I saw Billa! Finally! After having it loaned to me months and months ago, the DVD just sitting there, taunting me and making me feel guilty for not watching it.
So, it’s not the greatest art. It’s not bad, by any means, especially for what it is trying to do. But it’s not one of those movies that makes me think about life and everything. More like a movie that makes me think about how good men look in 3 piece suits and how nice it is that full-figured women are sex objects in Indian film.
This particular full-figured woman is Namitha, who is a former beauty contestant! She was Miss Surat in 1998 and went all the way to the Miss India pageant in 2001. And I CANNOT find a photo of her from that competition! How can this BE!!! So I have to settle for a fuzzy screenshot from a youtube video of the competition.
(Hardly recognizable, right? I’m only sure it’s her because they introduced her by name)
I really wanted to see a photo, because in this film, she is a great “traditional” beauty, full-figured and languorous in a kind of Silk Smitha style. Which is the opposite of what Miss India is usually going for, they want dead skinny. Kind of literally dead skinny, or at least near death, according to the reports I’ve read, the diet and exercise regimens these girls are put on can be extremely dangerous. Fainting and other signs of malnourishment are common. And just going by the fact that Namitha immediately changed to a more normal figure as soon as the competition was over, based on the songs from her first movie, I am pretty sure that her appearance here is a result of the Miss India camps, not some kind of “eating sensibly!” behavior.
And now, Namitha looks great! A completely healthy weight, which works well for her face and body. Her curves just get bigger and bigger, and her face kind of smooths out and stays proportionate. And she is really comfortable with it, in this movie she’s the sexy one, not because of her appearance (although not-not because of it), but because she is the one doing all the seducing and skimpy clothes and sexy dances and stuff.
The “pretty but not sexy” one is Anoushka, who of course has her own lovely full figured body. I especially like how she looks in this one song, with the focus on how her pants ride on her hips.
Sorry for going on and on about this, I know for a lot of people this is going to be a “yeah, so?” But America is just so strange! We don’t know how to acknowledge that full-figured women are attractive (or even exist, if you look at our popular culture), we don’t know how to dress them, we don’t know how to deal with any of that. So, for me coming from a land where anyone with actual hips has to go to special stores to buy clothes, this is just wonderful! One of the highlights of the film, for sure!
The men look pretty good too! Prabhas wears 3 piece suits almost the entire movie, and any man looks good in a 3 piece suit. Prabhas looks particularly good, it shows off his long frame and broad shoulders.
(For some reason this photo is displaying ridiculously largely. But he really does look good, right?)
I’m going on and on about the superficial parts of the film, because those are really the only original parts. I guess you could almost say it is original in its lack of originality? Yes, I am going to go with that. If I am tracking back the wikipedias and all correctly, there was the original Salim-Javed Don in Hindi. Which was then remade in Tamil shortly after with Rajnikanth. And then that Tamil remake was remade in 2007 with Ajith Kumar, largely inspired by the 2006 Don remake. And then the Tamil 2007 remake was remade with Prabhas in Telugu (and Namitha reprising the same role she had in the Tamil one!) in 2009, and that’s the one I watched.
I am super curious what plot elements in this film came from which other versions. But not curious enough to actually go back and watch all of them (I’m not doing another Devdas weekend!). I have, of course, seen the 2 Hindi Don films. So I know what was taken and what was left from those. I know the basic outline of the plot came from the genius of Salim-Javed. I know a lot of the style touches, from the mountaintop confrontation ending to the champagne tower in the title song, came from the 2006 Hindi version.
But what I am curious about is who gave them the sort of streamlining of the plot. And who came up with the cool set pieces. Does that go all the way back to Rajnikanth? Or is it just from 2007? Or is it a mixture of the two, just like the style and plot is a mixture of the 2 Hindi Dons?
Now, I feel kind of silly doing this, but if for some reason you have NOT yet seen all of these versions, Don 1978, Don 2006, Billa 1980, Billa 2007, or Billa 2009, then DO NOT read on!!!! I am very pro-spoilers in general, but if you spoil yourself on a Don-descendent film, you will be missing out on one of the great joys of life! Only read on if you have seen every single version and remember it in detail!!!
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
So, Don 1978 had this great plot where a street performer agreed to impersonate a gangster at the behest of a Top Cop. That’s a nice hook, but the real brilliance is in the complications layered on top. That all the good people are forced to pretend, or appear to be, bad. So they can’t recognize each other and end up working at cross purposes. There’s our hero, of course. But also our heroine, who has gone undercover in the gang in order to avenge the murder of her brother and would-be sister-in-law. And Pran, the acrobat forced to turn cat burglar by blackmail, recently released from jail and trying to find his children, not realizing that our hero is a good guy helping them, not a gangster threatening them.
The complications are cool, but they are also SO COMPLICATED!!! You almost need a system map to figure it all out. This movie stripped off all kinds of plot that you don’t really need. No Pran, for one thing. Oh, the kids are still there. You need them, to give our hero a motive for the charade (he needs to raise money for school fees etc. for the kids). But they are just random kids he has taken charge of, we never get any backstory beyond that, and there is no second Pran-hero to join up with him in the end.
2006 Don added on so many more complications! First, the double-twist, the (SERIOUSLY, DO NOT READ ANY FARTHER IF YOU HAVE NOT SEE THE SHAHRUKH DON!!!! YOU WILL BE MISSING OUT ON AN AMAZING EXPERIENCE!!! DON’T DO IT!!!!) reveal that Don was Don all along. He traded places with the “good” hero, killed him, and let the police continue believing he was their man. Even allied himself with other good hearted vengeance seekers, Pran/Arjun and Zeenat/Priyanka (those original roles are so iconic, I can’t just call the characters by the new actor names!). And only at the very very end does it all drop into place that there were tiny clues dropped all along, that we (the audience) should have seen it! It’s an endlessly re-watchable film, because every time there is so much more to see. Plus, I’ve learned to watch it with Arjun as the hero, not Shahrukh. That way, right and truth and so on still triumph. At least, Arjun’s name is cleared and he is reunited with his kid. And his primary enemy (Boman, not Shahrukh) is defeated.
Boman brings me to the other big twist from 2006 Don (AGAIN, IF YOU STARTED READING HERE BECAUSE YOU THOUGHT 2006 DON SPOILERS WERE OVER, THEY ARE NOT!!! STOP!!!! GO NO FURTHER!!!!!). Don was always just the head of the gang, but answerable to a higher authority. Because there had to be a reason for the switch, if Don was the prime objective of the cops, then couldn’t they just stop after the captured him? But what the 2006 one did, was ask, “what if the real enemy was the cop?” Not, like, “the police are corrupt and worse than the criminals!”, but like he actually was a top gangster who was hiding out by pretending to be a cop. That’s why he did this whole under the table scheme with the fake Don and didn’t tell anyone else about it. Because he was doing it just for himself, he never wanted to take it to court or arrest anyone, he just wanted to use the “fake” Don to track down his boss, his real enemy.
Now (you can start reading again if you haven’t seen the 2006 version), this movie removes all of those new bits. Goes back to the 1978 plot, and makes it even simpler, by removing the second hero. It is a Telugu movie, so it adds on a comedy uncle. It also adds on a reasonable explanation, at least an implied one. Both bad-Billa and good-Billa are specifically explained to be orphans who were raised in institutions. So, I assume, we are supposed to guess that they might have been twin brothers somehow separated at birth.
With the orphan backstory, I almost wondered if this was heading towards a redemption moment, that the two brothers would reunite and bad-Billa would learn to change his ways. But I guess that was just a hangover from Aurangzeb, because no, just like in every other version, bad-Billa dies and good-Billa is stuck continuing the masquerade.
Although at least in this movie he has some fun with it! Good-Billa gets a kick out of living in a fancy house with a pool, ordering people around, all of that. Especially having two beautiful women at his beck and call.
I love that, for once, it’s made explicit that of course the “good” guy is going to choose the other woman, not the “bad” guy’s girlfriend! Because she was with the “bad” guy! That’s creepy and gross! They have a great voiceover bit in this, with Prabhas reasoning out that if Namitha has been with bad Prabhas for a year, and Anoushka only knew him a day, good Prabhas should probably go with Anoushka instead.
They use that voice over a few times, and it’s a lovely addition. Let’s us see what he’s thinking even when he’s pretending to be someone else to everyone else. And it also makes it more disturbing at the end when we aren’t quite sure any more who he is.
Oh, but before I get there, the training scene! I remember that in 1978 Don, Amitabh got to watch some filmstrips and try to learn how bad-Don walked and talked and stuff. But in this, there’s a full on training camp! Prabhas gets to watch film footage, but also learn how to shoot and all sorts of other stuff, to go from a small-time thief to a big time gangster. Finally! This bothers me SO MUCH about the other Don versions!!! That some random street performer can just slip into the mold of a gangster and an action hero in no time at all!
Right, so, training sequence, kids are dumped on the Top Cop’s wife, Prabhas infiltrates the gang, falls for Anoushka, she keeps trying to kill him (another thing I like, the specifically show her attempting to kill him every chance she gets, she’s not just waiting around for no real good reason like in the other versions), finally Prabhas is alone with her and able to tell her the truth about who he is and make her believe it. And he hands off the evidence to the Top Cop, all is good. Until Top Cop is killed, and Prabhas is arrested because everyone thinks he is bad-Prabhas. He goes on the run, with Anoushka’s help. And here’s where it gets clever!
He’s not just randomly going on the run. He’s going to the place where he thinks the bad-Prabhas is being kept, so he can prove that there are two of them. And when he arrives and learns that bad-Prabhas isn’t just in hiding, he is actually dead, we cut to the outside of the building to see the rest of the gang arrive, and then Prabhas come striding out, all crazy confident and gunning folks down without even looking at them, to declare to his gang that “HE’S BACK!!!”
And I legitimately wasn’t sure if he really was back or not! Could the dead body have been alive after all, somehow recovering and overpowering good-Prabhas to take his place? Did good-Prabhas have a psychotic break after seeing “himself” lying there dead? It’s a great moment, and a lovely twist on a familiar story.
Also a nice twist, the interpol guy is the corrupt one! The assistant cop (why does this actor always play the helpful cop in these movies?) who had all these hints about expensive watches and stuff was honest through and through. But the big interpol honcho that our local police kept avoiding, he was the one with corruption. Very very nice twist.
(This guy. Always the helpful friend/cop!)
Oh, and good Prabhas walked off some money from the whole thing, making his happy ending not just the defeat of evil, but getting rich. Oh, and getting the girl too.