Underdogs stories in sports touch something deep in us. Seeing an underdog going against the tide facing advantaged opposition and still emerging victorious almost always finds the sentimental corners of our hearts.
The Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Winter Olympics when the American team that consisted exclusively of amateurs beat the heavily favoured Russia enroute to the gold is an underdog story that would stand the test of time.
But underdogs don’t always win. American teenager Coco Gauff’s was beaten by Japanese ace Naomi Osaka in the third round of the US Open, but it was another story that would be remembered by sports fans for along time to come.
The Malaysian football team plagued by numerous problems went on to earn a stunning Olympic qualification for 1980 Summer Olympics. It even inspired a movie in 2016 – Ola Bola directed by Chiu Keng Guan.
Translating the underdog sentiment into movies is not something new. Whether it is a historical drama likes the Chariots of Fire and Invictus or purely fiction like the Oscar Award winning Rocky or Million Dollar Baby, movies about sports underdogs sells at the box office.
Two days before Deepavali, Tamil movie fans around the world were already flocking to the cinemas to see another fictional underdog football team succeed on the silver screen.
Bigil, starring one of the Tamil Nadu’s biggest stars Vijay, has taken the Tamil movie world by storm. The film made on a budget of ₹180 crore (RM106 million) is said to have already earned ₹220 crore (RM 130million) in pre-release earnings.
Coming 15-years after his blockbuster movie Ghilli, which had used the Indian sports of kabaddi as background, Bigil is destined to be a much bigger draw. By using football to relay the message on women empowerment, the movie not only entertains but most of all manages to put you on an emotional rollercoaster.
If you can look past the blatant disregard to football rules as well as how players, who had not kicked the ball for a long period, can walk into a team and still deliver the goods, you would enjoy the movie.
Bigil comes at a time when India seems to have discovered the marketability of sports movies.
Cricket inspired Lagaan in 2001, was nominated for the Best Foreign Film, did start a deluge of sports themed movies from India but it is only over the last five years or so that there seems to be boom of sports related movies from India.
From Bollywood, there were movies like Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013), Mary Kom (2014), MS Dhoni: The Untold Story (2016), Sultan (2016), Azhar (2016), Sachin (2017), Gold (2018), Soorma (2018) and the blockbuster Dangal (2016).
Down south, there has been a string of sports movies as well. Both Kennedy Club and Vennila Kabaddi Kuzhu 2, released earlier this year were movies based on kabaddi.
Kanaa, a fictional story of a farmer’s daughter in international women’s cricket was also a critical success last year. Add that to movies like Ethir Neechal (2013), Eeti (2015), Irudhi Sutru (2016), Natpe Tunai (2019).
Expect more movies based on sports coming from India in the near future. There are three biopics in the making on badminton personalities alone — Saina Nehwal, Pullela Gopichand and PV Sindhu.
Stories about underdogs sells.