Movies

The girls of ‘Bigil’

The ‘Singapenngal’ of ‘Bigil’ are thrilled with the response to the film  

Love it or hate it, but you certainly can’t ignore the Bigil phenomenon. The hotly-debated film may continue to rake in record-breaking box-office figures, director Atlee could step into Bollywood, and Vijay’s already moved on to his next Thalapathy 64 shoot. But the sports-action drama has mattered most and given an impressive platform to those it was primed around: the girls who played the footballers.

A mix of up-and-coming actors and professional sportswomen, the ‘Singappengal’ of the film are delighted with its success and the fleeting but fascinating fame surrounding them, working alongside a A-lister like Vijay. How do they feel now post the film’s release? Was the ‘women empowerment’ tag the film was marketed around truly realised in the plot? What was their favourite memory from the shooting experience? We catch up with a few of the young women to talk about their Bigil experience...

Poster of Vijay with the girls’ football team in ‘Bigil’

Poster of Vijay with the girls’ football team in ‘Bigil’  

Reba Monica John as Anitha

I was actually the last among the girls to be cast. Since I have played the leading role in films before, I was a little hesitant about sharing screen space with so many other girls… especially because Atlee sir hadn’t revealed anything about my character to me! When I was finally told that I’d be playing an acid attack victim, I was pretty nervous. I was going to be appearing with half my face and neck scarred throughout the film — but the depth of the character convinced me.

Reba Monica John

Reba Monica John  

The make-up was a lot of work, but they did a fantastic job in pulling off the scene.. We shot that for two days, with nearly 30 takes to get it right. Yep, I had a lot of eggs broken on my face and it was swollen.

But the response has more than made up for it... I have had young kids writing to me saying that it’s unfair girls go through so much trauma for no fault of their own, and are glad the film explored such a topic. Even during the actual shoot, I was reading about such incidents in the papers, watching videos and interviews of survivors of such attacks, and really internalised it all.

After that scene right before Singappenney during which I confront my attacker, Vijay sir walked up to my mom and went, “You should be really proud of your daughter for doing this.” Icing on the cake, no?

 

Gayathri Reddy as Maari

Being a model in Chennai, this was a great way for me to break into Kollywood: a Vijay outing as my debut.

I have to admit that I hadn’t played football before, so when we had a 45-day boot camp to hone our skills and get in shape, it really gave me new perspective as to how professional players train. I’m used to workouts since I’m a fitness model, so the gruelling gym sessions we had came naturally to me.

Gayathri Reddy

Gayathri Reddy  

Acting with Vijay sir… was initially stressful. For me atleast, because I have a few scenes where I directly have to stare at him angrily and show my contempt! After that, it was smooth sailing.

Despite it being a ‘mass’ commercial film, I do think the empowerment angle Atlee sir explored in the script was strong — and I’d anyday choose a film like Bigil over the usual ‘heroine’ roles written for women in cinema — I definitely feel lucky to enter the industry this way.

Amritha as Thendral

Even though I’m an actor today, I come from a sporting background as I used to play basketball. I’ve witnessed first-hand the politics in sports, seen less talented players get selected ahead of the deserving ones and been through it all… being part of Bigil that way, was cathartic. I wish I’d had a Rayappan in my life who could have brought us justice.

I think Varsha (Bollamma)’s character of Gayathri also touched a chord with so many girls watching, including me. We all go through the pressure of fighting with families to pursue our career ahead of marriage; it’s a daily battle we fight.

Amritha

Amritha  

As far as the shooting went, I was determined that I give it my all, so much so, that I’d fight with Atlee everyday to do all the football stunts and acrobatic kicks myself without using a body double!

The most memorable part of the journey was acting with Vijay sir, of course. So there was a face-to-face scene with him, and I kept messing it up because I’d look into his eyes and completely get lost in that intense expression. After four takes, he suggested that he close his eyes while I deliver my line... that did the trick. He really didn’t need to go out of his way in moments like these to make us comfortable, but he did. That was my biggest takeaway from Bigil.

 

Riddhi Ramesh as Selvi

I’m a footballer who plays for the state of Karnataka. Being part of Bigil actually happened quite randomly when an assistant director spotted me playing during a club league match.. I had no idea it’ll turn out to be such an experience!

I think it’s fantastic that a massive star like Vijay took on a project like this. I’m not from a film background, but obviously I know about his stardom. He was incredibly cool on set; a total gentleman and even took time out to learn all our names from day one to refer to us personally. The little things matter.

Riddhi Ramesh

Riddhi Ramesh  

I can’t even tell you how many girls in sport drop out due to pressure from their family or post-marriage: that the film sheds light on this is important. It’s only been a week since the release, so if at all Bigil has any positive impact on women’s sport, it will be known only later. Having said that, I think many people were aware only now that women’s football in India actually have teams, tournaments, and what we go through: that in itself is a win.

Varsha Bollamma as Gayathri

My character appears well into the second half and has less screen space, so it took me quite a bit of convincing to accept the role. But now, I couldn’t be more thankful for it.

I’m going to theatres and seeing women legit screaming and clapping during the scene when Vijay and Nayanthara visit Gayathri’s house to talk to her husband. Pretty much every woman could relate to that moment with some part of their lives.

Varsha Bollamma

Varsha Bollamma  

Working with the footballers was so much fun too. We bonded a lot with Tanvie Hans, who plays the captain of the rival team in the team. She’s actually one of the best professional players in the country, and taught us a lot on the pitch. I’m actually going to attend her workshop later!

I know there’s been a lot of talk about how much the film does for women empowerment and so on, and if the girls’ arcs were given enough time. Let me put it this way: it’s essential for such sensitive topics to be breached in a massive ‘star’ film like this which reaches millions... even in a small way. I’m proud of our effort.

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Printable version | Oct 14, 2020 11:10:13 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/who-are-the-girls-playing-footballers-in-vijays-bigil/article29863238.ece

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