Ponniyin Selvan - Part 1 Tamil Movie

Feature Film | 2022 | Drama, Epic
PS-1 has to be lauded for the effort of the cast and crew to bring the bygone era alive, even with certain erratic screenplay hiccups!
Sep 30, 2022 By Baranidharan Sivasankaran

Where To Watch:
In Theaters: INDIA  
   Amazon Prime

The day has come. 70 years of longing among the unofficial 'Ponniyin Selvan fan base' has been satiated with a feature film bearing all the historical and fictitious glitz and glory of the immortal Tamil king, Raja Raja Cholan or 'Ponniyin Selvan'. Kalki Krishnamoorthy would have done a victory lap in his grave. Thanks to Manirathnam and his excellent cast and crew, the most coveted book has been made into a film.

The Chola dynasty is the core of Tamil pride, and their presence has been documented by themselves which in turn helped various historical scholars gather relevant details about their cultural and administrative impact over the centuries.

As it is known, the book on which the film is based, is a mixture of history and fiction. Kalki's prose and poetry battle with each other in every chapter making the book a page-turner. Consuming five volumes of a 2000-page book is like a tough trek to the mountains, where you get to rejoice and revel in the glory of nature at every step.

The writing was effervescent and would immerse the reader in the past, making them like a fly on the wall while things are happening. In short, the book transported us a 1000 years back, steeping us in history.

Coming to Manirathnam's 'Ponniyin Selvan - 1' or PS-1, the director took a mammoth project upon himself when he decided to pursue it. There have been several attempts in the past to make this film, however, Manirathnam with his grit and determination has made it into a reality. The buzz was strong. The promotions were carefully curated. The 'drip campaigns' were measured and targeted. The project, in short, was heavily backed by a powerful production house like Lyca! Kudos to that!

Before delving into the review, there is an important aspect to be considered. Unlike other movies, where the audiences are divided into A, B, and C centers based on their sensibilities, this one will be divided into the ones who have read the book and the rest who haven't. I, for one, have read the book twice. According to me, reading the book before watching this movie helps in consuming and connecting the content and the plots within.

The content has been kept intact, while the plot points have been heavily altered to suit the big screen. The story of PS centers around the race for the Chola crown and deciding on the successor for the current Chola king, Sundara Cholar, who is not keeping good health. Aditha Karikalan, who is the crown prince and the eldest of the sons is being sidelined by the traitors, and the king's cousin, Madhuranthakan is recommended for the succession.

While the movie's core is the race for the throne, there are other rivalries like the one between Kundavai and Nandhini that electrify the screen. Then, there is our hero Vanthiyathevan who is a charmer, and a brave warrior who is the connecting tissue between various plots. Arulmozhi Varman or Ponniyin Selvan, who is the youngest son of the king is another alpha leader who is revered by his countrymen. Then, there are Pazhuvettaraiyars, who want ultimate control, and small kings and chieftains, who have vested interests.

The story is heavily intertwined and has many subplots and myths, and mysteries that could not be unwound within a limited time. A web series might do justice to this mega story. However, the scale and the actors who have portrayed their respective roles have made the movie worth its effort. Manirathnam has almost pulled off the impossible by assembling the cast and crew that is world-class and by far the best in India.

Karthi as Vanthiyathevan was the perfect of the lot. He has that innate juvenile behavior that helps a great deal to carry out this role. It is a flirtatious role that requires an unconventional charm, and at the same time, there needs to be an element of bravery and street smartness. He is a smooth operator who has his whims and fancies. He is the one who leads from the front and moves the story forward.

Vikram as Adithya Karikalan was the second best fit for the role. His volatile and erratic mood swings keep him from being the perfect leader. He is the bravest warrior the kingdom has ever seen and the strongest too, however, he is smitten by none other than Nandhini, the femme fatale. He loses his mind, and his solace, and goes on a rampage like a rogue elephant with its tail up. Cannot think of a better fit than Vikram for this role.

Jayam Ravi as Arulmozhi Varman seemed like another natural choice. His innocent, but masculine look came off well. He has been portrayed as the ideal prince who deserves the throne more than anyone. Jayam Ravi has made the role his own.

Aishwarya Rai as Nandhini must have been a natural choice. Her beauty and grace never seem to dim over the years. Nandhini is beauty personified, and she has evil intentions to destroy the Chola kingdom, as she belongs to the Pandyas.

Trisha as Kundavai is another beautiful selection. Initially, there was an element of hesitation about whether she could pull it off. Did she punch above her weight? That's a resounding yes! She had that pride and grace in her body language. Her face-off with Nadhini was crackling on screen.

Aishwarya Lakshmi as Poonkuzhali, who is fondly called 'Samudrakumari' is one of the best characters in the novel. Aishwarya Lakshmi has done a neat job of portraying that role. Her interactions with Karthi and Jayam Ravi were nuanced. However, I wish we get to see her more. Maybe something to look out for in the second part.

Shobitha as Vanathi is an offbeat selection. There could have been better choices, but the film had a very underwritten role, and understandably so. Other significant roles demanded a lot of attention. Her character portrayal was starkly different from that of the book.

Sarathkumar and Parthiban as the Pazhuvettarayar brothers were decent selections. Parthiban had a better screen presence and Sarathkumar's role felt a little underwhelming. Jayaram as Azhvaarkadiyan Nambi was another smart selection. His wit, humor, and presence of mind were commendable.

Vikram Prabhu (as Parthibendhiran), Prabhu (as Periya Velar), Kishore (as Ravidasan), Raghuman (as Madhuranthakam), Jayachithra (as Chembian Madevi), Ashwin (as Senthan Amudhan) and Riyaz Khan (as Soman Sambavan) in their respective roles had limited scope.

As for the technicalities, every department from cinematography to editing to music to art to costume design has given their best. Music from AR Rahman is one of the best and the background score has been world-class. Cinematography and editing made the movie crisp and rich. Costume design added beauty to the already beautiful men and women who lit the screen with their presence. Art design transports us to the bygone era of the Cholas. Visual effects were also neatly done without any tacky eyesore.

As mentioned before, the plot points were heavily altered. The scenes of war were mentioned in a few lines in the book, whereas in the movie there were exhaustive war sequences. Understandably with stars like Vikram, Jayam Ravi, and Karthi, these are needed to address the commercial aspects.

However, the most worrying factor is for the audiences who haven't read the book yet, the movie might unleash a maze. Traversing their way among the maze of events might be cumbersome. Yes, it's a maze on a grand scale, but I have my reservations about whether those who are not familiar with the book would appreciate the essence of the movie.

There is a limited time to convey the emotions, the connection between different events, and to establish significant characters. On that front, the screenplay could have been better. It came across as a rushed effort that built random bridges to connect different plot points that were not convincing. On that front alone, it might come across as a haphazardly made action movie with great technicalities, style, and a rich presentation from the stables of Manirathnam.

Baranidharan Sivasankaran