I review: Vikram stars in a regressive, superficial and the least fun Shankar film ever

Deepanjana Pal

January 16, 2015 09:00:05 IST

Halfway into the first half of I, it looked like director Shankar was about to make history. As Lingesan (Vikram) walked arm in arm with a transgender stylist (right after having his heart broken by the heroine), it looked like I could be India's first commercial film with a bisexual hero. Sure, Lingesan looked embarrassed each time the stylist lavished attention upon him, but he was also willingly spending time with her and let's face it, his exaggerated expressions made Lingesan's behaviour a textbook example of the gentleman protesting too much (with apologies to William Shakespeare). Could it be that Tamil cinema, famous for showcasing jaw-dropping misogyny and conservatism, had turned a new leaf in 2015?

Put down those rainbow-coloured banners. The 10-odd seconds of faint hope that I offers are fool's gold. I is precisely as regressive as you expect a wannabe Tamil blockbuster to be and worse yet, it's nowhere near as fun as Shankar's previous films.

Lingesan is a boy from a humble family who dreams of becoming Mr India. He's also a diehard fan of the model Diya (Amy Jackson). While her ads are making Lingesan's heart go pitter patter, Diya's life is in crisis. She's very successful, but she's being harassed by male model John (Upen Patel) who thinks that he's god's gift to women and therefore Diya must jump into bed with him. When she rejects him, John has her dropped from a shoot.

Courtesy: ibn live

Courtesy: ibn live

Diya decides to retaliate by introducing Lingesan to the world of modelling and taking the newcomer on as her co-star for a series of ads to be shot in China. With a haircut, a shave and a new wardrobe, Lingesan becomes Lee and of course, he's super successful. More offers pour in and Shankar helpfully makes advertisements for a series of products (including Fair and Lovely) that are endorsed by Diya and Lee, in case anyone in advertising needed some inspiration. In no time, Lee's gone from being an oily bod to a slick dude who's got the girl.

Even though Lingesan/Lee is still the humble, good man that he was, his success doesn't go down well with some. The bad guys' prayers appear to be answered when a mysterious illness strikes Lingesan and transforms him into a hunchback. This is not a spoiler. Since Vikram's beastly avatar has been revealed in trailers and posters already, Shankar smartly shows us the beast in the very first scene of I and we know it's Lingesan under all the boils and baldness.

Unfortunately, that's about the end of the smarts as far as I is concerned. Logic is always a casualty in Shankar's films and this one is no different. The moment Lingesan loses his looks, he appears to acquire superpowers like being able to concoct new face creams in a salad bowl, enter homes without being detected, replace someone's cosmetics without them realising.

Also, it seems Shankar believes losing your looks is reason enough for committing multiple murders. For a film that repeatedly stresses one should not judge a person by their appearance, I is entirely superficial. The way it demonises and makes a mockery of queer people through the transgender stylist is downright offensive. Never mind the irony that she's ridiculed largely because of the way she looks and her "immoral" behaviour of hitting on Lingesan. Meanwhile, we're supposed to look past Lingesan's prosthetics and murders to see his good-as-gold heart.

This is not to suggest I is without moments of entertainment. There's a Vijay Mallya lookalike, Upen Patel does a fantastic impression of a roaring Chewbacca and in one song, Vikram, for no reason, appears as a creature that's part ram (the horns), part bear (the fur), part cat (the whiskers) and all weird.

Early on in the film, Lingesan is surrounded by an army of well-oiled body builders in their Speedos. How do they attempt to intimidate him? By twitching their pectorals. Suddenly, the big screen is filled with juddering male breasts. If there is a god, someone will show this scene to a band of gorillas and video their reaction.

There's also the catchy AR Rahman composision "Mersalaayitten", in which Amy Jackson transforms into the following:
1. A Nokia cellphone (because Lingesan presses her buttons)
2. A Royal Enfield bike (because Lingesan wants to, erm, ride her)
3. A sprout (because Lingesan wants to eat her up)
4. Foamy laundry water (because Lingesan is feeling dirty?)
5. A television (because everything's fair and square in love)
6. A fish (there must be a Bengali in Shankar's team)
7. A dumbbell (because add an 'e' at the end and you have the heroine of a Tamil blockbuster).

The one who deserves genuine applause in I is Vikram, not so much for his (over) acting but for his willingness to turn into a truly ugly creature. Most Indian heroes are so obsessed with looking good that they refuse to change their appearances, which is why a detail like a thin moustache is supposed to render them unrecognisable. Just think of the "disguises" that actors like Hrithik Roshan and Shah Rukh Khan have adopted in their films — the point is always to make sure the audience can see through the camouflage and spot the star. Vikram, however, does actually transform himself. He's unrecognisable as the beast and that's not just because he's got WETA, who did The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, doing his prosthetics. Vikram's posture, body language and voice all change, which doesn't make logical sense but is still impressive as an acting performance. If only all this was being used in a good film.

I is too long, too stupid and too regressive to be entertaining. If you're determined to watch it, make sure you see the Tamil original and not the awkward, Hindi-dubbed version, regardless of whether or not you understand Tamil. It's a little longer than the Hindi, but infinitely more fun, especially if you're with Shankar and/or Vikram fans. The wiser option, however, would be to wait for someone to put I's best moments on YouTube.

Updated Date: Jan 16, 2015 09:00 AM