Sunday, February 1, 2015

I review

Written on request.


Shankar’s I has been one of the most anticipated films over the last two years. Apart from the promise of Shankar’s usual high-stakes drama, and the gargantuan budget, another primary reason for such high expectations from the cinema-loving crowd was the brilliant Aparichitudu, which garnered so much praise that it took Shankar and Vikram’s career to stratospheric heights. Though it’s another matter that Vikram wasn’t able to capitalize on the acclaim garnered by his three different performances in the film.
After the first look of the film was released, with Vikram made up as the disfigured hunchback, and news of his extreme physical transformations came to the fore, people started expecting Shankar’s return to form after his disastrous remake of 3 Idiots, Snehitudu. Both Shankar and Vikram needed a big hit to re-achieve their lost glory. And the buzz generated by the film before the release indicated a film that was world-class in every way- Music by AR Rahman, Cinematography by PC Sreeram, Make-up and special effects by Weta Workshop and add all that to Shankar’s reputation as the Indian James Cameron.
But eventually, it has to be said, the film ended up being a big disappointment. The great film critic Roger Ebert, talking about epic films, said that “the word ‘epic ‘ refers not to the cost of the elaborate production, but to the size of ideas and vision”. And big ideas is what I does not have. It is a reworking of the Beauty and the Beast tale, where if a woman who’s fallen in love with a handsome young man will still love him after his extreme disfigurement. And since that idea alone cannot be used to expand into a three-hour, patience draining film, Shankar decides to throw in a romantic track in China that is unimaginatively flat, a comedy sequence with a transgender that is handled with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, a sweet-talking pedophilic doctor and a bunch of villains who’s characterizations are so clichéd and their motivations so stupid that the director himself didn’t try to make them convincing. And for all of Vikram’s public announcements of the weight loss and other physical duress, his performance leaves one with nothing- Not pity, not admiration, not anger. For all the dedication an actor brings to a role, the pay-off has to be within the film, add an extra dimension of believability to the character. When Christian Bale lost all that weight for The Machinist, he didn’t do it just so that people could talk about his dedication as a Method actor, but because it was so central to his role as the insomniac. For a lot of actors now, going through that physical transformation is to gain admiration and some added publicity for the film. Sadly for Vikram, if his director had taken half that effort to shape out an interesting character in a better story, his efforts wouldn’t have had to go in vain- Point in case, Aparichitudu.

But still, despite the clichéd story, the first half with its non-linear screenplay keeps the viewer engaged in the hope of a better second half. But it is evident from the beginning of the second half that Shankar has nowhere to go. He’s exhausted of ideas, so he chooses to make us squirm with his overtly graphic portrayals of villains who’ve been grotesquely defaced by the hero’s ploys. If there was method to this madness, it might still have been palatable, but Shankar seems to take a perverse enjoyment in making the audience flinch. The gimmicks are an end in itself. Which is what makes the film so worthy of contempt. It is not a film that failed while reaching for great heights. It is a film so lacking in imagination and purpose that it wears its incompetence proudly.

The saving grace of the film is Amy Jackson’s revelatory performance which, though by no means nuanced, is surprisingly heartfelt. AR Rahman seems to have had a ball composing music and PC Sreeram framed some glorious shots. I can be recommended for those who find pleasure in watching gore but for everyone else, it’s better avoided. I is not a bad film as much as a film made in poor taste.

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