Ponniyin Selvan
Ponniyin Selvan 1 crossed Rs 230 crore at the box-office worldwide in just three days after its September 30 release.

Ponniyin Selvan lures all — from MGR to Kamal Haasan to Mani Ratnam

Ponniyin Selvan is a historical novel close to the hearts of many people in Tamil Nadu. Just like the great sagas, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, Kalki’s epic on the golden rule of the Chola dynasty, is treasured and valued by many families in the state.

Yet, to bring this acclaimed novel to life on the celluloid screen became a herculean task. Many superstars and filmmakers have made several attempts to adapt the book into a film and shelved it mid-way for various reasons. Probably, daunted by the sheer size of the project.

Watch: All set for ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ trailer launch

MGR’s dream film

MG Ramachandran, the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and one of the first superstars of Tamil cinema wanted to direct and play Vandhiyathevan, the favourite character in the book. But unfortunately, his health started to deteriorate and he was unable to pursue his dream. In fact, he had bought the rights to the novel for ₹10,000 in 1958 and even decided to bankroll the film, said film industry sources.

MGR had wanted Gemini Ganesan to play Arulmozhi Varman and the thespian actor, Sivaji Ganesan as Aditya Karikalan.

After his recovery, MGR, later roped in Mahendran of Mullum Malarum fame to pen the screenplay. He also had reportedly spoken to director Bharathiraja to helm the film and get him to bring in Kamal Haasan and Sridevi to play Vandhiyathevan and the princess Kundhavai. But, the project never took off.

Also Watch: Mani Ratnam on AR Rahman & what inspires him to make films

Kamal Haasan’s unsuccessful attempts

Wanting to fulfill MGR’s wish that he should work in the film, Kamal Haasan bought the rights to the novel and worked along with Mani Ratnam. They completed the first draft but when they sat down to finalise the budget, they felt that the market for Tamil films was too small at that time to recover their costs and dropped the project.

In his 1994 interview with Filmfare, the south director who gave India one of his first-ever pan-India films, opened up to talk about dropping his plans of making Ponniyin Selvan with Kamal Haasan.

Rumoured casting choices at that time were Kamal Haasan for Arul Mozhivarman, Rajinikanth for Vandhiyathevan, and Vijayakanth for Aditya Karikalan. Haasan had also brought in the late journalist and novelist Ra.Ki. Rangarajan, who wrote a 40-episode television series based on the novel but again, the project never saw the light of day.

Ponniyan Selvan on stage

While filmmakers struggled to bring Kalki’s period drama onto the big screen, Elango Kumaravel successfully adapted the book for the stage in 1999. Later, in 2014, Kumaravel once again pulled off a theatre production of Ponniyan Selvan. For his knowledge and expertise on the subject, Mani Ratnam, who had finally taken up the huge challenge to make the historic drama, got him to pen the screenplay for his film.

Also read: Ajay Devgn to direct Hindi remake of Tamil hit Kaithi

Attempts to make a TV series

Makkal TV too tried to adapt the novel for their channel but failed. Much later, Soundarya, the younger daughter of superstar Rajinikanth also unsuccessfully tried to adapt the novel into a web series.

Jinxed project

The project turned into a jinxed one. The Indian film industry, which is known to be superstitious shied away from Ponniyin Selvan, fearing they will be met with the same fate.

It was Mani Ratnam who persisted and secured the rights of the film and kept renewing it since by then it had become his dream project. Sources in the film industry said that Mani Ratnam has been travelling with Ponniyin Selvan for more than 35 years now. After the massive success of Nayakan, he started to work with Haasan on the project and it took him nearly thirty-five years to realise his dream.

Mani Ratnam’s casting choice in 2011

In 2011, Mani Ratnam roped in Vijay to play Vandhiyathevan, Mahesh Babu to play Arulmozhi Varman, Vikram for Aditya Karikalan, and Aishwarya Rai for Nandhini. But after the team was denied permission to shoot in live locations, Mani Ratnam realised that he would not be able to recover the budget by erecting fancy sets. He informed his actors about his decision to shelve the project.

Ponniyin Selvan goes on floors in 2019

After the massive success of Baahubali, Mani Ratnam was probably able to convince his production house Lyca Productions to bankroll Ponniyin Selvan in 2019. And, the project took wing.

This time around, he cast Karthi as Vandhiyathevan, Jayam Ravi as Arulmozhi Varman, Aishwarya Rai as Nandhini, Vikram as Aditya Karikalan, Trisha as Kundhavai, and Sarathkumar for Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar. But again, the two waves of the pandemic became a nightmare for the entire team. However, braving all the odds, the project is finally ready and all set to hit the screens on September 30, 2022.

The director, who has given Indian cinema some of its biggest hits with his films like Roja, Bombay, Dil Se, Nayakan, worked with writer Jeyamohan and Elango Kumaravel to complete the entire script and screenplay of Ponniyin Selvan.

Mani Ratnam will also release the film in two parts, a trend started by Baahubali and effectively capitalised by KGF: Chapter 2.

Behind the scenes

Readers of Ponniyin Selvan know that it’s a difficult task to compress the five-volume novel into one film but Ratnam has reportedly achieved the feat without losing the flavour.

The actors and technicians, who have been a part of Ponniyin Selvan, would turn up on the sets around 5 am in the morning and shoot till midnight. Interestingly, all the actors would be on the spot even if they were not required for the scene.

Multiple sets were erected in Hyderabad’s Ramoji Film City to complete major portions of the film. Ratnam also shot important scenes in Thailand and in the deep interiors of forests in India.

Sources said that the shoot for the two parts is over. Currently, the post-production for the first part is progressing at a rapid pace. And, once the first part gets released on September 30, Mani Ratnam is expected to begin the post-production for the sequel.


From Roja (1992) to Chekka Chivantha Vaanam (2018), none of Mani Ratnam’s films was released without Vairamuthu’s lyrics. But, for the first time, in Ponniyin Selvan, Vairamuthu is not associated with his favourite Rahman and Ratnam.

Another titbit is that Rajinikanth and Ravikumar sketched the Neelambarai (played by Ramya Krishnan) character from Padayappa based on Nandhini’s role in Ponniyin Selvan.

Teaser launch and release plans

The film’s teaser launch, which will be a grandiose event in Chennai, is expected to happen on July 8 at Chennai Trade Centre. Besides the Tamil version, Ponniyin Selvan will also release in Telugu, Hindi, and Kannada on September 30.

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