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.


Here is a list of things we know the film makers didn’t spend the reputedly huge budget on:

  • A hairdresser for Ileana
  • Good quality CGI
  • Historical research
  • Decent wigs
  • A good story

Here is a list of things they did invest in:

  • Scarves
  • Stars
  • Helicopters
  • Excessive editing
  • Guns and rocket launchers
  • Cars (to be blown up)
  • Locations
  • Oversized glowing props
  • A slide announcing that no matter when or where people lived, for the purposes of this film everyone speaks Telugu.

The story opens at the pyramids with lots of Ancient Egyptian-ish folk speaking Hindi. We also catch our first glimpse of topless Sonu Sood, although not topless in our preferred sense. He first appears as a severed head in a bag. So of course, his grieving lover’s first reaction is to gouge his eyeballs out and preserve them in a jar of something orange and smoking.

Skip forward to rich girl Aishwarya (Ileana) slipping away from her father’s security detail to go touring with her gang of friends which includes Ali as Tommy, a character at least 20 years too young for him. While in Jaipur they cross paths with Shakti (Tarak) and he appoints himself their groups’ highly paid guide and protector. How to resist a man who arrives on elephant back, kicks assorted bad guy arse and can get tickets to first day first show of Wanted?

To summarise: Aishwarya accidentally took a very large mystical jewel from her family safe and doesn’t notice she is carrying it in her bag. The Faux-gyptians want it to destroy the world or something. And there are the good guys seeking to protect the jewel and ensure it is used in the ritual required to keep several holy cities in India, or maybe the world, safe.  And Shakti is the son of the man killed performing the last saving the world ritual (either several hundred or maybe thirty years ago).

The first half of the film is a blend of road trip, romance and action in some lovely Indian locations as Shakti has to constantly rescue Aishwarya from her own stupidity as well as from the villains who are tracking her. The second half of the film is a less successful blend of exploding cars and storms of bullets with the mythology underpinning the story of the jewel and the elaborate ritual. We were slightly surprised to learn that the Ancient Egyptians, or a cult, who lived outside the pyramids at Giza had tried to invade Andhra Pradesh on horseback either a couple of thousand or twenty years ago. But compared to all the other nonsensical stuff going on (not a tourist in sight at the pyramids, roads in Hyderabad with no traffic at all), we were only very slightly surprised.

The special effects were cheap looking considering the budget. A sacred sword was made of red plastic, and the significant trishul was yellow plastic with little light bulbs inside it. There was clearly a vision, but it was translated in a very clumsy way. Even in the fight and dance sequences, where we expect Tarak to absolutely shine, the overly jumpy editing and poor effects were a distraction and really diminished his impact. We are well accustomed to seeing action footage sped up or slowed down for impact, but in Shakti the slow bits were often so slow they highlighted the CGI and wires, and the fast bits were jerky and cartoonish. A couple of the songs had huge sets and lots of costume changes but lacked the ‘Wow factor’ we expect from this style of film. The opening Rajasthani song was a great example of what didn’t work – the dancing and choreography were great, the costumes and sets were stunning, and the editing made it look bland and disjointed. We were very hopeful once the rocket launchers appeared, but sadly once the director had blown up umpteen cars and people, it was time for more ‘creativity’ and the film deteriorated. The climax set in an underground temple full of more glowing props was too repetitive as it mimicked a long preceding flashback and the visual effects were not great.

Every film comedian except Sunil made an appearance and it was just too much. We have no idea at all why Jackie Shroff was in this film. His role could have been played by anyone in a brocade jacket and every time we saw him poolside we just prayed he would keep his clothes on. From the look on their faces, so did the gori extras paid to cavort around him! Sonu Sood did his usual villain thing and made an appearance (head attached) in a flashback in the second half. The angrier he got the less he wore, so as you can imagine we were very interested in his scenes. The whole subplot with his lover and her supernatural vengeance was a confused mess, and not helped by the wig department. But there was lots of eye stuff happening, mostly anatomically correct too, which pleased Heather! The orc-like baddie sent to destroy Shakti was blind at first, but after years of punching and headbutting Egyptian columns into shards (think Juggernaut from X-Men), he was apparently given Sonu’s eyes although disappointingly we never saw the actual installation procedure.

Tarak and Ileana were good considering what they had been given by writer/director Meher Ramesh. They had no chemistry as a couple but Ileana did what she could with an under developed character and the nonsensical behaviour required of her. Tarak delivered his usual robust physical performance and rousing speeches. Shakti (the character) had only two facial expressions for most of the film – surly and surlier. We would be peeved too if we got landed with The Wig. The flashback exposition was inexplicable in style and chronology. If this was 20 odd years ago, why was Shakti in a pageboy wig? We were a little bemused by the decision to try to create flowing warrior locks with the use of a wind machine. Sadly, the breeze lacked sufficient oomph to stir the clumpy and hideous wig so it was all for naught. And that inability to make a concept work sums up the whole film.

There were some positives. The audience were laughing a lot at some of the comedic dialogues and they appreciated Tarak’s big speeches. Some things were really fun – Shakti’s dramatic reveal as super agent A1 of the NSA, the rocket launchers, CGI snakes (especially when carried as a concealed weapon), Brahmi and Tarak’s scenes together and the backing dancers who really did give it their all. The Ladakh and Haridwar scenes were beautiful even with all the gimmicky camera work.

This is a film solely for the hardcore fans.