Billa franchise: The legacy and the money at stake
By Sharadha Narayanan, TNIE
18th June 2012 12:17 PM
There was perhaps no better way to start the series trend in Kollywood, than with the story of the deadly don that people loved to love. For Rajini, 'Billa' marked a milestone in terms of the commercial bankability it brought him. The movie was a silver jubilee hit. And likewise, for Ajith — who hadn’t seen a big hit after losing oodles of weight — Billa was perfect foil. The movie had a massive opening, and ran for 100 days.
'Don', the original version of the Billa series, was in fact a hit in Chennai too. “But when my father decided to produce the remake, we thought the title would not suit the local flavour,” recalls Suresh Balaji, who is co-producing the prequel.
At that time, the name Billa was most associated with the horrific Billa Ranga kidnapping case of 1978. Billa (Jasbir Singh) and Ranga (Kuljeet Singh), two small-time crooks, had kidnapped two children in New Delhi for ransom. The children, Geetha and Sanjay Chopra, were later found murdered, and the case had been national news for months till the duo was caught, sentenced and hanged.
Rajini made two films using these aliases as titles, 'Billa' in 1980 and 'Ranga' in 1982. “Rajinikanth had to play a don that everybody feared. At that point in time, these really were the names that did it,” recalls Suresh.
'Billa' not only made Rajini famous, but had a script that would find relevance (with a little tweaking) even 25 years later. Ajith’s 'Billa', regarded as a stylish version of the original, was such a hit that it made over Rs 25 crore to its distributors, while its budget was Rs 14 crore, according to film sources.
This success streak is already showing in the prequel, much before its release. The movie has a budget north of Rs 32 crore, says its producer Suresh. But the action film has already been sold for over Rs 40 crore, with rights for TN alone sold for Rs 26.11 crore. This apart, the satellite rights for the movie have been sold to Sun TV for a colossal Rs 6.5 crore.
A few portions of the movie have been shot in Likhani Palace, the summer retreat of the president of Georgia. This is supposed to be the first time that the gates of the palace have opened for a film shoot.
Making a series of a successful film in Hollywood is often said to be the trick to ensure a big opening for the movie, as expectations from the moviegoers are high.
So will 'Billa II' benefit from being a brand, that too with a hero like Ajith who has earned the sobriquet of King of Opening Collections?
We will find out soon. Watch this space.
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