The project commenced in April 2007 and was released and distributed worldwide by Ayngaran International on 14 December 2007. The film, upon release, emerged a high financial success, and was selected to be screened at the 61st Cannes Film Festival.
The underworld don David Billa (Ajith Kumar), featured on Interpol's criminal list, is hiding and operating out of Malaysia. DSP Jayaprakash (Prabhu) has spent the last few years looking for Billa, leaving behind a life in India.
During a chase with the police, Billa is severely wounded after an accident and dies in front of the DSP. The DSP then secretly holds a burial of Billa. Interpol officer Gokulnath (Rahman) is assigned to work with DSP Jayaprakash to capture elusive Billa as no-one knows of Billa's death. DSP Jayaprakash keeps the death of Billa as a secret even from his fellow officers, and tracks down a look-alike called Saravana Velu (Ajith Kumar), a lowly pick-pocket. He asks Velu to infiltrate Billa's gang by pretending to be Billa. In return he will make sure that the child Velu adopted, Karan, gets a proper education.
The DSP trains Velu and sends him back to Billa's gang as a person who has lost his memory. Slowly Velu starts to learn about Billa's gang and even speaks to Jagdish, Billa's boss, on the phone. Velu provides a pen drive with the secret information of the crime network to the DSP, but he is about to be killed by Sasha (Nayantara) because her brother Rajesh as well as his fiancee Rhea (Hazel Keech) were killed by Billa. At this juncture, the DSP arrives and tells her that he is Velu and not Billa. Later before a party, Velu secretly provides information to the DSP about a meeting of Billa's network and C.J. (Namitha), Billa's girlfriend, overhears his conversation. She challenges Velu but in the fight, he accidentally kills her. A shootout occurs at the party and the DSP is secretly killed by Jagdish, leaving his gun behind. Velu finds the DSP's body and the gun, but is taken into the custody of the police team, now headed by Interpol Officer Gokulnath. He argues during interrogation that he is Velu and not Billa to Gokulnath. Velu mentions a piece of evidence – the pen drive which may prove his innocence but the pen drive is nowhere to be found.
Unable to prove his innocence, he escapes from a police van. He phones Gokulnath and ask him to meet at the Aero bridge. Here it is revealed that Gokulnath is none other than the Underworld Crime Don Jagdish (Rahman) and he is the one who killed Jayprakash. Officer Anil Menon apparently had the pen drive all along and strikes a deal with Velu to get hold of Jagdish. Meanwhile, Sasha and Karan have been kidnapped by Jagdish and wants the pen drive in return for it. Velu meets Ranjith and gives him a second pen drive with the same data, but corrupted. When Ranjith tries to kill Velu, a scuffle ensues making Ranjith fall from the top. In a final confrontation, Jagdish fights with Velu. Jagdish posing as Gokulnath asks the police to arrest Velu as Billa but gets shot by the squad of police and dies as the police have wired the entire conversation between Jagdish and Velu, thus proving his innocence. Velu finally hands over the original pen drive to Officer Menon as the film ends.Ajith Kumar as David Billa and Saravana Velu
Prabhu as DSP Jayaprakash
Nayantara as Sasha
Namitha as C. J.
Rahman as Jagdish/Gokulnath
Santhanam as Krishna
Adithya Menon as Anil Menon
Vimalraj Ganesan as John
Yog Japee as Ranjith
Baby Avnish as Karan Dippa
T. Balasubramaniam as Rajesh
Hazel Keech as Rhea, Rajesh's fiancé
The entire production stage of the movie spanned about six months. Prior to Billa, Vishnuvardhan had directed three films, Kurumbu, Arinthum Ariyamalum and Pattiyal, two of which were successful. Billa, was started after a debacle surrounding his other venture, Sarvam, which was eventually postponed to make way for Billa.
In an interview, Vishnuvardhan mentioned that he had "twice missed out on the chance to direct him [Ajith Kumar]. The third time when I got a chance to direct him, I made sure that I would not miss it. I was all ready to write a good script for him but he said, he wanted me to remake Billa", confirming it was Ajith Kumar's idea. The film was originally announced, provisionally after the release of the Bollywood film, Don: The Chase Begins Again – which was a remake of the yesteryear film with the same name from 1978. Also from the 1978 version of Don, a remake was made in 1980 into Tamil, called Billa. 2007's Billa drew inspirations from these three versions. Suresh Balaji, who had acted in the yesteryear version of Billa, acquired the rights to produce the film. The film became the second Tamil film to be remade from its yesteryear version after Naan Avanillai.
After the official announcement of the production company, the director and the cameraman, Vishnuvardhan and Nirav Shah began to select other members of the cast and the crew to be a part of the Billa team, Ajith Kumar could not assist in helping choose the other members. On 13 April 2007, the eve of Tamil New Year's Day, the launch of Billa took place at the AVM studios in Vadapalani, Chennai. Among the attendees were the stars of the old cast, Rajinikanth, Sripriya, Suresh Balaji as well as noted directors Mani Rathnam, Dharani, K. S. Ravikumar, and Saran. The confirmed cast until the date of the launch also were invited, among them being Ajith Kumar along with his wife, Shalini; Nayanthara, Namitha and Prabhu Ganesan.
Apart from the casting of Ajith Kumar in the dual lead role, previously played by Rajinikanth, the rest of the cast took nearly four months to finalise. The role played by Sripriya in the original, was given to Nayantara in early 2007, controversially after Bollywood actress, Isha Sherwani, who had been in contention to act in the last few movies of Ajith Kumar, was paid the advance. Vishnuvardhan reported that he was pleased with Nayanthara's role in, E and subsequently opted for her. The other lead female role in the film was initially written for Shriya Saran, but due to her contract with Sivaji: The Boss, she refused to accept the film. Despite other actresses such as Trisha Krishnan, Reema Sen, Asin Thottumkal and Bhanu being considered, the role was eventually given to Pooja Umashankar. However, she refused the role, citing that she was reluctant to appear in a bikini, as the role required. Subsequently, Namitha, another actress was signed up for the role.
The remaining members of the cast were selected subsequently after the launch, which was held on 13 April 2007. Despite early reports of Prakash Raj playing the role enacted by K. Balaji of an inspector in the original, the role was eventually secured by Prabhu Ganesan. The role of the comedian was tipped to go Vadivelu, after he received rave reviews for his comic chemistry in Chandramukhi with Rajinikanth, however, despite the reviews, Vishnuvardhan's regular pattern meant that the spotlight for a comedian will be limited. Santhanam replaced him and became a part of the project, as did another character artiste, Adithya also signed up to be one of the members of the police troupe, as did Malayalam actor, Rahman, who with Billa, made his comeback into Tamil cinema. The item number, danced by Helen in the original was originally given to Mumaith Khan, but was later changed to newcomer, Rose Dawn, for unknown reasons.
For his crew, Vishnuvardhan picked his preferred technicians; with Rajkannan as the dialogue writer, Nirav Shah as the cinematographer, William Ong as the stunt master, Thotta Tharani as the art director, Pa. Vijay as the chief lyricist and A. Sreekar Prasad as the editor. Vishnuvardhan's orthodox music composer, Yuvan Shankar Raja was chosen, creating great expectations for the project, while Vishnuvardhan's wife, Anu, debuted as a costume designer. The film was entirely shot in Malaysia at locations including Langkawi, Kuala Lumpur overlooking the Petronas Towers and other parts.
For the film's music and soundtrack, Vishnuvardhan renewed his previous association (Kurumbu, Arinthum Ariyamalum and Pattiyal) with Yuvan Shankar Raja. The soundtrack has 6 songs, while lyrics were penned by Pa. Vijay. Since the film was a remake, two songs from the original soundtrack, composed by M. S. Viswanathan, were remixed and included in the soundtrack. The formal release of the soundtrack of Billa was held on 26 November 2007 at Hotel Residence Towers in Chennai. The album had achieved record audio sales. Sify reported that it took the "best ever audio opening" for an Ajith Kumar film and the second highest opening day sales recorded in 2007 after Sivaji: The Boss. Nearly 22,000 CDs and cassettes were said to be sold out by the first day evening all over Tamil Nadu.
The album received very positive reviews. Pavithra Srinivasan from Rediff noted that Billa's music "rocks" and gave it four out of five. The reviewer wrote: "Yuvan Shankar Raja has etched an intricate musical feast to compliment the tale – and quite a feast it's turned out to be, a la the original". She concluded The guitar-ridden theme song was the most appreciated song, with a reviewer from Indiaglitz.com writing that the track was a "masterly work from young Yuvan... [which]... takes us to a different world", while another reviewer from Behindwoods wrote that it was the "soul of the film" which "stands out as the highlight of the album, giving that eerie feel required of a film about a don" and an "interesting composition with arrangements that spell international quality".
The film was released in 200 plus screens in Tamil Nadu and 50 screens overseas. Made on a budget of ₹150 million and sold to Ayngaran International. In its opening weekend, Billa collected about ₹3 crores. In Chennai alone it collected ₹5.20 million. The film completed a 100-day run at theatres and was declared a blockbuster. It is reported to have sold 1 crore tickets worldwide grossing almost ₹50 crore. In Kerala, it was supposed to have collected more than top Malayalam films of the year.
Billa opened to primarily positive critical response. Indiaglitz called it a "stylish adaption" and wrote: "The movie does impress in its stunningly impressive making with awesome cinematography and sleek editing. It outsmarts the original in these areas [...] Even the stunt scenes are far better than the original..." The reviewer further noted: "Vishnu[vardhan]'s presentation is stylish and sleek. But the crime thriller lacks credibility in some areas". Sify lauded the film, writing: Billa delivers the goods with its great star cast, a designer look, technical glitz, perfect chemistry making it an entertainment extravaganza". The reviewer claimed that it was the "first designer-look Kollywood film with classy action cuts" and a "technically chic, racy, engrossing entertainer with a Hollywood look", going on to call it "racy & rocking". The critic also heaped praise on the lead actor: "Ajith looks sensational and clearly he is at home, playing dual roles of Billa and Velu. He is suave, dashing, and debonair and has terrific screen presence which makes the film work big time. You just cannot think of any other actor in Tamil donning the role made memorable by Rajinikanth". Behindwoods rated the film 3.5 out of 5 and wrote: "...where Vishnu Vardhan scores is in his crystal clear vision. He doesn’t want to challenge the original nor change its content. All he wants to do is to repackage it stylishly for today’s trend with some present avant-garde styles in film making. The deliberate attempts by the director not to follow the super star’s style are palpable in every frame which has made Billa stand out tall and high". In regard of Ajith Kumar's presence, the reviewer said: "Ajith as the ruthless David Billa is a revelation. Stylish, menacing and electrifying, he seems to have thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and has completely lived up to it. Rajinikanth can definitely be proud of his successor he has chosen for the tough job".
Mythili Ramachandran of Nowrunning.com wrote: Billa [...] lives up to its hype and Ajith simply rocks", rating it 3 out of 5. Another reviewer from the same site, gave the same rating, citing: "Billa [...] is slick and stylish in keeping with the present modern world...View the movie from technical angle and it is undoubtedly in par with Hollywood movies. What a pulsating thriller it has turned out to be". In contrast, TSV Hari from Rediff wrote that the film "disappoints" and gave it 2.5 out of 5, further claiming: "Director Vishnuvardhan seems to have been in a dilemma as to whether to focus on Ajith or give the film well-etched characters. There are too many diversions in the form of female cleavages in the rain forests of Malaysia and garish sets".
In 2008, reports claimed that, following the film's commercial success, Soundarya Rajinikanth was planning to make a sequel, to be produced by Ocher Studios in association with Warner Bros. However, the sequel did not materialise and the idea was dropped, with Ajith Kumar, Vishnuvardhan and Soundarya getting busy with other projects.
In mid-2010, sources confirmed that Vishnuvardhan had finished penning the script for a prequel and that Ajith Kumar would reprise the titular character. The project became officially announced in late 2010, after Ajith Kumar signed up and first production poster were published to the media. Suresh Balaje, son of producer and actor K. Balaje, who produced the original Billa with Rajinikanth, and George Pius from Wide Angle Creations banner, were confirmed as the producer, who associated with Mumbai-based IN Entertainment Limited, a Hinduja group company. However, in a turn of events, Vishnuvardhan was replaced by Chakri Toleti, and a new script was written by Toleti and his assistants. The prequel was released at 13 July 2012.