I (2015)

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Shankar is a director who has proved in the past to have amazing vision and a seemingly unending wealth of imaginative ideas. Many of his previous films have been visually stunning with incredible effects and novel concepts, but he seems to have missed the mark somewhat with his latest movie I. He has the benefit of an excellent cast and a potentially interesting story, but somehow the sum of the whole is not as good as each individual part. The film has a few too many cringe-worthy moments to make me want to see it again although Vikram is superb, and Amy Jackson is also impressive despite a rather limited role. However their characters aren’t particularly likeable and the story meanders annoyingly along several inconsequential paths before finally reaching the predictable and cloyingly trite end. I’m not even going to complain about the dodgy medicine since there was so much else that bothered me more about the improbable and often distasteful screenplay, but the ‘science’ is just as far-fetched as the rest of the story. Really the only reason I can give to watch I is Vikram and his impressive ability to transform himself into just about anyone, and that’s not quite enough to justify the 3 hours plus of I.

The story revolves around Lingesan (Vikram), a body builder from the back streets whose ambition in life is to win the Mr India competition. Be warned, there is a lot of flexing and posing in the first half hour of the film, while Lingesan tries to win the Mr Tamil Nadu crown from a large number of other over-muscled and over-oiled men in very skimpy bathers. It’s quite impressive that Vikram managed to achieve this look, but it’s not attractive and I was much happier once he put his clothes back on and backed off on the oil. Unfortunately he doesn’t really stop the flexing and posing even when fully clothed.

There is also a ridiculous fight scene backstage at the Mr Tamil Nadu championships with Lingesan managing to fight off multiple opponents including his arch-rival Ravi (M. Kamaraj). Ravi is a much better contender for the title of Mr Tamil Nadu so it’s a little surprising that he takes Lingesan as an opponent so seriously, but at least there is a relatively valid reason for the ongoing enmity between the two men, even if it does seem unlikely.

Lingesan is also obsessed with model Diya (Amy Jackson) to the point where he purchases absolutely anything she has endorsed, and I do mean absolutely everything. It’s quite creepy initially but does move out of stalker territory once Diya and Lingesan meet and Lingesan starts behaving like a 13 year old besotted schoolboy instead. It’s not a lot better but at least it’s funnier. Santhanan provides the rest of the comedy as Lingesan’s brother Babu, and for the most part he’s reasonably amusing, although a comedy track really wasn’t needed given just how ridiculous the plot becomes in the second half of the film.

From body builder to model is apparently as simple as getting a haircut and shaving off a moustache and with that Lingesan transforms into successful model Lee on the basis of one ad campaign and a romance with his muse Diya. However to get to this point Lingesan has pissed off quite a few people including the obnoxiously sleazy model John (Upen Patel) who is furious at being foiled in his attempts to get Diya into bed. Diya’s transgender make-up artist Osma (Ojas Rajani) also falls in love with Lingesan and is hurt and vengeful after his rather forceful rejection of her advances. John’s behavior is fairly gross but nothing unexpected for a masala movie, but the ‘romance’ between Osma and Lee is badly developed and feels more homophobic and derogatory than necessary. I can’t decide if Shankar was trying to be clever here and make a point about how the world views people who are transgender given that the film is based in the advertising world and uses image and ideals of beauty to develop the plot, or if this really was just a bad piece of writing, but it’s hard to watch whatever the reasoning.

Interspersed with the frothy romance are flashes to the present day where a hunched and grossly deformed Lingesan has kidnapped Diya on her wedding day, and the story gradually shifts to a tale of vengeance and medical improbability. Here at least the idea of image and beauty does get a little more developed although the masala element is still very much to the fore. Lingesan seeks revenge on the people who have caused his illness and as scientific reality goes out the window the story gets ever more ridiculous until the Beauty and Beast song seems quite normal and believable by comparison. It’s also a pleasant relief from all the disfigurement and maiming, although like other songs in the film it’s not well integrated into the narrative.

There are a number of more mundane inconsistencies such as the sudden turnaround in Diya’s treatment of hunchback Lingesan and Lingesan’s continued strength and agility given his deformed body. Not that any of the rest of it makes any more sense, but there is too much that is implausible and the story becomes too far-fetched to take seriously. However there are also far too many scenes where the people variously handicapped as a result of Lingesan’s revenge are ridiculed and mocked for their appearance and disability. It’s part of the plot sure – these are people who now look as ugly on the outside as they are on the inside, but I found this really quite shocking and abhorrent, particularly as it’s meant to be part of the comedy and is anything but funny.

This is definitely Vikram’s show and he does do an amazing job in portraying the two different faces of Lingesan.  Amy Jackson is much better than I expected, and the rest of the cast are all good given that they are all overshadowed by the powerhouse that is Vikram. The special effects by Weta Workshop are also very well done, and it’s such a shame that the story doesn’t come anywhere close to matching the visuals of the film. Of course it’s a story set in a world where image is all and appearance trumps substance at every stage so perhaps that’s not too surprising after all.

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8 thoughts on “I (2015)

    • Hi Bolllywood dreams
      I’m a scientist – that’s probably the main reason 🙂
      But this hasn’t been advertised as a fantasy (the cinema here lists it as a drama, romance, thriller) and it’s set in what mostly appears to be the real (or at least reel) world. The only fantasy element is in the Beauty and the Beast song and since songs are commonly set in a fantasy world I don’t think that counts.
      It’s even less impressive if it was supposed to be a fantasy since it doesn’t even come close to the genre.

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  1. Shankar’s films never tend to be politically correct for the past 20 years most of his films show government or the people who run the system corrupt to the very bone. I had a weak storyline which is normal for a Shankar movie but with this one the dialogues were even weaker making the film not a good one but rather a one time watch. Writer Sujatha Rangarajan used to the person who wrote the dialogues until Enthiran who died during the shoot of that film probably may have been a cause in the decline of Shankar. As far as Vikram is concerned he had spent the past three years of his life increasing & decreasing his weight for the role performed well but could have chosen a better script to display his talents as he deserves better.

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    • Hi vishnusc
      I can’t really comment on the dialogue as I don’t understand Tamil and I’m sure the subtitles don’t manage to capture everything that is said. I don’t think the basic story was all that bad, but a number of key elements were weak, such as the romance with Osma and most of the revenge plots. It also could have been shorter without missing anything important! Too much bodybuilder flexing and models running through fields in China! 🙂
      At least Vikram is getting the recognition he deserves for a dedicated and strong performance, but I’m sure the whole cast and crew worked hard – it’s just a shame that more money wasn’t spent on fleshing out the story rather than on the props and special effects.

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      • Thanks for the reply Heather,
        Shankar spends obscene amounts of money and time in planning and filming songs(cue all the transformations in mersalaayitten) even if it interrupts the flow of the movie, that’s his biggest flaw. In Shankar’s earliest movies the songs were great by AR Rahman and the pictuarisations were usually good but normal by his standard but with time as AR Rahman and Shankar got bigger their films became bigger which exploded into all-round craziness after ARR’s Oscar and Golden Globe wins resulted in Enthiran and now I.

        This separates Mani Ratnam’s use of ARR(See Dil Se, Iruvar, Alaipayuthey, Roja and Bombay) and Shankar, with the former spending most of his resources in developing scripts while the latter tending to spend most of his in shooting unnecessary songs and they also use some of the finest technicians working in India. PC Sreeram shot I in a beautiful manner was also the cinematographer for Mani Ratnam’s Nayakan for which he won a National Award to give an example.

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      • That makes a lot of sense. The songs are lavish and beautiful but didn’t fit well into the film for me. Even Issak Taari which sort of makes sense given the advertising aspect and Lingesan’s obsession seemed poorly placed – or maybe I just didn’t like the initial picturisation 🙂
        I looked amazing, but needed more work on the story and characterisations – exactly as you say. I like quite a few of Shankar’s other films so this really was a big disappointment. Hopefully his next will be a move back to his earlier detailing of the story and less indulgence in special effects.

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  2. It is an extravagant, strange, excessive world that he creates… from the beginning. A hunchback steals a bride… this spells fantasy in my books. Monsters are created from the villains. (more like magic than science). Lingesan’s transformations, totally unrealistic (unexplained) – magical. No grey characters just good vs.evil.Villains that are versions of the seven deadly sins – avarice, gluttony, anger, envy, lechery …This surely is fable/fantasy territory. It is treated in a masala fashion I agree. Just out of interest what do you consider to be a good masala? (Characteristics not a specific example.)

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    • Maybe I just live in a strange and excessive world! I didn’t see what you did, but I like your idea of the villains that represented the seven deadly sins – from memory (which I acknowledge is poor!) I thought they were more evenly evil than that, but don’t really want to watch the film again to test your theory 🙂
      Good Masala can be a number of things but mainly should include a mix of drama and action with a little romance, a little comedy and a little everything else on the side! 🙂

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