Shankar’s “I” is another addition to an oeuvre that may not offer much variety but sure sits as an example of how to imaginatively reinvent similar tropes successfully over multiple films. “I” builds on a revenge narrative and the one wronged man tour de force much like Gentleman or Indian or Anniyan. But how much “I” succeeds or fails is another matter altogether. It’s a film with Shankar diving into waters he’s not comfortable with. It’s not a mess. Some of it works but the film is overlong, the screenplay is replete with multiple and sometimes unnecessary flashbacks making it one of Shankar’s weakest in recent times.
First up, kudos to Shankar for even thinking up a script where his leading man is a grotesquely disfigured version of the movie star. The audience he usually targets are not the ones who’ll be instantly comfortable with that. Even an old dusty car in a Shankar film goes through detailed design process with that dust probably sprayed with immaculate precision. But the lengths – quite literally – Shankar would go to to make you care for that character is tedious. Shankar is also guilty of some homophobic undertones with the stylist character and the issue of trivializing disability in the film in general and a song picturization in particular. Usually I am uncomfortable with mixing up ideologies and film criticism but there is the question of “awareness” and it is always good to listen.
Another first for Shankar in “I” – a welcome one – is the real walking, talking, thinking woman who has feelings of her own. In almost all his films the woman is shortchanged. His heroines hardly get a well written part in his hero centric, one man army or vigilante films. Amy Jackson’s Diya is different. She has a part to play and she’s not a pushover. And it is all ironic considering that Diya is a model while Shankar’s past heroines have constantly been just that in his films – an eye candy for the hero to romance with. She’ll strive to get Lingesan (Vikram) a makeover to get off the clutches of her colleague John (Upen Patel). She’ll go to the lengths of feigning love to Lingesan to get through an outdoor shoot. This is the most unShankar part of “I” and that which makes this film really a love story revealing major chinks in his armor.
In making it a love story Shankar is out of his comfort zone. He is at his best when he is dishing out crude, mass-y punishments for simplistic sociopolitical issues packaged as an entertainer. But “I” really has nothing of that sort to fall back on and that “issue” is what Shankar misses the most here. Of course there was Enthiran that worked without it but had the re-imagination-of-the-Rajini film going for it. In trying to make the love story work, Shankar loses track of the proceedings in the latter half. There are expositions galore and one flashback too many. Even by his standards this is overkill. When you have finally lost patience with the unyielding second half there is only one man to care about – Vikram.
Vikram is behind all shapes and sizes of prosthetics but this is a signature performance from him. It’s a pity that the film doesn’t live up to standards set by him and neither does it utilize him completely. It is easy to doubt the capabilities of actors that use prosthetics – from Kamal Haasan to Vikram. But if you want the star actor and performer Vikram without any of that, look no further than Bejoy Nambiar’s David. “I”,which is really a love story doesn’t create a single sequence of the caliber that was found in the short episode of David where Vikram played an inebriated loverboy. Yet, it is Vikram that makes “I”. It is Shankar that destroys it.