Ponniyin Selvan - Part 2 Tamil Movie
You should watch Mani Ratnam's "Ponniyin Selvan" first part and second part one after the other. Why? Because you cannot easily jog your memory since it has been almost one year of Ponniyin Selvan: I, which ends with a cliffhanger and the promise of a sequel. The first part of the duology leaves us with questions about the existence of Chola Prince Arulmozhi Varman (Jayam Ravi) and the future of the kingdom.
Ponniyin Selvan: II starts with the backstory of the younger versions of Aditha Karikalan (Santhosh) and Nandini (Sara Arjun). Mani Ratnam makes the bold choice of putting together some songs to get to the point. With the introduction itself, you will understand what fuels the simmering rage of a grown-up Nandini (Aiswarya Rai) and the torment of Aditha Karikalan (Vikram). The romantic angle between Nandini and Karikalan is at the intersection of a conspiracy to topple the Chola kingdom and usurp the throne.
Cut to the present day: Arulmozhi Varman is alive but suffering from illness. Vandhiyathevan (Karthi) is protecting him from the Pandyas, but the defense will not hold for too long as they outnumber him. At the same time, Mani Ratnam shows us how Nandini goes about her elaborate plans to dethrone the Cholas.
There is a lot happening in the 3-hour-long film, even as Mani Ratnam's adaptation of Kalki's novel is considered a condensed version of the literary piece. What is interesting about the Ponniyin Selvan duology is that it hardly matters who wins or gets control of the kingdom. There are near Shakespearean-level themes of love, betrayal, loyalty, and royal pride for us to enjoy in the film. It is not really the spectacle that scores here, but rather the storytelling. But this does not mean that the film falls short on the visual front.
Cinematographer Ravi Varman uses color and light so well that even an otherwise ordinary moment pops out with an air of extravagance. Take the meeting of Kundavai, Karikalan, and Arulmozhi, for instance. On paper, it is just the coming together of the royal siblings after a long gap, but Ravi Varman frames the actors in such tight close-ups and fills the room with such lighting that the scene forms a divine sense of illuminance. It is such a feast for the eyes.
Another standout sequence involves the delicate romance between Kundavai and Vandhiyathevan in the middle of a river. A sword is used as the feather here, as Kundavai teases Vandhiyathevan with it. The use of Rahman's "Aga Naga" and Ravi Varman's camera angles lend a great deal of heft to the moment. Props also to Mani Ratnam for his rich sense of imagination in creating certain scenes, like one where a group of Buddhist monks encircle Arulmozhi to protect him.
When it comes to storytelling, one wishes that some subplots had more deserving closures. The climax also goes on for too long, with a battle sequence contributing to a slight sense of inertia. The strength of the duology has always been the dynamics of the relationships between the principal characters, so the climatic battles are a bit of a killjoy.
But the performances more than make up for the minor flaws of the film, alongside the other aspects of filmmaking. Aiswarya Rai as the ever-conniving Nandini. Trisha as Kundavai, the stunning Chola princess with a profound sense of intelligence. Karthi as the forever faithful and a bundle of energy that is Vandiyadevan. Jayam Ravi as the principled and confident Arulmozhi. Jayaram as the quick-witted Azhwarkkadiyan Nambi. Vikram as the tormented and oft-raging Karikalan. They are all pitch-perfect in the epic sequel to PS: I. While some characters, like Aishwarya Lekshmi's Poonguzhali, have little to no screen space in Ponniyin Selvan: II, there are also some interesting new additions here, like an old woman.
In Ponniyin Selvan: I, it seems like Mani Ratnam is holding back a lot, resulting in a slightly bland narrative. When you watch PS: II, you will realize why the first part withholds so much information. Think of it as the classic yin-yang situation. PS: I is the yin to Mani Ratnam's yang, which is PS: II.