Ponniyin Selvan review: Gripping first half, rushed second, more to come
Ponniyin Selvan has been the ultimate dream of legendary filmmakers and actors in Tamil cinema, including the late MG Ramachandran (former Tamil Chief Minister and actor) and veteran Kamal Haasan. After two unsuccessful attempts, Mani Ratnam has finally adapted Kalki’s most-celebrated five-volume novel on the big screen.
Those who read the novel, considered one of the finest ever in Tamil, clearly know the basic synopsis. When Sundar Chola (Prakash Raj) falls ill, his elder Aditha Karikala (Vikram) is chosen as the crown prince but Nandhini (Aishwarya Rai), along with Pandya ally, plot a cunning plan to murder him. Meanwhile, Aditha Karikala’s younger sister Kundhavai (Trisha) sends the former’s good friend and adventurous spy Vandhiyathevan (Karthi) to Sri Lanka to bring back her brother(younger) Arunmozhi Varman (Jayam Ravi) to Thanjavur. The rest of the film is all about who becomes the ultimate King of the Chola Kingdom,overcoming all the conspiracies and betrayal.
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Just like the novel, Ponniyin Selvan, the film, begins with Vandhiyathevan’s journey to the Chola Kingdom, and only through him, we get to see all the characters. For those who did not read the novel, it’s a bit difficult to comprehend so many characters in the beginning but slowly, they stay with you thanks to the author-backed characterizations right from the protagonists to the supporting actors.
The first half of Ponniyin Selvan is almost the same as the novel; the majestic Chola Kingdom unveils in front of us through Vandhiyathevan’s journey. His adventure also tells about the secret betrayal of Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar (Sarathkumar) along with the petty Kings.
Among the actors, Karthi completely steals the show with his witty one-liners, flirtatious conversation with all the beautiful women in the film, and bravery with the two kings. Vikram showcases the pain of his failed love with Aishwarya Rai, the wound caused by her younger sister, and thus completely immersed in war. His intense dialogue delivery talks volumes about his acting prowess.
Though Jayam Ravi comes only in the second half, he has also given his best as the calm and composed Arunmozhi Varman. Aishwarya Rai and Trisha, the two majestic women, also stand tall with their compelling performances.
The first major combination scene between Trisha and Aishwarya gets a thunderous response in theatres. Aishwarya Lekshmi also comes in the second half but only has minimal screen space. Other actors like Sarathkumar, Parthiepan, Rahman, and Shobita have done well.
While the first half of Ponniyin Selvan is gripping and stays true to the novel, the second half seems to be rushed as Mani Ratnam has tried to convey so many things in (too) little time. The action sequences in the film also lack intensity and grandeur.
Technically, Ravi Varman’s cinematography takes us back to the 9th century. His visuals are grand yet realistic, capturing the flesh and blood of all the actors. The production design by the veteran Thotta Tharani stands out as the sets look authentic and grand on the big screen. Stunts by Sham Kaushal are brilliant with high-octane war sequences and chases. AR Rahman’s songs are already huge hits, but the maestro has also elevated the core spirit of the film with his background score.
Ponniyin Selvan is just the beginning of the majestic Chola Kingdom, the second half is sure to have many surprises. In fact, the climax leads to so many unanswered questions for those who haven’t read the novel. Though the rush to cut short the five-volume novel into two parts is evident, the film definitely has its moments and deserves a big screen watch.