The visual effects were designed by V. Srinivas Mohan through Rising Sun Pictures. Weta Workshop had worked on the digital and prosthetic make-up and background arts for the film. Principal photography commenced on 15 July 2012. The filming lasted for two years and eight months, during which shooting was done extensively in China. Further schedules were filmed in locations in Chennai, Bangkok, Jodhpur, Kodaikanal, Pollachi, Bangalore and Mysore. The film was dubbed and released in Telugu and Hindi along with the Tamil version.
The film, released on 14 January 2015, tells the story of a body builder turned supermodel, played by Vikram, who after being deformed, exacts revenge upon those who were responsible for his predicament. Critics praised Vikram's performance, the technical aspects of the film - especially the costume design and makeup, and A.R. Rahman's soundtrack and score but criticised the 'wafer-thin' writing and screenplay and the film's excessive length (188 minutes). However, the film was a commercial success, grossing ₹2.25 billion (US$35 million) worldwide, becoming the fifth-highest grossing Tamil film and Vikram's highest-grossing film at the time. Vikram won the Filmfare Award for Best Actor – Tamil for the movie.
Lingesan (Vikram) is a bodybuilder from Chennai, whose main ambition is to become Mr. India. He wins the title of Mr. Tamil Nadu, which gives him direct entry to the Mr. India pageant. He is infatuated by Diya (Amy Jackson), a leading supermodel. Diya is soon blacklisted, with all her advertisement film contracts cancelled by John (Upen Patel), her co-star in all her advertisements, after she constantly rejected his advances. To save her career, Diya decides to replace John with Lingesan, whom she had earlier met at one of her shoots, as her co-star for her next advertisement. The shooting is to take place in China at the same time when the Mr. India paegant is to take place, but Lingesan agrees, sacrificing his Mr. India ambitions in the process.
Lingesan is given a makeover by Diya's stylist, a transgender woman Osma Jasmine (Ojas Rajani). The shoot initially does not go well as Lingesan is shy and awkward around Diya. On her director's advice, Diya pretends to fall in love with Lingesan so that he would loosen up and perform better during the shoot.The plan proves successful but Diya soon tells Lingesan the truth. Hurt he focouses on modelling instead of her. They both gradually excel in the modelling industry as the lead pair. As time passes, Diya reciprocates Lingesan's love for her and they soon get engaged.
In his journey from a bodybuilder to a top model, Lingesan makes many enemies, including John, whose modelling career was ruined due to Lingesan's rising popularity, forcing him to appear in local advertisements to stay afloat; Osma, who was infatuated with Lingesan and proposed to him, only to be rejected; industrialist Indrakumar (Ramkumar Ganesan), whose company suffered losses when Lingesan refused to endorse their soft drink as it was reported to contain pesticides; and another bodybuilder Ravi (M. Kamaraj), who also competed for the Mr. Tamil Nadu title but lost to Lingesan. These four people conspire to take revenge on Lingesan and destroy his fame and modelling career.
Two days before his wedding, Lingesan slowly starts to experience hair and teeth loss and a skin disorder. He consults his friend Vasudevan (Suresh Gopi), a doctor who is also the guardian of Diya's family. Vasudevan claims that he is suffering from a rare and incurable genetic disease which results in premature ageing. Lingesan's condition worsens, with his face and body deforming, and eventually he becomes a hunchback. In his current condition, Lingesan decides to disappear from public eye and also from Diya's life by faking his death in a car accident. Only his friend Babu (Santhanam) and Vasudevan know that he is alive. Lingesan asks Vasudevan to marry Diya as he is the only person who will be able to understand Diya's past and present situation. Vasudevan agrees and the wedding is fixed.
On the eve of Diya's wedding, another doctor reveals to Lingesan that, contrary to Vasudevan's claims, he is actually suffering from H4N2 influenza, caused by the "I" virus, which can only be transmitted by injection. He discovers that John, Osma, Indrakumar, Ravi and, to his horror, even Vasudevan, are responsible for injecting the virus into his body. Vasudevan had an insatiable lust for Diya since she was ten years old and was enraged when she chose Lingesan over him. Therefore, he sided with Lingesan's enemies and planned the entire operation to have Lingesan injected with the virus. Enraged and betrayed, Lingesan abducts Diya on her wedding day and keeps her safely in an old house without revealing his identity to her.
Aided by Babu, Lingesan starts taking revenge on those who had deformed him. He first immolates Ravi, who suffers severe burns. He then prepares a paste which Osma applies on her body, causing her body to sprout huge growths of hair. Next, he subjects Indrakumar to bee stings all over his body. He fights John over a moving train and gets him electrocuted. Finally, he gets Vasudevan to unwittingly inject a virus into himself, causing his whole body to swell up. After achieving his revenge, Lingesan reveals his condition to Diya, who, though initially taken aback, still loves him despite his deformity. They decide to live a secluded life together. Lingesan undergoes ayurvedic treatment, yoga and physiotherapy for his condition and soon returns to normal.Vikram as Lingesan "Lee"Amy Jackson as DiyaSuresh Gopi as Dr. VasudevanSanthanam as BabuUpen Patel as JohnRamkumar Ganesan as IndrakumarOjas Rajani as Osma JasmineM. Kamaraj as RaviMahru Sheikh as Diya's MotherAzhagu as Lingesan's fatherT. K. Kala as Lingesan's motherMohan Kapoor as Sushil, ad film directorSrinivasan as KeerthivasanYogi Babu as Keerthivasan's fanR. Sarathkumar in a cameo appearance
In an interview with the Tamil channel Sun TV, held shortly after the release of Enthiran in October 2010, the film's lead actor Rajinikanth revealed that Shankar, in 1996, following the release of his Indian, had approached and pitched three storylines for him to consider for his next venture. Rajinikanth was impressed with two of the scripts and agreed to star in the films, which became Sivaji (2007) and Enthiran (2010). The third script narrated by Shankar was centered on an aspiring bodybuilder who would later turn into a deformed hunchback following a freak accident. Rajinikanth was sceptical of it and refused it. Following the release of Nanban (2012), Shankar revived the project with Vikram in the lead.
Shankar collaborated with writers Suresh and Balakrishnan, to work on the script of his next film. Music director A. R. Rahman was signed in to compose the soundtrack album and background score for the film, collaborating with Shankar for the tenth time. P. C. Sreeram was confirmed to do the film's cinematography, collaborating with Shankar for the first time. Action choreographer Peter Hein had to back out of the project due to commitments with S. S. Rajamouli's film Baahubali (2015). As a result, Martial arts choereographer Yuen Woo-ping was selected for handling the stunt sequences. Additional stunt direction and supervision was done by Anl Arasu. VFX company Rising Sun Pictures under visual effects designer V. Srinivas Mohan was selected to provide the special effects in motion filming. Indian film production designer T. Muthuraj was confirmed as the film's art director. In May 2012, Shankar visited New Zealand and met filmmaker Peter Jackson and Richard Taylor's special effects and prop company Weta Workshop. Sean Foot and Davina Lamont provided the prosthetic makeup for Vikram's beast get-up in the film and additional prosthetic makeup was done by Christien Tinsley and Dominie Till. The film was earlier reported to be titled as either Thendral or Therdal, but it was later confirmed that the project would be titled I. Gavin Miguel and Mary E. Vogt were in charge of the costume designing of the film's cast. According to Shankar, Azhagan and Aanazhagan were the alternate titles that were kept in mind, but since they were already used, he decided that a single alphabet would be the film's title. Since 'I' also meant beauty and explained the character of the protagonist, the alphabet was finalised to be the film's title.
In September 2014, producer and distributor Aascar V Ravichandran, stated the project would cost about ₹2.2 billion (US$34 million), however by October 2014, he and director Shankar was widely quoted as stating the budget would be less than ₹1 billion (US$16 million).
According to The Times of India, Shankar opted for the title I as he thought it "explains all the characteristics of the protagonist"; the word has a variety of meanings, which include "king, beauty, astonishment, guru, vulnerability, owner and arrow".
In April 2012, Vikram was selected to feature in the lead role. Priyanka Chopra was initially reported to be in talks for the female lead. Later, Asin's name was suggested along with Chopra. It was reported that Deepika Padukone was also approached. Padukone denied her involvement in the film. More than a week after the film's release, model-turned-actress Evelyn Sharma claimed that she auditioned for the role and eventually landed the role but opted out of it due to language barrier. Samantha Ruth Prabhu was then signed on, but was forced to opt out citing date issues and health problem as the reasons. The role finally went to Amy Jackson, who was paid ₹7.5 million (US$120,000) for acting in the film. Santhanam, Upen Patel, Srinivasan and Suresh Gopi were selected to play the principal supporting characters in the film. Ramkumar Ganesan, a leading film producer and the elder son of the late Tamil thespian Sivaji Ganesan, was also added to the cast to play a pivotal role in the film. Jiiva was considered for portraying the antagonist, but was unable to accept the offer due to his prior commitments. Hollywood actor Arnold Schwarzenegger was reported to play an award presenter for a brief scene. Ravichandran, however, denied the news, but said that he would appear in the audio launch of the film. To prepare for his role in I, Vikram took some weight loss and gain tips from Arnold as well. Make-up artiste Ojas M. Rajani was reported to play the role of a transgender make-up artiste in the film. Mr. Asia 2014 Syed Siddiq appeared in the action sequences featuring Vikram.
In the film, Vikram plays the character called 'Lingesan', who considers Arnold Schwarzenegger as a role model and aspires to win the Mr. Tamil Nadu title. Shankar had crafted the hair style of Vikram by taking the front curl look of the younger Arnold Schwarzenegger as a reference. As per director Shankar, among all get-ups in the film, the hunchbacked man character was the most difficult one to sketch. Vikram was confirmed to sport his hunchbacked get-up in most parts of the film. The bubbles observed on the character's face were reported to be designed by Weta. Amy Jackson plays a model in the film. On casting and re-defining her looks Shankar was quoted saying, "I wanted someone who could authentically look like a model and then fixed Amy Jackson". Vikram also went bald for the film to change his looks in the film easier. Santhanam was also asked to lose some weight for his character. Peter Ming used actual cyclists in China for a cycle fight scene that was shot there.
Principal photography officially commenced on 15 July 2012 accompanying a poster photo shoot that featured Vikram and Jackson. The first schedule of filming was completed in Chennai by early September 2012. The main cast and crew were off to China for a 50-day schedule to shoot certain stunt scenes while some song sequences were also filmed at locales in the northern part of the Hunan province. The schedule in China was wrapped up by late November 2012. In an interview with The Times of India, one of the film's line producer, Bill Chang was quoted saying, "We worked closely with S. Shankar for nearly fifty days in 2012, during which his film was shot in nine different locations. The range of locations available in China is simply mind-boggling. No other country in the world has such variety of locales ranging from colored mountains to futuristic city landscapes." Scenes in the song "Pookkalae Sattru Oyivedungal" were shot in Red Seabeach in Panjin and on Li river in Guilin. In January 2013, a fight scene was filmed at an abandoned, 20-year-old factory in Chennai. Sixty percent of the shooting was completed by the end of the same month. By March 2013, four songs and three major action sequences were shot around China, Bangkok, Jodhpur, Kodaikanal, Pollachi and Chennai. In June 2013, a three-week filming schedule was completed in Bangalore, Mysore and Chennai, and 75% of the shooting was completed by July 2013. Filming was almost wrapped up by March 2014, with just one song sequence and patch-work for the film remaining. Shankar confirmed that the song would be shot after the film's audio launch. As per reports, a song of 5 minutes duration was shot for 40 days. For filming one of the songs, Vikram had gained a lot of weight of about 110 kg as he had to wear bulky costumes for the number. The remaining song sequence was filmed at Prasad labs in Vadapalani, Chennai where a set was erected by Muthuraj. On 24 September 2014, Jackson confirmed that the shooting of the film was completed.
In February 2014, Vikram started dubbing for the first half of the film. In March 2014, Vikram had completed his dubbing portions for the first half of the film. On 3 April 2014, film critic and journalist Sreedhar Pillai stated that the film's trailer was in stages of editing. Patchwork and dubbing for the film was completed on 11 September 2014.
A. R. Rahman composed the soundtrack album and background score for the film. The music of the Tamil version was launched at the Nehru Indoor Stadium in Chennai on 15 September 2014. Arnold Schwarzenegger was the Chief Guest. The Hindi and Telugu versions of the soundtrack album were released on 29 and 30 December 2014, respectively.
Ravichandran earlier had stated that the film would be releasing on 23 October 2014 but the date was later pushed due to extensive post-production and dubbing works. The film is scheduled to release on 14 January 2015. It is stated that the film would be released in 3000 screens worldwide. The film was planned to be released in Hindi, Chinese and English along with the Tamil and the dubbed Telugu versions. The distribution rights for the dubbed Telugu version were purchased for ₹300 million (US$4.7 million) by Mega Super Good Films. The theatrical rights in Tamil Nadu were sold to Sushma Cine Arts.
The first look production poster of the film was unveiled on 15 July 2012. Stills featuring the lead pair were released in March 2014. The official motion poster teaser of the film was released on YouTube on 11 September 2014. The motion poster crossed 1 million views by the third day of its release. Two posters released on 12 September 2014, with J. Hurtado of Twitch Film labelling them as "out of this world".
The producer screened a sneak preview of the teaser and the song "Ennodu Nee Irundhaal" for the critics in late August 2014. The teaser carried a dummy music score that was not composed by A. R. Rahman.
The complete teaser trailer of the film was leaked on the internet on 2 September 2014. Although the leaked teaser lacked decipherability, the person who had leaked the teaser openly informed the team about it and challenged them to take action against him. After further inquiries, it was revealed that the culprit broke into producer Ravichandran's office during the night and had copied the teaser. However, Ravichandran refused to make changes to the leaked teaser, and planned to release it as per the original schedule.
The teaser was unveiled at the audio launch of the film. Hurtado in his teaser review wrote, "We see Vikram taking on multiple characters including a Quasimodo-type, kicking monstrous amounts of ass in various action sequences, running across water, riding a cyborg motorcycle, and dancing up a storm in some absurdly colorful backgrounds." and concluded by saying "Shankar is nothing if not a visual stylist, and it looks like he's pulling out all the stops for this one." Prajakta Hebbar of IBNLive wrote, "When we heard that Tamil filmmaker Shankar was making a new film, we fully expected it to be larger-than-life, with a funky storyline and starring popular actors. But what we didn't expect was that feeling of thrill and intrigue.", asserting that "Vikram and Shankar have us hooked with the teaser.". Nivedita Mishra of the Hindustan Times elaborated in her teaser review, "Without doubt, the film's special effects are great by any standards. Now, whether or not, they have been indigenously put together or have been outsourced from the West, the producers alone will know, but just the desire to make a film that gets its production value right yet doesn't overdo it, is good enough. Here's hoping it will ignite a desire among Indians to go for the skies." and praised the spectacular landscapes, edgy camera angles, action sequences before concluding that "Shankar has put in a lot of effort to make this magnum opus worth a watch if teasers are to go by." Behindwoods wrote, "Anyone who sees this remarkably impactful teaser would keep rewinding what he / she saw, to relive the experience over and over again." The teaser crossed 1 million views in just 12 hours of its release, making it the first Indian film to do so, beating the record set by the teaser of the Bollywood film, Bang Bang! (2014), which crossed 1 million views in 13 hours. It reached 7 million views in 2 weeks after its release, becoming the only Tamil film to cross the mark till date.
The film was promoted by Vikram on Bigg Boss 8.
The media rights of the film were purchased by Jaya TV for ₹200 million (US$3.1 million). The media rights included satellite rights and ringtones. The media rights for Hindi version was sold to & Pictures
I received positive reviews from film critics who praised Vikram's performance and technical aspects but criticised the script. Subhash K. Jha gave 4 stars out of 5 describing I as the "most exceptional" film from Shankar and wrote that it "takes us beyond the imaginable and the conceivable, fusing with fabulous flamboyance the fantasy element with a level of heightened reality that's commercial cinema's forte". Filmfare also gave it 4 stars out of 5, stating that "Shankar balances a social critique along with technical gimmickry and here the message centres about our obsession with physical perfection and beauty." Komal Nahta felt that Shankar's direction was "first rate" and wrote "His vision is unique and the translation of his vision on to the celluloid is brilliant. He has kept the narration so interesting that the viewer's eyes remain glued to the screen. He has given the film a huge canvas and has made it an audio-visual treat. Rajeev Masand from IBN Live gave 3 out of 5 and wrote, "I from visionary Tamil director Shankar is a work of staggering ambition, somewhat weighed down by the filmmaker's own indulgence...(it) may be far from perfect, but for the most part it's pretty entertaining stuff". The Times of India gave it 3.5 stars out of 5 and wrote, "Shot mesmerisingly by PC Sreeram on virgin locales in China and India, with world class CG work, this spectacle works because at the core, it's a romantic-thriller told simplistically....This is pure escapist fare but will resonate with those who read fairy tales at bedtime". Rediff gave 3.5 stars out of 5 and wrote, "The narrative lacks the pace; we usually associate with a Shankar's film. But he does tell a beautiful tale of love sullied by jealousies, greed and anger. The intriguing screenplay as the director alternates between the light-hearted past and the thrilling present keeps you engrossed". Behindwoods.com rated the film 3 out of 5 and stated, "though the story is predictable beyond a point, it's an amalgamation of 'Masters' at play which works to a larger extent because of their huge efforts". India Today rated the film 3 out of and wrote "It's not everyday you will get to watch a visually rich movie like this".
The Hindu stated, "Vikram's terrific performance is let down by an uninspired, exhausting movie". Daily News & Analysis gave the film 3 out of 5 stars, too, calling it a "great looking film but with shoddy writing and poorly sketched characters". Haricharan Pudipeddi, writing for IANS, rated the film 2 out of 5 and said, "All that's big may not necessarily be great. Hope Shankar realises that much better films can be made on a smaller canvas and much lower budget." Sify wrote, "I is definitely not the best of Shankar and he has to take the blame for poor writing. His story is predictable and there are no twists or scenes which keeps you engaged. Barring few eye-popping stunt scenes, a slew of beautiful unseen locations, breathtaking camera by PC Sreeram and few hummable songs by AR Rahman, I is very ordinary". Deccan Chronicle gave the film 2.5 stars out of 5 and said, "While the movie and the effort is good technically, its content is just average". Oneindia also rated the film 2.5 out of 5 saying, "For a movie which had so much of anticipation, I doesn't feed its audience enough to fulfill their expectations. The story is plain and doesn't look like a normal Shankar movie which would otherwise have interesting twists and turns." Gautaman Bhaskaran, writing for The Hindustan Times, rated the film two and a half stars, stating that Vikram's performance was the film's "only high point"; he noted that the film had similarities to the novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1831) and the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast (1756), "without infusing any novelty into these age-old yarns." Deepanjana Pal from Firstpost wrote, "I is too long, too stupid and too regressive to be entertaining" and also called it "superficial and the least fun Shankar film ever".
Variety magazine's Ronnie Scheib wrote, "Shankar's visual ingenuity keeps things zippy for much of the hefty 188-minute running time, and star Chiyaan Vikram delivers a knockout three-pronged performance, but this cinematic bravura is offset by underdeveloped scripting, flatly one-dimensional villains and overdone lone-hero-vs.-swarms-of-murderous-attackers setpieces". Rachel Saltz from The New York Times wrote, "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". J Hurtado from Twitch Film wrote, "I strains the boundaries of self-indulgence and modern tolerance in a way that has become something of a plague among Indian blockbusters. The film is amazing to look at, features a number of amazing set pieces, and some appropriately over the top action sequences, but even with everything including a few kitchen sinks thrown in, it may go on a bit too long for its own good".
According to Box Office India, I earned around ₹210 million (US$3.3 million) nett in South India on its first day, setting records in Kerala and Telangana/AP. The film grossed over ₹347 million (US$5.4 million) worldwide on its opening day. The film went on to collect ₹556 million (US$8.7 million) nett in India in three days from all its versions.
In its extended five-day weekend, the film earned ₹950 million (US$15 million) nett in India from all three versions, with the Hindi version netting ₹75 million (US$1.2 million).
The film grossed around ₹1.84 billion (US$29 million) worldwide from all versions twelve days after its release.
According to Andhra Box Office, the film had collected ₹2.39 billion (US$37 million) worldwide and eventually became a commercial success. The final domestic net(India net) collections were 1.36 billion. In crores final domestic net collections were 136, domestic gross 150 and worldwide 240 crores.
I grossed US$697,346 in Tamil version and US$10,373 in dubbed Hindi version in USA in its first weekend. I(Tamil) grossed US$201,207 and I(Hindi) grossed US$4,009 in Canada in its first weekend. I(Tamil) grossed US$258,764 in UK-Ireland in first weekend. I(Tamil) grossed MYR 2,162,742 in Malaysia in first weekend. In first 10 days, I(Tamil) grossed US$789,298 in USA, US$323,714 in Canada, MYR 3,146,295 in Malaysia. In first 17 days, I(Tamil) grossed £386,542 in UK-Ireland and MYR 3,404,582 in Malaysia.