Saturday, June 21, 2008


A recent viewing of Billa starring Ajith -- a viewing that was as punctuated with fits and jerks as the film's style -- prompted another pause to ponder the legacy of Chandra Barot's film as well as the remakes in Ajith's filmography.

When I heard about the remake starring Ajith, I first wondered if Ajith was setting up a stack of remakes in a manner similar to Anil Kapoor in the 80s and 90s. Ajith had figured in Kireedam, a remake of the Sibi Malayil film that had already spawn its share of remakes. Billa was slated to be a remake of the Rajnikant hit, itself a remake of Chandra Barot's Bollywood classic from 1978.

Ajith's Billa was slated to be a stylistic cousin of Farhan Akhtar's 2006 remake of Barot's film, Don: The Chase Begins Again while still paying its respects to the R. Krishnamurthy adaptation that boasted its own hit title song My Name is Billa (set up as a cousin to मैं हूँ डोंन with Rajnikanth on a dolly approaching the camera with the main line).

Farhan Akhtar's remake had a technical competence and consistency that other big-budget Bollywood actioners and entertainers in their imitative exploration of every technique seen in Hollywood blockbusters had never attained. Since Tamil cinema has often boasted examples peppered with technical excellence, I had wondered if the 2007 edition of Billa would offer something better. Unfortunately, despite being marred by Shah Rukh Khan's inability to imbue the part with more menace, Farhan Akhtar's won by light years. The Ajith film, despite boasting a punchy dance floor-friendly reworking of the title song, resembled an average entertainer laced with technique employed with the same clueless abandon as in Bollytrash. Ajith's Don spent most of the film doing one of three things: walking, talking and killing. With all the walking he did, the filmmakers might have done well to add the texture of public transit and given us a Don who enjoyed his relative anonymity (something you find hard to digest given the overblown unsubtle execution of each thrill) by mingling with the crowd. But that might have been a lot less exciting than featuring Malaysia (yet again), a plump starlet offering daylight Ramsay Brothers delights with her beach dance, blood-letting with a katana and crushed soda cans starring in experiments in movie physics. The language divide notwithstanding, the Tamil remake only tossed more points over to Farhan Akhtar's side of the net.

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