**SPOILERS FOLLOW **
In Shankar’s latest magnum opus, titled ‘I’, the central character Lingesan is injected with a lethal virus that results in a total disfiguration of his body. After spending several days in the dark, he finally decides to face the dreadful truth and takes that walk into his gym room. Staring back at him he finds a grotesque version of himself. A version he hardly recognizes and so altered from his original self!
The Lingesan that we are introduced to early on however is a healthy, fit and simple minded man and in his small happy world, he is a man oozing of confidence aspiring to be the ‘Mr.India’ of body building. However the events that follow pluck him out of that world and instead toss him into the bigger world of ads and modeling. He is no longer confident, but extremely dazed and unsure. It is here he begins to take on a new avatar, a new identity of sorts and Lingesan now becomes Lee – the urban chic poster boy. Instant success not only brings him instant fame, but also instant enemies. Our hero ends up paying a big price when these enemies join hands and bequeath him with the ultimate form of punishment – destroy his looks and health.
Welcome to modern consumerist society, my friend. Where we leave our own identities behind and try to take on different traits to please the folks around us. And in the process, we become a personality completely different from our original selves. In the end, we dread to look at our reflection unsure of what ugly version of ours awaits behind those mirrors.
Losing your identity is just the tip of the iceberg here. But the process one undertakes to take on a new image is far more startling. It is not that Shankar has stopped his crusade against corruption. It is just that this time the corruption addressed here is the corruption of the body. Thus Shankar takes on the tricky aspect of giving ‘faces’ to these enemies.
Like Lingesan, we are all being injected by a similar kind of virus. It just is that it is not of the Influenza kind, but of the influence kind. Of course the media and advertisements continue to function out there in an attempt to make you believe that you are unsuccessful, incompetent, and of course, uncool and ugly. The more beauty is projected out there, it is believed that we are left with an equally unhappy society. The importance given to image and looks are baffling and it has just got worse in the social media era of facebooks, instagrams and selfies. We find ourselves in constant competition with our fellow beings in the constant pursuit of the social approval.
And they catch them young. Youth had become teens, and teens have now become tweens. Corporates and business houses find new markets to dump their often untested, unsafe products and they find new consumers to lap it up. And they get your fave celebs to endorse it. They continue to be influential and though you claim to be a free thinking mind, you end up denying the way these players shape your decision. Like how Lingesan ends up buying products he has no need, but merely because of his fascination for the female model.
And the question remains, how far are we ready to abuse our own bodies to achieve these superficial standards set by these very influences. Does the answer lie in power enhancing drugs to get those ripping muscles? Or cosmetic products to provide you that perfect glowing skin? Or maybe a surgery or two to get into that perfect shape? Where does beauty begin and when does it begin to turn into outright ugly.
All these factors ( or let’s say, personification of these factors) are found sitting around the room and laughing at our central protagonist in the big reveal sequence of the movie ” I”. And like the everyday man, our hero realizes how he has been duped by these people. The people he blindly trusted or considered well wishers, all contribute to his pitiful condition. Shankar does not seem wanting to go candid about it but there is an evident emphasis on establishing these villains even at the risk of ruining the screenplay (and that it certainly has!). By design, he wants these ‘factors’ to be significant enough to be avenged.
And to make it even more interesting Shankar makes the protagonist go back to nature and to the simple basics of life on his path to recovery as the closing credit rolls. Shankar shows that there is still hope, provided one breaks away from the shackles of consumerism.
So Shankar’s I, according to me, is sort a misunderstood beast. Beneath all this noise and hype of being a big budget visual masala fare, there Is certainly a theme that has got lost in the translation. But then the question also arises as to why so?
Maybe because it is impossible to sell a 100 crore plus production such as I if it is a crusade against consumerism and beauty-products. Maybe it is not easy to take that stand especially when you, as a film maker, have taken investment from these very brands and offered in return brand promotion (creatively placed as a song)? Maybe it is the absence of a writer like Sujatha without whom the director may be struggling to get the message across? Or maybe I – for Identity, Image, impressions and Influences may not sound as catchy as I for Love, Revenge, Beauty, Evil, Pongal Mass flick etc.
Sure, the mediocre screenplay, badly written antagonists and the decision to go with a non-linear narrative has contributed to the downfall of this latest offering from Shankar. The absence of the editing team and the presence of Power Star is a shocker. Add to that Shankar’s strange belief that the audience would sadistically enjoy the kind of graphical torture being handed over to the baddies, with Santhanam’s commentary track added as a bonus feature for mere distasteful laughs.
And many call this a weak script. But the truth is that Shankar’s scripts have always been weak, inconsistent and politically incorrect, on most occasions. It has always been the over-the-top, cartoonish masala fares where people eventually find something creative and envelope-pushing from the heap to look back several years post its release and deem it a ‘success’. This time thankfully it is Vikram the actor. Probably Shankar would find his small victory when he hears the cheers that an ugly, hideous looking ‘hero’ is garnering from an industry so obsessed with looks.