Ponniyin Selvan: Part 1 — Engages, Immerses, Entertains and Educates
After a long, long wait — Mani Ratnam’s magnum opus has finally hit screens worldwide to share the story of one of India’s greatest empires, the Chola rule. “Ponniyin Selvan” has officially hit screens and as someone who is admittedly unaware of the source material and the history, I was eager to give this one a watch.
The film begins with the emergence of a comet in the sky, signalling the imminent death of a member of the royal family. This kickstarts a race for the throne, with two sons of the king, Aditha Karikalan and Arulmozhi Varman staking their own claims while from within their ranks a conspiracy grows — the Chola treasurer plots to usurp the throne and place Aditha’s cousin on it instead. How this all blends together and the consequences it has for the kingdom is what forms the story.
There’s so much talent in this film to talk through so without keeping you here all day I’ll keep this to just my personal highlights. Karthi as Vanthiyathevan is an undoubted showstealer. The energy, charisma and charm he brings to the role breaths life into what is in essence a very serious and tense plot. He carries the screenplay extremely well and makes sure you’re entertained as Mani Ratnam sets his stall and does his world building.
His loyalty of course is pledged to Aditha Karikalan, who does take a bit of a background role here but Vikram does well with the time he’s given and we get a good insight into his character. The sequel should be his time to shine.
It would be wrong to write a review about this film and not mention the man who provides the title. Jayam Ravi as Ponniyin Selvan doesn’t actually come into the story until after the intermission but when he does his presence is felt. He does a very good job of showing us the contrast between his more democratic, campaign focused approach to staking a claim for throne and his brother’s more violent, conquer first approach.
I also have to mention the female leads Aishwarya Rai and Trisha who are both of course stunning but they’re also so vital to the story. Aishwarya as Nandini is cunning and calculated while Trisha as Kundavai is empathetic, pragmatic and has a unifying approach. Both have their own agendas and know how and where to plant seeds to manipulate those around them.
Characterisation in general is a big win for the film in this regard, with each character having clearly defined and unique traits and motives while still contributing to the bigger picture. Each role being a small piece that the film delicately weaves together.
As mentioned, the screenplay makes sure you don’t feel the fairly lengthy runtime — I attribute this to Karthi’s performance, very well written dialogue and a generally good tempo to the events.
Cinematography is without doubt a huge plus point and the production design is flawless. Ina period film like this, minute details are king and the team have paid close attention to everything from set designs, costumes and props. It’s then on the camera man to showcase it all and it’s visually stunning.
AR Rahman as we know is a genius, but he’s put some of his best work into this one and it just provides the grandeur that fits in seamlessly with the entire vibe of the film.
In summary, I can’t comment on whether this is an accurate adaptation of it’s source material, but as a film it both entertains and educates. It gives you the pieces of the puzzle and then starts putting them together in an immersive and engaging manner while leaving some of it incomplete leaving you yearning for the next film.
Mani Ratnam has succeeded in a big way here, and should bring eyes from around the world towards not just Tamil/Indian cinema, but Indian history too.
“Ponniyin Selvan” is out now in cinemas only.