Ponniyin Selvan, a Tamil historical fiction written by Kalki Krishnamurthy in the 1950s, is a book that is deeply ingrained into the cultural landscape of the region. Integrated into five volumes set in the 10th century, the saga is still considered as the best of Tamil literature. It has been Mani Ratnam’s life long dream to adapt these five-volume books onto the celluloid medium, and after last year’s wide success of the first film, we now have its second part. Honestly, I haven’t read Kalki’s work, so naturally, Ratnam’s two-part films are an entirely new experience for me.
Ponniyin Selvan is a tale of love, greed, ambition and tragedy. PS-1 showed us the journey of Vallavaraiyan Vandiyadevan(played by Karthi) from finding out the treason devised against the Chola Kingdom. While Vandiyadevan cautions the Chola siblings (Aditya Karikalan, Kundavai and Arunmozhi Varman) about the upcoming threat, the Pandayans constantly seek an opportunity trying to destroy the Cholas. He travels from Rashtrakuta to Thanjavur to Pazhayarai and to Sri Lanka. Part one ends with Vandiyadevan and Arunmozhi drowning in the Lankan ocean as the ship gets ravaged by the Pandayan assassins.
While PS-1 set up the stakes of the world in an adventurous, funny, slightly romantic way while establishing the political background, the second part is much somber, darkly toned while delivering upon the fleshy conclusion. Thus, it’s anchored by sacrifice, broken relationships, war and blood.
The movie opens with mesmerizing prologue giving us a flashback into the backstory of Aditya Karikalan (Chiyan Vikram) and Nandini’s (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) love story. There is Pandayan vengeance against Cholas for the murder of their King, Madhurantakan’s (played by Rahman) thus increasing the aspiration to take the throne of Chola empire.
Considering both the Mani Ratnam films(PS-1 & PS-2) as a whole, most of the incidents happening in the plot are related to “Arunmozhi”(played by Jayam Ravi), who is also called “Ponniyin Selvan.” The writers Mani Ratnam, Elango Kumaravel and Jeyamohan creates no confusion by bringing depth in every character and scene. The level at which the narrative is well-plotted, we can expect a separate spin-off film for every character. Aishwarya Rai and Vikram make a superb pair. So does Trisha Krishnan as clever Kundavai and Jayam Ravi playing the mighty hero.
Director Mani Ratnam and DoP Ravi Varman leave no room for the audience to get lost in the plot. The tight close-ups capture the highs and lows of the characters’ emotions. The set-pieces are well detailed as if the locations are historically real. Whether the monastery in Sri Lanka or the Pandayans pouring into the dark secret passage, you can’t keep your eyes off them.
A.R Rahman’s background score with songs written by Gulzar are no less than musical poetry. Their music is not too loud nor too low, just perfect as it should be for the world of the film. While the staging for the most part remains pristine, as you would come to expect from Ratnam, the choreographed action scenes did have a scope of improvement. Even the cross cutting and the jump cuts feel too random.
Ponniyin Selvan is without a doubt Mani Ratnam’s most ambitious and accomplished project in his 40- year long career. And the conclusion to the story here leaves no room for doubt about that. Unlike other Indian historical films, it has been the film with the quietest and most subdued drama up until now. For its artistic accomplishment and character intimacy, you can watch “Ponniyin Selvan II” at your nearby theater.