Mani Ratnam's Ponniyin Selvan 1 gains much and suffers a little from its genre. The multi-star period drama is undoubtedly a spectacle – one that should be enjoyed in a theatre. It scores big in its production scale, story-telling, cinematography and performances. That is expected from the master filmmaker especially when it’s his one of the most ambitious works. What goes against one’s expectations is a not-so-engaging first half.
Ponniyin Selvan 1, the first part of a cinematic adaptation of Tamil modern classic novel Ponniyin Selvan by Kalki, is about a particular period in the rich history of the Chola empire. Ponniyin Selvan 1 is an epic which has its share of war, revenge, conspiracy, love and what not! The story is typical of any epic involving kings and queens and princes and princesses. And like any ‘game of thrones’ from around the globe, Ponniyin Selvan 1 also is a superabundance of charm. Everything about its setting, its story and its people are dreamy. Mani Ratnam has done total justice in translating the magic embedded in the masterpiece literary work into the language of silver screen. One need not read the book to understand that.
A recurring problem with period dramas is that they tend to be monotonous both in substance and style. Ponniyin Selvan 1 is also not fully free from this fate. It has a set of characters and sequences that look all too familiar. The plot progression is also in a familiar trajectory. The war sequences, despite the scale of making, look all ‘seen on the screen’.
Nevertheless, the film has its moments of drama at frequent intervals and they compensate the falls.
Mani Ratnam who has never failed in casting scores big at his strong point once again with Ponniyin Selvan 1. The film has a galaxy of stars including Vikram, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Jayam Ravi, Karthi, Trisha, Jayaram, Aishwarya Lekshmi, Sobhita Dhulipala and Prabhu.
Among them, it’s Aishwarya Rai who stands out as Nandini, the queen with different shades. With her royal looks and composed performance, she proves once again that she is elegance personified.
On the male cast, Jayam Ravi stands tall. In physique, appearance and moves, Ravi justifies the director’s decision to entrust him with the role of Ponniyin Selvan. Vikram’s Karikala Cholan has equal or a little more prominence than the title character in the first installment of the film series. He excels in looks and fights, but it seems he has lost the grip over his performance at certain points.
Karthi plays Vallavarayan Vanthiyathevan, a witty and charming messenger-warrior who turns out to be the link between the rest of the characters. The role is safe in his hands though Ravi overshadows him towards the end of the film. Trisha as Kundavai, Jayaram as Nambi and Aishwarya Lekshmi as Poonguzhali excel in their roles. Jayaram deserves kudos for the mannerisms of Nambi.
Mani Ratnam and his co-writers Elango Kumaravel and B Jeyamohan should be appreciated for the art of condensing Kalki Krishnamoorthy’s grand narrative into the film format without losing its essence.
All the masters behind the project – Ravi Varman’s cinematography, Sreekar Prasad’s editing, Thotta Tharani’s production design, and A R Rahman’s music – make Ponniyin Selvan 1 a fine cinematic experience.