Thursday Tamil: Bigil! The Big Big Tamil Film of 2019!

Fun movie! Vijay movie, good songs, good action, crazy plot, watch it for a good time. Don’t watch it for depth.

IMPORTANT WARNING!!!! Jackie Shroff is naked but for underwear for 5 minutes! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. Is there anyone reading this who is going “oh boy, naked Jacke Shroff! Sexy!”? Surely not. Surely we have all learned from Rangeela that a Jackie without long pants and a shirt is not a Jackie we want?

Beyond that one unfortunate eye searing sequence, this is a fun movie! Not as fun as it could be, I wanted more action sequences and more big song numbers and more love stories and more Vijay roles. Basically, I wanted Mersal over again. But of course I did not want Sarkar because I hate speechy self-satisfied Vijay. And this movie is far far closer to Mersal than Sarkar. So if you liked Mersal, watch it! It’s fun! And feel-good and happy and inspiring and so on and so forth.

Image result for bigil poster vijay

Vijay plays Vijay, essentially. 3 different versions of Vijay, but all the same. Weird hand waving, bendy dancing, cocky romance. One of them stutters, but that’s really the only difference. He’s very good at playing himself, and it’s not an easy thing to do. Being a superstar is a skill that very few people have. I’ve seen loads of movies built around a male hero that made me go “bleh”, I was tired of seeing the same guy onscreen all the time, I couldn’t buy into how beloved he was and all the girls falling over themselves and so on. I still don’t find Vijay that attractive (although infinitely better than a naked Jackie Shroff), but I am never bored when watching him onscreen, he carries his films so effortlessly at this point that it is easy for me to say “he is just playing himself” and forget that “himself” is a role as well, a created star identity to please us.

Even when a star is very very good at being a star, there is a danger with a film being all and only about him. You need some kind of general message or theme that the star is supporting in order to give the film a backbone. In Tamil cinema in particular, politics and message movies have entered in so strongly that a message is as required for this kind of film as a romance or an action sequence. It’s how the whole big star film is structured, you have an overall issue that ties it together.

In this case, the issue is “women! They’re awesome!” In sort of a generalized everything-at-once-way. And they are so committed to this “Woman! They’re awesome!” message that Rahman wrote a whole female anthem, and even appeared as himself in the song video. Of course, women are only awesome in a very specific glory-to-Tamil-Land kind of role, with the permission and support of their families and the guidance of a man. But at least they get to be a little bit awesome all on their own for a few brief moments. And the heroine is strong and neat all the time, Nayanthara, definitely cast to be more than the regular heroine (picture Mersal if Nithya had been there the whole time). As always with these films, it’s the less obvious messages that I find more powerful. Forget all of Vijay’s speeches about woman and stuff, what I like is that he lives with a spunky naughty cute little niece, that the woman are first introduced not as “women” but as a sports team made up of the best players they could find who happen to be female, and most of all this one little moment in a song when the woman get to do the dance with Vijay. Not as delicate classical dancers, or as slow sensual dancers, but the same rowdy style dance he is doing, free hip thrusts and knee kicks and all the rest. That was GREAT. I wish it had gone on longer.

Oh right, don’t get too excited about the songs. One big Vijay song, the whole Woman Anthem song, and then everything else is kind of abbreviated. We don’t even get a “Tamil Land and Language is the Best in the World” song. I am left to assume that Tamil Land is not actually the best in the world, and their language is no great shakes.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

Whole plot in two paragraphs:

We start by establishing Vijay 1 as one of those good gangster types. A bunch of kids trying to save their college from being torn down run away from goons hired by the politicians to Vijay 1’s territory. Vijay protects them and beats up the goons, all with a smile on his face. And then rushes off to a wedding, we learn his girlfriend Nayanthara has now had 6 weddings, and every time he shows up and smiles at her and she backs out at the last minute. So, good-hearted goon, fun love story where he refuses to marry her for her own good but she doesn’t want to marry anyone else, nice nice. And then he goes to a train station to meet Kathir, coach of the Tamil Nadu state woman’s soccer team, and the team. He promises to take care of them while they are in town overnight, but then his car is ambushed by goons and Kathir is killed. The team is distraight, who can coach them now? And Kathir reveals that Vijay will be their new coach! And tells the state association official (but not the team) that Vijay used to be a soccer player. FLASHBACK. Vijay 2 is a young soccer player. The son of Vijay 3, an aging don who turned to violence to protect his people but wants his son to take a different path. Vijay 2 meets Nayanthara when she grabs the cup he just won to beat up an eve teaser. He is in love immediately, and so is she. The first shadow on his life comes when he fails to be selected by Jackie Shroff for the national team, but even that is cleared up when Vijay 3 goes to talk to Jackie and begs him to reconsider. Vijay 2 is going to win the national championships, come home and marry Nayanthara, everything good. But then as he is taking the train away, Vijay 3 is ambushed and killed by his gangster enemies, Vijay 2 jumps off the train and picks up his fallen knife and is transformed into Vijay 1.

Backstory established, we come back to learn more about the female soccer team. Vijay 1 took his criminal money and funneled it through his friend Kadhir into soccer training for the poor. Kadhir taught everyone, and eventually discovered he had a really talented team of girls. Vijay consulted with him on each player, who to pick and how to train them. And now this team is going to the national championships for the glory of Tamil Land. Vijay also arranges for Nayanthara to travel with them as team doctor. At first the soccer folks aren’t willing to accept Vijay 1 as coach, but Jackie Shroff is there still and stands up for Vijay 1 since he knew him when he was Vijay 2. Vijay 1 is attacked the first night and the team is angry with him, but he wins them over by forcing them to do a stupid drill that teaches them to be a team. And then by beating them at soccer, 1 on 11. Just as that is falling into place, Jackie calls him in and threatens to disqualify his team. At which point Vijay 1’s gundas come in to announce they have learned it was JACKIE behind the attack. Jackie reveals his evil, when he met with Vijay 3 he asked for a bribe, told Vijay 3 that is how the soccer federation works. So Vijay 3 kidnapped and tortured him until he let Vijay 2 be on the team. Now Jackie is going to keep defeating Vijay 1 in vengeance for what his father Vijay 3 did to him. And then we have a strange little detour where Vijay 1 travels back home to convince the two star players to rejoin the team, one who got married and her husband stopped her playing and the other who stopped playing after an acid attack. Vijay 1 convinces the husband to “let” her play, that is how to be a real husband. And he convinces the acid attack victim to be fearless. The team now united, they win! And then Vijay and Nayanthara get engaged and everyone dances. But the night before the final match, two of the players are kidnapped and drugged. Vijay frees them and chases after the man who organized it, the same gangster who killed his father, only to forgive him and beg him to live a better life for his own child. They win the final match after all (and Vijay lets the married player take the winning shot even though she is pregnant). In the end, Vijay 1 has returned to being Vijay 2, running a soccer camp for the neighborhood kids and bringing peace.

This movie is sold as “female empowerment”, but it’s not. Although it’s also not NOT female empowerment. Kind of a draw so far as I am concerned. On the one hand, Nayanthara is an awesome strong woman who refuses to marry someone besides the man she loves, and who coolly picks out and goes after Vijay 2 (while letting him think he is going after her). On the other hand, the married player is convinced to join the team by convincing her husband, not just telling her “leave your marriage and do what you want and let him like it or lump it.” The female players lose a match against Vijay even though it is 11 of them against one of him. But on the other hand, everyone would lose a match against Vijay, it’s not a boy-girl thing, it’s a hero thing. My favorite part is the kind of hidden one. Vijay and Kadhir didn’t start out to raise up women with a soccer team, they started out to raise up poor people with a soccer team and the most talented poor folks happened to be women. This whole story started because they were gender blind.

And none of the players have a romance, not even with Vijay. And they are a variety of skin tones and body types (okay, the darkest one is also the largest one, but she has a real character too). And there are no punches pulled in the matches, they take the falls and the hits, and they wear shorts too. So yeah, that’s all good. Or at least, not bad.

Image result for bigil team

What Tamil filmmakers don’t seem to realize is that they always have a basic underlying message and the other messages are just topping on the cake. Forget female empowerment, this is a movie about a noble gangster standing up for the poor and oppressed, and about trying to find a path out of the cycle of violence. Good enough of a message for me! The extra little bit dusted on top is nice but not necessary.

And, also, its a well done movie! The game scenes make sense, so do the action scenes. Vijay has some great one liners. Jackie Shroff is (as always) effortlessly evil. Nayanthara is a kick. And AR Rahman wrote a few great songs. It’s missing some stuff, missing longer songs and more big dance numbers, missing more of the romance, I could even do with more fight scenes. And, of course, less naked Jackie Shroff (always less naked Jackie Shroff, should be the first lesson in any film school). But what is there, is nicely done. If you like Vijay, if you like music, if you like triumphal sports movies, check it out!

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