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.


5 thoughts on “I

  1. I finally saw “I.” It felt good to see it distanced from all the pre-release hype (prosthetics, anorexic weightloss) and the post-release brickbats (overlong, boring, jarring). I had read all of two reviews. Neither had spoiled it in a way that would make the experience utterly un-enjoyable. Wish I could say the same though about Shankar’s overall (mis)treatment of his prized project.

    He constantly juxtaposes the classy stuff with cringe worthy stereotypes and it made for a jarring experience. (So glad I didn’t watch this on the big screen as the background music in many portions would have rendered me deaf.)

    I’d only heard the songs and not watched the entire videos. So I really enjoyed how they were woven into the situations (Shankar usually does a nice job of that in this age of yank-you-out-of-the-narrative song placement in these blockbusters). And every song looked like a billion bucks as did Amy Jackson. I thought Shriya and Ash looked gorgeous in Sivaji and Enthiran, but Amy here looked… delicious. Especially in Mersalaayitten. The way she morphs into a plump and lively fish, slithering right out of his sweaty palms…such an erotic visual.

    Coming back to the crude juxtapositions (solely aimed at raking in the moffusil moolah). I’m with you in that the movie hinges on the love angle. That’s why I felt cheated at how little time was devoted to its development. On top of that it was diluted with ridiculous conceits like the trans flirtations. The trans angle by itself was a refreshing take until the pawing and preening ensued. Seriously? Shankar took what could have been a great chance to bust the trans stereotype in Tamil cinema and totally blew it.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly that the Amy characterization worked. It’s definitely a leg up for portrayal of the foreign-faced heroine as thinking Tamil Ponnu (as opposed to lisping Loosu Ponnu). The love angle also had some interesting things happening which could have been nicely developed. Diya hesitatingly acting on the advice to use Lee for her advancement. Lee accosting her. Diya owning up to it and apologizing. Lee heart broken yet forgiving and non-vengeful. He continues to help her out no strings attached. Remarkably relatable point on caring about someone (even though they don’t like you “like that”) paired with professional ethics. But all this lofty sentiment is instantly cheapened with Osma barging in and hijacking Lee’s attention. And that jealousy is what causes Diya’s heart to thaw. Really? I almost threw up there. They couldn’t have axed some of the protracted fights and revenge scenes in favor of more moments-in-passing between Lee and Diya? Have his alarmingly high levels of professionalism be the thing that truly wows her (isn’t the lack of that exact thing what puts her off John early on? Such a wasted opportunity to flesh out that aspect, since career is a crucial aspect of this movie).

    The reason for Main Villain marrying Diya, her balking at the beggar outside the temple… all of this distasteful stuff belonged in another movie. (A Vishal movie or maybe something like Singam set in the villages.) As did the whole 80s style villainy straight from Aboorva Sagodharargal. I simply can’t digest the fact that Shankar continues to cheapen his costly, glossy products by such splashes of cowdung. (Shit sells, I know, but that’s neither here nor there.)

    I loved Vikram in this! Wish the whole movie had been around him and Amy…vignettes without the vigilante nonsense (but then it wouldn’t be a Shankar film, would it?). He could’ve come down with a disease or an accident that disfigured him, he hides from her, tries to make her hate him, true love triumphs… But no, Shankar had to shove THAT whole trajectory into the closing credits — all of three minutes. Small mercy that we were shown some semblance of unity in the “vegetable” bookends (the hunchback kidnaps her in a veggie basket, loads her into the train compartment in which vegetable vendors are riding… in the last scene they bond over the most basic of daily rituals, chopping veggies on the kitchen counter).

    You nailed it with the closing sentence.


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