Filmmaker Atlee teams up with actor Vijay for the third time in Bigil giving us a Chak De! India (2008) of sorts but done ‘Vijay style’ with football as the sport in question. And as most, if not all, Vijay films go, it is not so much about cinematic aesthetics and taut storytelling, as it is about ‘Thalapathy’ Vijay the superstar. Happily for his fans, Vijay is in fine enough form making it quite the festive film for them. The film, though, is mostly predictable with all major tropes of the underdog sports film ticked off faithfully.
Bigil sees Vijay playing a double role. That of a kind-hearted don of a slum, Rayappan, who wants to better the life of his people through sport, actually football, and his son Michael or ‘Bigil’, an ideal son and a brilliant footballer. When Rayappan is killed by his enemies led by Alex (footballer IM Vijayan but playing a gangster here), Michael kills Alex in retaliation and gives up his dreams of playing football. He takes over form his father as protector of the downtrodden while helping out a local football team for women secretly with gear, equipment and funds for their travel and boarding and lodging. When the coach of the team, Kathir (Kathir), is injured in an attack mounted on Michael by Daniel (Daniel Balaji), Alex’s son, he gets Michael to coach the team. As Michael returns to the sport he had forsaken seven years earlier, he must not only face the hostility of the girls who blame him for their coach being out of action, but must also settle scores with corrupt official, Sharma (Jackie Shroff). Meanwhile, he romances the fiesty Angel (Nayanthara), who supports him while being the physio of the team.
With a running time of just under three hours, Bigil tries to pack in too much. It mixes various tracks of the superman hero – the don with a heart of gold, the sports angle and through the women’s team, women issues not entirely up to satisfaction. And while the film does bring in pertinent points of women having their own dreams and identities, and the rehabilitation of acid-attack victims, it cannot escape being tokenism even though Atlee does round off these tracks pretty well. Add to that a predictability factor – in a sports film you know what is going to happen and surprise, surprise it does. It is the how, even more important here, that is a let down. Much of the first half is devoted to the necessary evils of a comedy track, some fights and a growing romance which is done in a none too innovative manner. The film takes off towards the interval point but that leaves just the second half for its main storyline. Consequently, we just don’t get into the matches deep enough or are rooting strongly enough for the girls as we did in Chak De! India. Still, occasional deft touches do surprise you. Like when the fat girl kicks the football way over the post in target shooting practice it is a funny moment at the time and little else. But it links up nicely later when she scores a goal from just past the half line ala Ronaldhino. And of course, logical loopholes are there but these are now a part and parcel of mainstream cinema and in any case, aren’t we supposed to leave our brains at home and just savour the film?! So why bother with tiny bits of logic that a girl’s football team made up of girls for whom football is life has not even heard of the best player of their state, Bigil, who played till a mere seven years ago? “Shut up and enjoy Vijay saving womankind!” we are told.
While the politics is not as overt as in his previous outing Sarkar, Vijay, in both avatars, does play the protector of his people. He even says this in Michael’s introductory song. Whether he will one day enter politics with the huge vacuum in Tamil Nadu with Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi gone, only time will tell but in recent times he is definitely building up a more carefully cultivated mass image of a man who cares for the oppressed ala MGR and Rajinikanth. But the politics aside, it has to be said Vijay acquits himself well in both his roles. As Rayappan, the father who talks with a stammer, he plays to the gallery beautifully, while as Michael (and Bigil) he does manage to get through some of the emotional scenes quite well. The two Vijays also play off each other quite well. Playing the massy hero has always come easy to Vijay and no complaints on that front.
Nayanthara doesn’t have much to do even if she is the physio of the team. She gets one big moment to herself where she shines as she explains to the husband of the woman, who had to give up football, that the woman too has dreams of her own that he mustn’t shatter. This one dialogue piece attracted the largest claps from the audience. Otherwise, she is kind of there but not there in the film. One question here though. What physio at the ground, when the match is going on, wears high heels?! The girls making up the football team are fine and enthusiastic but Jackie Shroff makes for a bizarre village who appears to sleep walk his way through the film. Kathir is good in a small role but it is disappointing that the hero of that searing attack against caste, Pariyerum Perumal (2018), reduced to little more than a bit player in a Vijay film.
The technicalities are so-so. On the flip side, the VFX of the football stadium and all in particular is tacky as hell, the loud background score is obvious and the editing is unable to keep up interest level in a story that stretches to breaking point at 179 minutes of running time. AR Rahman’s music for the songs is adequate but one big disappointment here is the choreography. The dances don’t quite exploit Vijay’s phenomenal ability as a dancer making the choreography look lazy. The song picturisations too are nothing to write home about. While it was a nice idea to show the developing romance between Micheal and Angel in the rainy season, the execution is not quite there.
Overall, if you see Bigil as a Vijay film, it’s fine enough. But if you’re looking for something more around him, barring some moments here and there, it doesn’t quite kick (or head) the football home.
Tamil, Drama, Action, Sports, Color