is Dharmendra, the Interpol agent in charge of hunting down Billa. The supporting gang members are a mixed bag, including Supreet as Ranjith, Billa’s 2IC. Ali has a significant role that is not a comedy distraction. He is a good character actor so I wish he would do more roles that contribute to the story instead of distracting from it.

The music by Mani Sharma is disappointing despite being closely linked to the drama. It was all quite uninspired and only the performers and costumes made any of the picturisations very memorable. Anushka isn’t a very enthusiastic or accomplished dancer so I found the work-arounds in this clip quite amusing.

The costume designers had a fine time and the look developed for Billa and gang was quite consistent and fitted the overall visual flavour.

Namitha and Anushka seemed to have clothes designed by a 20 year old boy with raging hormones but they wore it all well. I have to say that if I am to be afflicted with half naked skanks swanning around, it is nice to see more curvy and natural shapes than a stick insect with implants. But was it necessary? What do you think. To be fair, there was a lot of shirtless Prabhas on display so there was almost equal opportunity for eye candy regardless of your interest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quite apart from the endless parade of shiny suits, I lost count of the montages of sour-faced Billa flexing and/or staring enigmatically.

I found Billa very entertaining. I pretty much knew where the story was going, but I liked the spirited and fast paced dash through all the shenanigans. Prabhas is in good form, the support cast do well with their material and the film looks great. It was a fun timepass and watching it again recently, I enjoyed it all over again. 3 ½ stars!

Heather says: Faran Aktar’s  Don is one of my favourite Hindi films which may be one of the reasons why I couldn’t appreciate this Telugu version. The opening scenes where Billa does his stuff as the king-pin of the drug organisation were painful to watch as the actors indulged in some of the most stilted acting and dialogue delivery that I’ve ever seen. Billa’s English phrases, in particular his ‘Can, can’ were dreadful and made him sound like a total idiot, while it was hard to watch Prabhas impersonate a chunk of wood when he’s normally a much better actor. It wasn’t just the terrible direction in this section that didn’t work for me, since the stunts and effects were just as bad. It appeared as if Meher Ramesh thought that a film about gangsters needed plenty of fast cars, helicopters and motorbikes, which I agree is not a bad idea, but then couldn’t work out how to use them in the story. So we ended up with completely implausible situations which seemed contrived just so that another over the top stunt could be stuck into the screenplay. And for goodness sake, if Billa was trying to escape in a Ferrari there is no way that anyone would have been able to keep up!  Plus it’s not exactly the best car for an unobtrusive getaway, but I guess that really wasn’t the point. Thank heavens for Subbaraju who did help me get through the first few scenes, along with Hansika as a comedy side-plot, since I couldn’t do anything but laugh at her character.

The film picked up immensely once Prabhas was allowed to exert his natural charm as Ranga, and despite the continuing forays into pointless special effects it was much more entertaining. I enjoyed Ali’s role for a change, and Anuskha and the other supporting actors were all good enough to keep their characters interesting. I just wish Billa had been less of an escapee from a Goth fashion parade (clichéd model personality included) and more of a vicious but possibly more interesting killer. 2 ½ stars.

Eega

A friend asked me what the movie I was going to see was about. “A man is killed. He reincarnates as a fly. He seeks revenge”. They seemed unconvinced but Eega really is wonderful. Despite word of subtitled prints, we knew wouldn’t get them in Melbourne. Luckily fly is a universal language, and we are always up for an adventure without subtitles!

Nani (Nani) is in love with Bindu (Samantha). Sudeep (Sudeep), a local tycoon and possessive psycho, decides he must have her so he kills Nani. Fate intervenes and Nani is reborn as a fly, eventually recovering memories of his past life. He sets out for revenge and to protect Bindu. This may sound silly, but it is a tribute to writer/director SS Rajamouli and his cast that I absolutely went with it and was caught up in the drama, the action and the hi-jinks. I had reservations about the post-reincarnation relationship as clearly Bindu had not moved on and it was never going to work despite the fact that she could see his inner beauty – he’s a fly, she’s a human…Yes I became emotionally invested in the love life of a CGI insect.

Nani is good in his role. Because the basic plot was well publicised, I did feel like I was waiting for him to die. I really like Nani (the actor), but his role in the story limited my interest in his character.

While human Nani showed charm and some skills, the fly was simply amazing. He knew engineering, physics, ballistics and who knows what else. He also retained his penmanship, using Bindu’s fallen tears to write a message (presumably ‘Hey it is me! Nani!’) He was the real hero with all the trappings. Eega-Nani had a training montage as he built his strength up in a gym made of household objects, he had a victory dance, and he had right on his side. The fly’s character developed over time as he became tougher, more lethal, and better at turning a disadvantage to an advantage. I like the decision not to give him a voice so all his communications were via gesture or charades. The animators did a superb job of making him very expressive but still a housefly. I suspect Eega-Nani and Bindu had some written exchanges off camera as I am not sure mime would have conveyed the more complex elements of their scheme. He wrote a very clear death threat to Sudeep as well so he had good communication skills.

 

Samantha is lovely as Bindu. Her flirtation with human Nani was mostly carried out through facial expressions and she was really good, with excellent comic timing. She was also quite convincing in sadder scenes. Considering most of her scenes were with a CGI fly, she does very well to make it ring true. While Bindu’s back story seemed flimsy at best, she seemed nice and actively tried to do good through the NGO she ran. Her hobby of micro-art came in very handy when Nani needed teeny tiny equipment and weapons. The partnership also kept their fledgling romance alive which was sweet and yet all wrong (with him being a fly and all).

 

Speaking of creepy – Sudeep. From suavely unpleasant kingpin, through a spiral of aggravation and irrational behaviour to outright craziness, Sudeep was hilarious and scary. He had a gun wall in his home so that was an early sign. As Eega-Nani pestered him, Sudeep became less and less stable. Sudeep’s reactions to the fly were increasingly frantic and extreme but he melded it with gradual deterioration in his mental stability and health that made it good acting and not just slapstick. I imagine the direction went something like “ear, ear, nose, other ear! nose! gone..where did it go…gone, relax, EAR!!!!” His security team swapped guns for fly swats, his house became a fortress against bugs, his attire was more and more peculiar. The blend of comedy and threat is brilliant. There is nothing likeable about Sudeep’s character and yet I looked forward to his scenes. For the faint-hearted there is a scene requiring pixilation as Sudeep attacks the Eega with the only handy weapon – the pink towel he was wearing. It’s a wildly uninhibited scene and I laughed so hard I almost cried.

Adithya (as Sudeep’s sidekick) did get the rough end of the pineapple in the hair department, having both the wavy mullet and the manband in play. His reaction to his employer’s insanity (and then proof of Eega-Nani’s unnatural abilities) was very funny. But the psycho villain’s sidekick has a precarious, and rarely a long, life. The supporting actors are not prominent, which is wise considering most scenes combine multiple points of view and there are some complex interactions.

The camera follows Eega-Nani through all manner of mayhem and danger, and the choreography and planning of those scenes is meticulous.I really loved a moment when fragments of shattered glass reflect a fighter plane formation of flies surrounding Nani.  It’s as dramatic as if a human film hero was in a fight for his life, and gets the adrenalin pumping. But it’s not all action and there are scenes that are just pretty or sweet. There are some very dark moments, but the message that killing a bad man to do the right thing is entrenched in Telugu film so I guess it wouldn’t have surprised the kids in the audience.

What made Eega work so well was the well plotted story and the restraint in using effects. The CGI served to further the story, and there was never a dull moment. SS Rajamouli has an impressive ability to get a story on screen and make it engaging. There are nods to other films and stars, and the Telugu heroic tropes all get a workout too. I have some quibbles, but they are insignificant on balance. The timing, the pace, the effects, the cast are all pitch perfect. Loved it!

(Pssst – Make sure you stay for the end credits)

Edited to add:

ReleaseDay is streaming Eega with subtitles so now you have no excuse not to see it! You will need to create a login to the site and it’s a festival print which I am told is around 20 min shorter than the theatrical release. You can also check  out http://blog.releaseday.com/ for articles and news on Telugu films. 

Heather says: Loved it, loved it loved it! I’d read very little about this film and I’d only seen the trailer once, but when I saw a needle lightly indenting a cornea I knew this was going to be an excellent film for me. Plus it’s Rajamouli so of course it was always going to be a good story, and it didn’t disapoint.

I do really like Nani, and I liked his rather self-sacrificing character here too. His one dance routine was fun and his obvious adoration of Bindu was quite sweetly portrayed. Nani did show some early signs of his engineering know-how by quickly constructing a parabolic light reflector from a satellite dish and an old chip packet, but his intellect certainly blossomed when he returned as Eega! Some of the ideas here were simply ingenious and Rajamouli totally captured just how irritating a fly can be, let alone one that’s out for vengeance. The CGI was of a very high standard and I was amazed at how easily different emotions and attitudes were conveyed by Eega-Nani. The fly charades where Eega-Nani made his requirements known to Bindu were hilarious and I have to say that she is much better at this game than I could ever be.  In fact Samanatha was very impressive here as Bindu to the point that I didn’t realise who the actress playing Bindu was at first! I’ve never thought too much of Samantha as an actress in her previous films so it was a real revelation to see her put in such a fantastic performance here. I have a theory that similar to Shriya, her hairstyles have a lot to do with it. The longer and more curly Samantha’s hair is, the worse her acting and since here Bindu has lovely straight hair Samantha really shines in the role.  This got me through the rather bizarre romantic scenes between Bindu and Eega-Nani since my reaction was more of a: ‘Samantha can emote – who knew!’ rather than concentrating too much on the fact that their relationship was never going to end well! Samantha also got some beautiful costumes to wear, and I loved her fringed tops which suited both her and her character very well.

But despite Samantha’s amazing performance and even with the antics of Eega-Nani to contend with, the real star of the film was without a doubt Sudeep. He was brilliant in every scene and as Temple has described perfectly, the change as his initial evil and sinister businessman became very disturbed and unstable was superbly done. The scene with the towel was one of the best in the film (I’m laughing now even thinking about it) and his more and more frantic attempts to escape Eega were totally hilarious. Considering that Sudeep was in general having to react to a nonexistent opponent during filming, I think he did a fabulous job and his reactions were totally believable. I can’t think of anything in this film that I didn’t enjoy and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s easy to understand without subtitles and the many references to other films just add to the whole experience. Go! Watch! Enjoy!