Maniratnam’s Magnum Opus is filled with wonders, larger-than-life characters, views and the fragrance of culture. Ponniyin Selvan is based on Kalki Krishnamoorthy’s 5 part novel. It is a historical fiction novel written in Tamil. This film takes you to 10th Century Tamil Nadu or Chozah Nadu as it was called earlier. To introduce us to this new historical-fiction world a detailed narration with stunning animated visuals comes. We are introduced to this Chozah dynasty and its dynamics. King Sundar Chozah (or Chola as we read today in our history books) is unwell and now his son Adithya Karikalan is soon to be crowned as the King and there is a big conspiracy going on against the King and his family. As Madurantaka Chola who has been raised as a Shaivite or Shiva Bhakta now wants to claim the throne. And hence the Chozah siblings, I.e children of Sundar Chozah, Adithya Karikalan played by vivacious Vikram, pensive Arulmozhi Varman played by Jayam Ravi and a brave, strategic and fierce queen Kundavai played by Trisha are coming together as a shield to their throne.
Part 1 of Ponniyin Selvan is all about roping the whole family together, which is scattered to different parts of Bharat to come to a place and join hands for their crown. This thread that runs to every corner and ties the knots is Vallavaraiyan Vanthiyathevan played by Karthik. He is a commander of Adhitya’s army. With him, we get to know all the cards. Just like these antique names, the film is also tricky to catch up with. But once you get hold of it, this movie ropes you in and you start enjoying it. The visuals are magnificent. There is this speciality of the films of the southern region that the culture and traditions they show have a very raw texture to them. More than realism you enjoy the rawness, amusement, and desi texture of it. The dance sequence where they dance to preach goddess is astonishing. The music is done by A.R. Rahman adds to it. The background score feels fresh and very otherworldly. The times when the river Cauvery is shown and the way Rahman’s music blends in with it. It suggests to you how deep this river is, and what it holds beneath. The music amplifies the greatness of the world of this film.
Nandini played by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is the epitome of women’s beauty and intellect. This character is the love interest of Vikram who is now married to Pazhuvettaraiyar. She is the vengeance diva. Aishwarya is looking so beautiful that every glance of her makes you just stop and stare at every little gesture of her. She has such a strong persona, she is the main antagonist. But as dialogue goes in the film – “Your beauty makes me forget about your intelligence” (said by Pazhuvettaraiyar Nandini’s husband ) stands 100% true for her. In each frame, her presence feels godly, a golden light falls on her making her even more beautiful.
This was Maniratnam’s dream project. He made 2 attempts first in the mid-1990s and early 2010s but came back unsuccessful due to budget issues. He could finally get the proper funds in 2019 to revive his most ambitious project and finally, it was released in 2022. The film is written by Mani Ratnam & Elango Kumaravel (screenplay) and dialogues by B. Jeyamohan. It had a massive budget which translated into the screen. Every scene is humongous and fulfills our imagination or expectations of what 10th-century India would look like. Surely you don’t know but the feeling this movie gives off ancient times satisfies our hopes and imagination. The costumes and innovative hairstyles and jewelry used to create the ancient times are commendable. With dialogues, the film tries to combine the ancient with the contemporary (in the Hindi Version). We know that this is done to connect more with the audience. But it makes us wonder how much contemporary mashup is right. Because sometimes it takes away the feel of what we are watching. The audio feels unsynced with the visuals. It happened at some moments in this film. Filmmakers create a visual word but when it comes to the lingo of this world they usually underestimate the audience. This may backfire at times, with Bramhastra being the biggest example.
The biggest problem of the film is it spent 80% of its time in establishing its world. Loading us with information and all that is going on around it. It spends maximum time showing us rather than making us feel anything. The characters come across to us like characters from history chapters because we don’t have time to explore them. Nandini is the only one which has layers that we keep experiencing throughout the film. No such emotion is evoked throughout the movie which is very unusual for a Maniratnam Cinema. The Hero is made out of extraordinary actions and a lot of heart. This movie misses that heart as we never go close to any of the characters. This felt like an incomplete chapter but gave hope for a promising part two.
The film is screening in a theatre near you.