2017 brought an electrifying buzz to social media. I remember waking up to a frenzy of updates featuring a single shot of Mammootty’s eye with a tantalizing title announcement – “Bilal” coming soon, bloody soon. The mere mention of “Big B” had always been enough to get me giddy with excitement. It wasn’t just another Malayalam movie for me; it was a film that I truly believed had changed the way stories were crafted in Malayalam cinema.
Yes, I’ve heard the criticisms that labelled it a mere rip-off of “Four Brothers,” but I beg to differ.
The art of remaking a movie from a different language while ingeniously transplanting it into our own cultural milieu is an art form in itself. Just ask Priyadarshan. I know this comparison may draw some irk, but it’s akin to what Martin Scorsese did with “The Departed,” adapted from the Hong Kong thriller “Infernal Affairs.” “Big B” achieved something similar by taking the essence of “Four Brothers” and infusing it brilliantly into the heart of Kochi, making the city an integral part of the narrative.
As we look back, it’s intriguing to consider what it was that made the film so special. Was it the fresh, innovative frames? The stunning visual aesthetics? The looks and costumes of the characters? The meticulously crafted production design? The departure in colour grading from the normal crop of Malayalam cinema? Or perhaps it was the catchy tunes that were etched into our memories?
If I were to pinpoint the most outstanding aspect of the movie at the time, it was undoubtedly the music, masterfully composed by Alphonse Joseph, and the remarkable background score by Gopi Sunder.
In 2007, “Big B” marked the introduction of Shreya Ghoshal to the Malayalam industry with the song “Vidaparayukarayaano…”. This song went on to become a staple in reality shows to the extent of being overused. However, you cannot deny the emotional resonance of the song. Another standout track was “Muthu mazha,” sung by Vineeth Sreenivasan and Jyotsana. More than just the song itself, it was the picturesque backdrop that left an indelible impression on our hearts. This was also our first taste of Amal Neerad’s signature style of romantic song sequences. You can see hints of the same in songs like “Aaro” in Iyobinte Pusthakam, “Vennilave” in Sagar Alias Jacky (minus the beach), and even in a one-off song he directed for the movie “Tournament” – “Nila Nila.” The film’s title track, “Big B,” in particular, remains iconic. Its pulsating beats are interwoven with memorable one-liners and dialogues from Bilal, leaving an enduring mark in the hearts of fans. I recall how everyone had that ringtone on their phones.
It is worth noting that the background score for the movie was nothing short of spectacular, just for the fact that it still holds up. Gopi Sunder’s work in “Big B” marked his big break in the industry, and his music was impeccably placed, especially in the intro sequence, the Seagull Bar fight, and the montage sequences towards the climax.
And speaking of the movie’s visual language, “Big B” made some striking choices that set it apart from the rest of the movies of its time. The predominant use of black and red colour tones, especially in the night shots, created an aura of mystique and constant danger. The colour palette, no doubt, borrowed from Amal’s own work for the likes of RGV added contributed to its distinct identity in the Malayalam cinema landscape. The promotional posters featuring these bold colour schemes were a breath of fresh air in the industry at a time when floating heads around the movie title was still a norm.
Let’s not forget one of the most unforgettable aspects of “Big B” – its spectacular shootout sequence. This sequence is nothing short of a cinematic masterpiece, building tension and excitement meticulously. The image of Mammootty descending the Kurishingal home’s stairs, wielding a shotgun, is etched in the minds of everyone. It was a moment that took the audience by surprise, as no one at the time was prepared for something so iconic.
Additionally, “Big B” boasts one of Malayalam cinema’s best character introduction sequences. The careful framing of cameras, the use of rain, umbrellas, and slow-motion created a stylish and memorable entry for the characters. Love it or hate it, you can’t deny that Amal Neerad’s distinctive style was on full display in these sequences.
But over time, I’ve realized the one thing that made the movie truly iconic. More than the music or its visual language, it was the dialogues.
“Big B” emerged at a time when Malayalam commercial action cinema was still echoing the verbose dialogues of the past. The heroes of that era seemed incapable of speaking without turning their every sentence into a monologue. Then came Bilal. We’ve never had a hero who speaks like this, and it was evident from one of the first now-iconic-line uttered in the movie – “Sirey, Georgey, Marippinulla vadem chaaayem njan tharunnund.. ippazhalla… pinne..”. Unni R’s dialogues infuse the unmistakable flavour of Kochi and introduces subtext. It was a revelation for Malayalam cinema at the time and a breath of fresh air.
The subtext in dialogue, as we know, refers to the unspoken, the underlying messages that enrich a character’s words. Unni R.’s dialogues for “Big B” was a masterclass in this art. Lines like “Pazhaya eddykkum bilalinum mark cheyyan pattatha eth colonyada kochiyil ullath…?” conveyed the larger-than-life past reputation of the characters without the need for explicit exposition. Similarly, Mammootty’s ominous threat to George – “Georgey, vandi kathiyaal number plate enkilum kittum…” – through the actor’s commanding delivery leaves nothing much to the imagination.
Speaking of the actor, Mammootty, with his vast career spanning over five decades, gave an era-defining performance in “Big B.” Bilal was unlike any other character he had portrayed before and after, marked by stoicism and an enigmatic demeanor. He was the visual representation of the phrase “Still water runs deep”. Even in emotionally charged moments, Bilal remained composed, making his character all the more intriguing. I remember Fahadh Faasil once, in an interview with The Cue, wondering how Bilal would express his sorrow, given his restrained nature. The answer came brilliantly in the aftermath of Biju’s death, where Bilal’s defeat was palpable, yet his emotions remained locked within. The only outburst of his sorrow, his anger, we see it when he hits Murugan when he breaks down next to him. His interactions with family, and threats to foes all carried the same restrained tone, creating a character that continues to resonate. In fact we can count the number of times his inflections change in the movie with one hand.
In the years following “Big B,” many films tried to replicate its unique style, but few could capture the same magic. Heroes were stoic, restrained, uttered very few dialogues, and walked in slow motion, but they weren’t like Bilal. Over time, it became increasingly apparent that “Big B” might have been the lightning in a bottle—an extraordinary confluence of talented actors, brilliant writers, and skilled technicians that created a winning formula. Ironically, the initial reception for the movie was lukewarm, with the film gradually gaining popularity over time, becoming a cult classic.
Given this legacy, the anticipation for the sequel, “Bilal,” six years after its announcement, is understandably cautious yet optimistic. I know we can all laugh at all the ‘Bilal is perpetually in slow-motion’ jokes, but the truth is, we will all see it when it releases. We yearn for Amal Neerad to be at his directorial best, for Mammootty to deliver a top-notch performance, and, most crucially, for Unni R to once again craft the memorable dialogues that were a hallmark of “Big B.” Only with this perfect blend of talent can we hope to revisit the electrifying world of Bilal and his brothers and perhaps, once more, witness the birth of a cinematic phenomenon.