After the trailer for Shankar’s I burst on the scene, it became a must-see event. Because the trailer was bonkers! I has hit theaters (including a nice limited release in the US, thus allowing me to go see it on the big screen!), and it delivers with lots of insane story, amazing visuals, rocking songs, and a sense of excitement for what it is. I packs in everything it can, trying to deliver entertainment on all levels to a maximum amount of audience.
I is a revenge movie, that differs than the usual revenge feature in that Lingesan isn’t killing those that wronged him, his hideously deforming them as revenge for hideously deforming him. As repeatedly pointed out in the film, this is a fate that’s considered more worse than death. And some of the things that happen to the villains are awful, but they do awful things to Lingesan first.
The tale is told in a mixed format, opening with the hunchback and mutated faced Lingesan kidnapping Diya away from her wedding and chaining her up. She screams demanding to know who he is, and we jump to the long flashbacks of the young and buff Lingesan and his story of how he made enemies because they were mad at how awesome he was. As the stories converse, we see Lingesan take revenge one by one on the various villains who destroyed his life.
Lingesan (Vikram) is a bodybuilder training hard to compete in the upcoming Mr. India regional event. He’s also obsessed with a commercial model named Diya (Amy Jackson), collecting her advertising images and buying products she endorses, even things like feminine hygiene products. Lingesan is well liked and appears to be a shoo-in to win, which angers fellow contestant Ravi (M. Kamaraj). This is Ravi’s last year he can enter, and he wants to win so he can qualify for a high-ranking job. His threats to Lingesan are ignored, resulting in a huge sprawling brawl that happens between rounds of the competition.
As a bodybuilder, Vikram has a swoll physique that’s in top form, most notably shown off during the long fight sequence where Lingesan, wearing nothing but his bodybuilder shorts and gallons of grease, battles dozens of other muscleheads similarly clad in shorts and grease. He has to be in top form to be believable in defeating so many other guys who are also in top form, and then going on to win the bodybuilding contest and getting a shot at Mr. India. Conversely, after he’s been transformed into a deformed hunchback, Lingesan appears scrawny and worn away. Vikram undergoes a complete body metamorphosis in his role, gaining the weight for the builder physique, then slimming a bit for the model scenes, and finally shedding a lot of weight for the hunchback scenes. Vikram plays essentially three versions of the same character: The wide-eyed innocent Lingesan, the Lingesan who is made over and turned into a professional model, and the deformed hunchback who whispers curses of revenge.
Lingesan parlays his contest win into some local commercials, which results on him getting a set visit to a commercial Diya is starring in. He finally gets to meet his idol, even fainting during her bikini scene. Diya is flattered she has a devoted fan of her commercials. But she does have a problem, namely her fellow model star John (Upen Patel), who is trying to pressure her into having sex with him…or else he’ll blackball her from the industry. He does just that, leading Diya to devise a plan to transform Lingesan into the next top model and bypass John.
Despite the plan being straight out of a sitcom, it works, and soon it’s modeling time. Fraudulent love, real love, unreturned love, rooftop bicycle kung fu, more enemies, a secret villain, and a complicated revenge scheme set against Lingesan follow. The villains plot to destroy his life and everything he has, then force him to live and watch their joyful lives. From the revenge we see him reap upon his enemies, you know that didn’t happen.
Several of the songs have great visuals, complete with color schemes that are mod on steroids. My favorite sequence is the Beauty and the Beast song, not just because Lingesan is made up like a cat beast and singing, but also because he’s joined by a cadre of guys in rubber monster animal suits standing around, joining in on the dancing, and playing instruments. There’s also a hilarious song segment with Lingesan dancing and singing about his love for Diya as confused passerbys wonder what he’s doing. Lingesan sees her image in everything, from phones to television to fish, and the objects transform into Diya wearing costumes based on the objects and dancing around. It’s a nice bit of fun. One of Diya’s songs is a fast cut of her advertising various products, how much is part of the song and how much is paid advertising, I’m not sure, but the sequence wouldn’t be out of place as a Target commercial in the US.
As anyone whose seen a recent Indian film knows, there are warnings directly onscreen when characters drink or smoke about the evils of alcohol and tobacco. I uses that to its advantage, as every one of the villains smoke. It even becomes their thing, they plot their revenge on Lingesan while on a smoke break. Even the secret villain is revealed as evil when he stops to light up with the rest of the villains.
Shankar has previously directed Enthiran, which has gained a small cult following in the US thanks to the action scenes in the finale. Enthiran is even referenced here, with Srinivasan playing a goofy actor who is starring in the sequel (thus the character has two streaks of grey in his hair!)
Amy Jackson is shockingly charismatic, I was expecting her to be more of a model that couldn’t act. While she’s not going to score Oscars here, Jackson does put in a fair performance, barring an embarrassing scene where she speaks in a more street Tamil accent (as opposed to her higher class accent) showing off her chops to Lingesan. That may be more the writers’ fault trying to justify how her rich character could enjoy her time with Lingesan.
I features a prominent transgender character, played by real life transgender makeup artist Ojas Rajani. Osma Jasmine is essentially her, but after Lingesan rejects her love, she becomes a villain. This has made some people angry because the role isn’t very positive, that and a few of the jokes thrown Osma Jasmine’s way (and a few comments said more seriously) were somewhat disturbing. I don’t prescribe to the notion that all portrayals of minorities have to be positive, but I’ve not seen transgender characters in any of the other Indian films I’ve see, Tamil or otherwise. I really don’t know how they are usually portrayed in film, or even if this is the biggest role of a transgender person in an Indian/Tamil film or not.
Bonus points for Suresh Gopi as Dr. Vasudevan, managing to turn what looked like a supporting role into something special, and Upen Patel as the creepy model John. Upen Patel switches his threats from English to Tamil and back, while jumping to charismatic to threatening and back again from sentence to sentence. He’s probably pretty awesome to hang out with in real life. The villainous body builder Ravi (M. Kamaraj) also plays a good goon, holding his own on screen with the other loud personalities who make up the villains.
Overall, I keeps an entertaining pace, but it’s an all-quarters blockbuster type film, so by delivering something for everything, it can’t focus 100% on telling a straight tale. Some of the sequences go on for far too long (the rooftop kung fu bicycle battle being one example), and some of the enemies focus their wrath on Lingesan despite their being multiple other things going wrong. Lingesan leaving his victims alive gives them the same chances to go for revenge again against him, the same as their leaving him alive gave him. I doubt there will be an I 2 (I II??) where the deformed villains team up to attack the recovered Lingesan, but who knows. The alternative would be for Lingesan to just straight up murder them, which is also wrong.
Despite the flaws, I is entertainment you just can’t get anywhere else but Tamil cinema. I’m happy I got to see it in the theaters, even if this theater ignored the intermission and I had to dash to the bathroom without my break! If it’s still playing near you, go watch it immediately. Or I’ll vow revenge and you’ll get it worse than death….
Rated 8/10 (I can hold bike!, Ani-pal!, Teletubbies cameo, stone owls, lips made of lips, revenge in match form, transforming bike, now he has a bird for some reason)
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