In the 10th Century, the Chola dynasty under the rule of Sundara Chozhar (Prakash Raj) faces both internal and external threats. His elder son, Aditha Karikalan (Vikram) who is campaigning against Kanchi, comes to know that a conspiracy is afoot and orders his loyal follower, Vallavaraiyan Vanthiyathevan (Karthi) to get to the bottom of it and warn his parents if it turns out to be true. He also instructs Vallavaraiyan to seek out his younger sister Kundavai (Trisha), who’ll take the necessary steps to eliminate the threat. Kundavai, in turn, asks him to travel to Sri Lanka, where her other brother, Arulmozhi Varman aka Ponniyin Selvan (Jayam Ravi), is campaigning. She hopes that the united might of the brothers would subdue the rebellion. What they don’t know is that a group of Pandya soldiers too is after the brothers as they want to avenge the death of their king, Veerapandiyan and that Nandini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), the wife of Chola treasurer Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar (R Sarathkumar) too has her own agenda against the Cholas.
Politics, love and intrigue combine to make this film another Mani Ratnam masterpiece. He’s always been a master manipulator of emotions and he deals his cards perfectly here too. Aditha Karikalan is the perfect warrior but is shown to be emotionally unstable, pining about lost love and taking decisions that might prove wrong because of it, Nandini is shown to be both hating the Cholas and also shown having a conscience, knowing that history won’t treat her kindly. Kundavai is shown to be an astute politician, whose only duty is towards the empire, feelings be damned and Arulmozhi is modelled on Lord Rama, the obedient son for whom the word of his king matters more than personal survivor. Juxtaposed to all this is Vallavaraiyan, the happy-go-lucky soldier who gets thrown into one extraordinary situation after another, wonder writ large on his face. He’s our reference point to the story, as it’s his journey we follow. He connects the dots as he meets different factions and helps the viewers form the relevant conclusions.
Mani Ratnam films are also a visual treat and here the master has surpassed all his past efforts. Ravi Varman’s deft cinematography lends a poetic grace to each frame. Be it the opening war sequences, Nandini’s entry or the sea visuals, everything is picture postcard perfect. The film’s production design and costumes are spot on as well. Then, the VFX is totally out of this world. The imaginatively shot sea storm sequence, which comes towards the end, is alone worth the price of the ticket.
But mere technical wizardry doesn’t make a masterpiece. Mani Ratnam has a way of making sure his actors give him their best and he’s done it again here. The actors have made their characters totally believable. They’re playing legendary figures but have made the legends all too human by lending them insecurities and desires and thus making them relatable to today’s audience. Be it Vikram, Jayam Ravi, Trisha, Karthi, or any other member of the cast, not one person has put a foot wrong. And what we see is a joint effort. It’s not as if one actor has overshadowed anyone else. Superb casting choices, as well as directorial discipline has made it a true ensemble film.
Watch the film for its visual grandeur, epic action sequences and some sublime acting by the entire cast. The film ends on a cliffhanger climax, leaving us literally on the edge of our seats. We can’t wait for the next instalment’s release. Please make more historicals Mani sir, and perhaps sci-fi and fantasy too…
Trailer : Ponniyin Selvan: I
M Suganth, September 30, 2022, 12:23 PM IST
Ponniyin Selvan 1 Synopsis: The Chola kingdom is under threat from forces both internal and external, and with crown prince Aaditha Karikalan, his younger brother Arunmozhi Varman and the emperor, Sundara Cholar separated by situations, it is up to a messenger to ensure the safety of the kingdom. Can he succeed in his mission, especially with Karikalan’s former girlfriend, Nandhini, plotting to bring down the entire Chola empire?
Ponniyin Selvan 1 Review: Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan is a sprawling epic that has so far remained elusive to film for many a Tamil filmmaker, and Mani Ratnam finally brings the dream alive with this spectacular adaptation that superbly captures the intrigue, thrills and page-turning quality of the books. In this first of a two-part franchise, the director and his writers — Jeyamohan and Ilango Kumaravel — rise up to the challenge. The manner in which they have condensed the novel is admirable, with the changes — like Kundhavai storming into a secret discussion, the introduction of Ponniyin Selvan’s mysterious saviour – adding to the momentum of the narrative. Jeyamohan’s dialogues are especially a highlight as he uses language that is both classical and colloquial without making it seem odd.
The film does have a shaky start, with the director taking his time to set up the plot. Crown prince Aaditha Karikalan (Vikram) entrusts his friend Vandhiyathevan (Karthi) to deliver a message to his father and emperor Sundara Cholar (Prakash Raj) and sister, princess Kunthavai (Trisha) on the threats that the kingdom is facing. The schemers include Periya Pazhuvettarayar (Sarath Kumar) and Chinna Pazhuvettarayar (Radhakrishnan Parthiban), the empire’s finance minister and commander, the numerous kings who have sworn fealty to the emperor, the remaining forces of the vanquished Pandya king and most importantly, Nandhini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), Karikalan’s former lover and the wife of Periya Pazhuvettarayar, who is determined to bring the entire Chola empire down for reasons of her own.
These portions, which inevitably have a bit of exposition given the nature of the plot, have rather jerky transitions as we are introduced to the numerous players in the plot and the history between them. There are times when we feel too many events being crammed up in a short time, which might make it hard for those who haven’t read the books, to follow the plot. The swift character introductions also mean that we are already on to the next character before we have fully grasped the motives of the one we have just been introduced to.
But then, the film starts settling down and by the time we reach the intermission point (the ghost from the last that haunts Karikalan), we find ourselves engrossed in this narrative involving palace intrigue. And when the action shifts to Sri Lanka, where Karikalan’s younger brother, Arunmozhi Varman (Jayam Ravi), the titular Ponniyin Selvan, is trying to capture the king of the land, the pace quickens and the film races towards the end, with nail-biting sequences involving the slain Pandya king’s personal guards — who land there to kill Arunmozhi — and the director sets up the sequel on a high note, with a swashbuckling stunt on a ship on the stormy sea.
The casting is more or less spot on. Karthi is terrific as the playful Vandhiyathevan, and along with Jayaram, who plays the spy Alwarkadiyan, infuses humour into the largely serious proceedings. Aishwarya captures the spirit of Nandhini with her beguiling looks, while Vikram, Jayam Ravi and Trisha are effective as the royalty. The frames have grandeur, but unlike in the Baahubali films, here, it is more understated. Shooting largely on real locations, cinematographer Ravi Varman gives us spectacle in the visuals of grand fort walls, the spacious halls with multiple pillars and high ceilings, a solitary boat on a wide expanse of the ocean and innumerable bodies lined up on the beach. While AR Rahman’s chopped-up songs are mainly used to further the narrative, his score helps in lending a rousing quality to the proceedings in the second half.
Also See: Ponniyin Selvan 1 movie review and box office collection LIVE updates