'Took 5 months to complete Malayalam version of Ponniyin Selvan': Shankar Ramakrishnan

Shankar Ramakrishnan
Shankar Ramakrishnan says he is honoured to work in a Mani Ratnam project. Photo: Facebook

Noted screen writer and actor Shankar Ramakrishnan has penned the dialogues for the Malayalam version of Mani Ratnam’s magnum opus ‘Ponniyin Selvan’. Interestingly, it was Shankar who wrote the Malayalam dialogues for Yash’s blockbuster KGF. Shankar says that the producers, Madras Talkies, had contacted him directly to prepare the Malayalam dialogues of ‘Ponniyin Selvan’.

He told Manorama Online that the opportunity to associate with a legend like Mani Ratnam had inspired him to contemplate about the scope of films that are made on huge canvas in Malayalam industry too.

“Madras Talkies directly invited me to write the Malayalam dialogues of this movie. They must have approached me after the incredible success of the Malayalam version of KGF 2. I consider it an honour to have had the opportunity to pen the dialogues of ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ directed by Mani Ratnam who had earned a permanent place in our hearts with his epic movies like Nayagan, Thalapathy, Roja and Bombay. The Malayalam translation of the novel ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ written by Kalki Krishnamoorthy wasn’t available. I bought five different English translations of the novel and wrote the dialogues based on that.

I was sceptical about turning such an epic story into a screenplay. But, Mani Ratnam sir himself had prepared the screenplay of Ponniyin Selvan 1 and 2. Ilanko Kumaravel and Jayamohan have collaborated with him to prepare the screenplay. More than giving a cinematic interpretation of the novel, what impresses me the most is how he had turned the novel into a screenplay. Just like I had freely interpreted history in ‘Urumi’, the novel introduces the mystery that surrounded the kingdom of Aditya Karikalan, after his death in the tenth century.

Even though the plot of this mega movie mostly happens inside and outside a grand palace, it basically narrates the story of human relations, their love, familial bonds and treachery too. It is a whole package of romance, politics and humour that we anticipate in a classic Mani Ratnam movie. It is indeed a big thing that such a movie happened amid the pandemic and I got the chance to write the Malayalam dialogues. I watched the preview of the film at Madras Talkies’ theatre and had a productive discussion with their team before writing. The Tamil that we hear now isn’t used in the movie; instead, it has a classic touch. I have translated it in a way which is appealing to the Malayali sensibilities while staying true to the essence of unique cultural background that is shown in the film.

I have treated this movie differently from how I had done KGF 2. But, I haven’t filled the movie with difficult jargons and flowery language. I had to translate lots of local songs too. Characters like Karuthiruman, the Pandya revolutionary who leads his army against the Chola dynasty, often speaks in verse. Mani sir used to share his ideas and opinions with the screenwriters who prepared the script in four languages. It was really inspiring that he sat through the entire narration of the Malayalam script.

Arun CM, who had dubbed for Yash in KGF 2, has lent the voice for Vikram’s character. In this movie, Arun had tried something different. Vikram sat with Arun to direct him while dubbing.

Actor Jayaram plays the role of Azhvar Kadiyan Thambi. He had dubbed in the Tamil version. Interestingly, this would be the first time that he might have dubbed for a Malayalam version of his Tamil movie. It was the first time that I had worked with him. He didn’t even attend a phone call until he completed dubbing.

Karthi plays a unique role in this film. His character Vanthiya Thevan is narrator in the movie. The character who has a humorous side is also a courageous warrior. Dubbing artist Ajith whose voice is similar to Karthi’s has dubbed for him.

A prominent actor in Malayalam has lent the voice for Jayam Ravi who plays the titular character of Ponniyin Selvan. Around thirty percent of the dubbing had been done by noted actors in Malayalam. But, if I reveal their names now, the audience would picturize them when they watch the movie on screen. I had plan A, B and C for the matching sounds. Finally, it was Mani sir who chose the artists.

A senior artist in Malayalam has dubbed for Tamil actor Sharath Kumar whose voice we are familiar with. Malayali actor Lal who plays a pivotal character has dubbed for his portion. Aiswarya Lakshmi too had dubbed for herself. Veteran actor Rahman essays the role of Mudhurantaka Thevan who reigned over the Chola dynasty after Sundara Pandyan. He hasn’t dubbed, until now, for his Malayalam movies. But, for the first time, he dubbed for the Malayalam version in his own voice.

It took around five months to complete the Malayalam version of this movie. Having a serious and productive culture of translation and dubbing would enhance the cinematic experience of the Malayali audience. The effect of it could be perceived in the box office numbers too. Credible translations and dubbing jobs actually improve the scope for success of such movies. Moreover, it helps us enjoy these movies in their real spirit and soul rather than brushing them aside as just ‘dubbed’ films. I am someone who wishes to a great translation culture here. If you have the will to translate movies from other languages, that have good content, without worrying about the budget, then we can bring so many amazing films to the Malayalam cinema industry.

The Vox Com studio in Ernakulam had helped me a lot while preparing the Malayalam version of Ponniyin Selvan. They supported quite a lot in the audition and production phases. I was pressed for time as I was busy with the other movies too. I could complete Ponniyin Selvan only with the incredible support of Vox Com. Mani Ratnam sir and Madras Talkies had given me full freedom in writing. Aiswarya Rai and Trisha play strong women characters in the film. It was a challenge finding good voice artists for them. Some of the most talented female voice actors had dubbed for them in this film. I am grateful to Mani sir and Madras Talkies for giving me the opportunity to work in the Malayalam version of Ponniyin Selvan. Constantly working in such movies would definitely inspire the artists to try their hands in these genres and style,” says Shankar Ramakrishnan. 

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