In Tamil, with English subtitles
An exercise in maximalism in everything except its title, “I,” a Tamil film directed by Shankar, concerns the boom-and-bust fortunes of a bodybuilder turned model. An early sequence in which our hero, Lingesan (Vikram), in a little bikini bottom, wins the title of Mr. Tamil Nadu gives a sense of the movie’s style: fast, noisy, visually crowded, unafraid of vulgarity or repetition. In a you-ain’t-seen-nothing-yet moment — one of many — a brawl breaks out among this sea of oiled, muscled men and goes on so long that you forget the context.
Shankar tells his story in the broadest strokes and likes to plunge audiences into scenes that won’t be fully explained until hours later. (The movie is a whopping, sometimes numbing 3 hours 8 minutes.) But rest assured, very full explanations are coming — why connect the dots once when you can connect them five times?
Lingesan becomes Lee, the No. 1 male model, and gets to work with the woman he has long dreamed of, Diya (Amy Jackson). (He’s so besotted that he buys every product she advertises, including sanitary napkins.) Could she fall for a bumpkin like Lee? Reader, she does, amid fields of psychedelic flowers.
Shankar has fun with the look of glossy ads and includes some eye-popping effects (a Nokia phone and then a fish metamorphose into dancing women!). But that’s just one mode in this film, which bounces from romance to knockabout adventure to fairy-tale grotesque. A vengeance-wreaking hunchback (Vikram again), with horrible facial deformations, holds a woman hostage at his castle (complete with MacBook). Further deformations are violently visited upon a passel of villains — by fire, by bee sting, by injection. Death, we’re told, is not enough. Love, we’re told, is.
Dialogue is so beside the point here that with the addition of a few title cards, “I” could easily be a silent movie — though a noisy one, with a boom-boom score by A.R. Rahman that signals at each turn how the audience should feel, and with flurries of drums, speeds the film along. “I” is exuberant and unselfconscious but too cartoonish to engage your emotions. The onslaught of images and music will engage your senses, though, even as you’re left giggling at the too-muchness of it all.