I try my best not to judge a film before its release. This is exceptionally hard, what with promotional material and sneak peeks of the film bombarding you. I still try to watch a film without preconceived notions. And then comes Billa Pandi, which is a film worse than anything I may have dreaded before its release.
Cast: RK Suresh, Chandhini Tamizharasan, Indhuja
Director: Raj Sethupathy
Here’s how Billa Pandi’s screenplay may have been written. A list was likely made with the so-called ingredients of commercial cinema: Introduction song, love songs, item songs, fight sequences, amma sentiment, sexist jokes… As this is a film about an Ajith fan, references to the ultimate star need to be added as well. So, you begin with the hero introduction song, sprinkle a few sexist jokes, introduce the love angles (Oh, the horror in its plurality!)… And hey, it has been a while since an Ajith reference was made; so you have one more… and then, a fight scene, some sentiment again… Rinse and repeat, and you get a film spanning two hours and twenty minutes.
It isn’t that Billla Pandi doesn’t have progressive notions. The eponymous lead brings a widow to a ceremony, and hits back at those who criticise him for it. The problem with the film is that he is backed by Savadal Chandran (Thambi Ramaiah, in probably his worst role), a mason who hits on every woman he sees. There are multiple scenes where he misbehaves with women construction workers who work with him, for ‘comic effect’. (There is also a story as to why he hits on all these women. To cut a long story short, he is the ‘victim’ in a maamiyaar-marumagal squabble. Sigh.) I wonder how many #MeToo campaigns it would take for filmmakers to realise that this isn’t funny anymore, and has never been. So, in such a film, when he talks about the injustice of thinking of a widow as a bad omen, it is tough to wholeheartedly applaud the sensitivity. After all, this is the same guy who compares a prospective bride to fresh bondas.
Pandi being an Ajith fan doesn’t make a difference to the plot, and it simply serves to generate some ‘gems’ in the form of dialogues. Here are some examples. “Kovil ku pogaponum na sthalapuranam theriyanum, Kollywood na Thala puranam theriyanum”; “Thala rasigan na uyira kuduka than theriyum, uyira eduka theriyathu”. I would have paid to see more of how Ajith influences Billa Pandi’s behaviour, beyond the tee-shirts and these shallow punch lines. Unfortunately, the fandom is mostly milked for hoots from Ajith fans.
On occasion, we do get a peek into how toxic fandom can sometimes become. Vidhaarth, who also plays an Ajith fan, hits a small girl with his car by mistake. Now, Billa Pandi takes his side and also turns the crowd on the victim’s mother because one Ajith fan has to help another. And also because this woman had earlier mocked Ajith for his dancing ability.
The best thing about Billa Pandi is probably that I didn’t have to watch it on Diwali. Perhaps I could have seen how real Ajith fans respond to this film? It’s hard not to wonder how Ajith himself would respond to such a film. The star, after all, was one of the first to disband his fan clubs. How would he react when Billa Pandi exclaims, “Thala, en vazhkai en ipdi iruku Thala?”
This was originally written for The New Indian Express. You can find it here.