The first movie fast-tracked Rajinikanth’s path to superstardom, while its faithful remake in 2007 gave Ajith Kumar a new lease of life. With 'Billa II', which is likely to hit screens soon, Kollywood will not only revisit the past (of a don) with the Billa franchise, but will also open the doors for a new future - that of prequels.
The Ajith-Parvathy Omanakuttan starrer will hit screens a few weeks after 'Prometheus' — a prequel to the celebrated Alien series — made it to the list of top 10 prequels in terms of all-time opening collections in Hollywood, clocking $158 million in a week.
But in India, the concept of the prequel is clearly new. Even Ram Gopal’s production 'D' (2005), part of his gangster trilogy, was described by the filmmaker as only a ‘prequel in spirit’, with no repetition of the cast or the characters of 'Company', whose prequel it is said to be. The travails of 'D’s hero Deshu can explain the genesis of a character like Malik (played by Ajay Devgn) in 'Company', the filmmaker argued.
Another case in point is Malayalam filmmaker Ranjith’s 'Indian Rupee' (2011), where the hero desires to become what Pranchi (Mammooty) is in 'Pranchiyettan and the Saint', his journey therefore serving as Pranchi’s past. It was this form of mild inspiration for a prequel that 'Prometheus' director Ridley Scott famously described as “having strands of Alien’s DNA”.
In Hollywood, it seems like no one is missing an opportunity to create the past of a success story, what with producers trying to revisit even the mighty The Lord of The Rings trilogy through a prequel, The Hobbit, expected to hit screens this year.
In 2011 alone, there were a slew of prequels, including The Thing (prequel to a 1982 film of the same name), Puss in Boots (a spin-off to the 'Shrek' franchise, which ended up among the top
12 grossers of the year with over $500 million), 'Paranormal Activity' (prequel to the film series), 'Captain America: The First Avengers' (prequel to the popular Marvel series), 'X Men First Class' (prequel to the X Men trilogy).
In the Hindi film industry, 'Shootout at Wadala', which is planned for a release this year, is said to be a prequel to the 2007 superhit gangster 'flick Shootout at Lokhandwala'. Talks are said to be on for making a prequel to the blockbuster 'Rowdy Rathore', though a confirmation is pending.
The much-celebrated concept of prequels in Hollywood is new to India, making 'Billa II' perhaps the first, according to filmmaker Chakri Toleti, the man steering the film.
“There are only seven types of stories that a filmmaker can tell, say for example Man vs Man, Man vs Machine and so on,” says the University of Central Florida educated director, who is two films old with 'Billa II'.
“This Ajith starrer will be Man vs Self,” he explains. The movie narrates how David, a drifter and a victim of circumstances, becomes the dreaded don. The film will focus only on that aspect of his life, the filmmaker says.
The idea to make a prequel to Billa belongs to actor Ajith and Vishnuvardhan, who directed the 2007 remake. They had discussed a story about the birth of the don even as they did the re-imagined version, says Suresh Balaji, one of the producers of the upcoming prequel. Vishnuvardhan, unfortunately, had to drop out of the project, which Chakri then took over.
A big reason for choosing Billa for a prequel is the obvious success that comes with it. Nearly every time it has been made — be it as Amitabh Bachchan’s or Shah Rukh Khan’s 'Don', Rajini’s 'Billa', Ajith’s 'Billa' or the Prabhas starrer in Telugu of the same name. Bachchan’s 'Don' was a superhit even in Chennai, while Rajini’s 'Billa' was a silver jubilee, and the last two versions were 100-day successes.
If 'Billa II' follows this hallowed path, it could encourage a new season of sequels here. Much like its tagline that ‘Every Man Has A Past, and Every Don, A History’, it could be said that every protagonist can have a flashback, but only a successful hero, a prequel.