Bigil was one of the top Indian moneymakers in 2019, and deservedly so. It wins the box office battle on the shoulders of a high powered star who leads across multiple fronts: drama, romance, football, martial arts action, music videos, and supporting strong females.
Thalapathy Vijay is one of the highest paid actors in India, and this film proves why; his charisma dominates every scene. In fact, the working title of this Tamil film was Thalapathy 63, in reference to its being Vijay’s 63rd movie. Vijay has 8 fight scenes, 3 dancing sequences (available as music videos), and he plays dual roles of father and son.
Vijay is Michael Rayappan, whose Nanna (father, also played by Vijay) is a benevolent neighborhood Don somewhat like Vito Corleone in The Godfather. Nanna can be ruthless, but he doesn’t want his son to be in the business; he wants Michael to focus on being the professional footballer known as Bigil. As Bigil, he can be a role model showing sport as a way out of the slums for anyone. Unfortunately, Nanna is killed by a rival ganglord, and Michael becomes the Don.
While he gives up the game himself, Michael has his teammate Kathir (played by Kathir, who stars in Jada) set up the football academy that Nanna wanted. Seven years later, Kathir’s womens team will represent Tamil Nadu at the Senior Women’s National Football Championship in Delhi. But Kathir is severely wounded during one of Michael’s fights, and from his hospital bed, Kathir convinces Michael to coach the womens team at the tournament.
The players are angry, however. They don’t know Michael has been their secret benefactor. “How can a rowdy be our coach?” asks one of the girls. Cue INTERMISSION.
In the second half, Michael wins the girls’ respect by out-playing them in a 1 vs 11 scrimmage. To improve the team’s offense, he recruits 2 former players. One is an acid-attack victim and the other is a woman married into a conservative family. As the team progresses through the tournament, Michael is first aided and then sabotaged by the head of the Indian Federation, and he finds out why his father was assassinated. To get the whole story, you must watch all the way through the credits.
Fight scenes that rival Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee
A dubbed version in the Telugu language is entitled Whistle on Amazon Prime. When I started watching, I was annoyed to see that it was almost 3 hours long. But its length is appropriate to the intricacy of the story; it reminds me of how Kill Bill was equally long but was split into 2 films.
The gang violence is also similar, with Michael fighting as a super-human one man against many thugs. The sword hackings and knife stabbings are not as graphic as a Tarantino film, but the martial art scenes are very well done and almost rival Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee.
Bigil has about 30 minutes of football action, mostly in the second half of the film. Aimee McDaniel of Game Changing Films and Justin Skinner are the sports choreographers, and even though the football play has a lot of CGI, they make the soccer movements look real.
McDaniel says that Indian cinema likes more exaggerated action sequences, and I was captivated by the soccer scenes. The choreographers worked 6 weeks with the actresses, about 3-4 hours per day, often in 110 degree weather. They had little time with Vijay, but he was very athletic and a fast learner. No one knew how to play soccer beforehand, but everyone did their own stunts.
Female empowerment, sort of
While Bigil is modestly a female empowerment film “Dedicated to all women”, a feminist could fault it for being about a larger-than-life male who is protector, benefactor, and rescuer. And even though the script champions individuality, independence and respect for women, Michael is only able to inspire the team to victory by verbally abusing, intimidating, and fat-shaming them. It’s too bad that the single offensive locker room scene was included, and it’s the only reason I didn’t give this film a rating of 10.
Music by AR Rahman
Of the 3 music videos in the film, the most popular is the first song “Verithanam” whose youtube video quickly hit 100M views. It is the first time Vijay has done his own singing in a film. In the second half of the film, the “Signapenney” video is an inspirational mélange showing the players doing a broad range of athletics, sports and training. I believe this youtube video is a little longer than what is in the film. The film’s romance angle peters out in the second half with a wedding video called “Bigil Bigil Bigiluma“.
Some loose ends
I found it rather confusing that Indian males and characters are known by multiple names. I never understood why Michael was also known as Bigil, or why Vijay the actor is also known as Thalapathy Vijay, Joseph Vijay, C. Joseph Vijay, and Thalapathy.
There is also a bit where Vijay’s love interest Angel is like Runaway Bride, where she keeps going to the altar with other men but abandons the ceremony because Michael is her true love. What I didn’t understand is why he wouldn’t marry her for 7 years.
In my research, I found that filmmaker Nandi Chinni Kumar (possibly also known as Shiva?) sued Atlee for story theft and copyright infringement. Kumar had the exclusive rights to the story of Akhilesh Paul, a former Don who was rehabilitated through slum soccer and became a coach after participating in the Homeless World Cup. In Dec-2019, Kumar obtained an order to prevent the release of Bigil on Amazon. Obviously this order did not stick for very long, but I could find no report on how the matter was resolved.
Bigil was filmed in Chennai, was produced with a budget of around $23M and had a box office of $39M. While that doesn’t sound like much compared to an American blockbuster, it is an excellent financial performance for a soccer movie. I could say it is the best football film I have seen from India, but that would not be saying much. Suffice it to say that Bigil ranks with the best in a global field because of an entertaining story, a great cast, and excellent action scenes.
9 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 9
- Released: 2019-10-25 (India)
- Bigil is the Tamil language version
- Whistle is in Telugu language with English sub-titles and is currently on Amazon Prime
- Working title was Thalapathy 63 , which is the 63rd movie of Thalapathy Vijay
- Director: Atlee Kumar
- Stars: Thalapathy Vijay aka Joseph Vijay, C. Joseph Vijay, Vijay, and Thalapathy
- also stars Kathir
- Watch the Trailer in Tamil, but no English sub-titles