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'Ponniyin Selvan: I' movie review - A visual spectacle with the trademark Mani Ratnam flair

Ratnam makes the first installment of the two-part project his own through his trademark engrossing drama
Last Updated : 16 February 2023, 08:54 IST
Last Updated : 16 February 2023, 08:54 IST
Last Updated : 16 February 2023, 08:54 IST
Last Updated : 16 February 2023, 08:54 IST

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Ponniyin Selvan: I

Tamil (Theatres)

Director: Mani Ratnam

Cast: Vikram, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Trisha, Karthi, Jayam Ravi

Rating: 3.5/5

How do you jump on the bandwagon yet remain unique? Ask Mani Ratnam. Big-budgeted period dramas for a pan-India market is a trend hard to resist today and it was high time one of India's finest filmmakers explored it.

Ratnam's retelling of Kalki Krishnamurthy's historical fiction Ponniyin Selvan is mounted on a huge scale like many movies in the category. But Ratnam makes the first installment of the two-part project his own through his trademark engrossing drama.

Ratnam had told contemporary stories adapted from epics Mahabarata ('Thalapathi') and Ramayana ('Ravanan'). This time, the challenge was different, as he was translating a vast (five-part) novel on screen. There were talks about how a director, so popular for individualistic style, put his stamp on an adaptation that had to be faithful. He wasn't also familiar with making grand spectacles. But Ratnam knows a thing or two about shutting out the noise and taking brave steps.

For those not aware of the story, Ponniyin Selvan is about power struggle. Prince Aditha Karikalan (Vikram) sends his friend Vandhiyathevan (Karthi) to emperor Sundara Cholar (Prakash Raj) in Thanjavur with a message that the kingdom is in danger. Princess Kunthavai (Trisha) in turn gives Vandhiyathevan the task of bringing back her brother Ponniyin Selvan (Jayam Ravi) from Sri Lanka to stop the schemers from aiming for the throne. Parallel to this central plot, the Pandya dynasty is planning to eliminate Ponniyin Selvan to avenge their huge loss.

It's a dense story with delightful twists. Ratnam, who has co-written the screenplay with Jeyamohan and Elango Kumaravel, has found a way to mention important trivia in the near-three hour film. Jeyamohan's dialogues have a touch of colloquial flavour, making them easy to understand for the current generation.

The writers' efforts are enhanced by a terrific cast, led by Karthi. The actor's flirty, full-of-life, and witty portrayal is the film's soul. Vikram, essaying Ponniyin Selvan's brother Aditha Karikalan, is terrific as a loser, perennially hurt by the heart-break caused by his childhood love Nandhini (Aishwarya Rai). Aishwarya, stunning as ever in appearance, is convincing as a shrewd, seductive queen hatching a plan to kill Karikalan. Trisha elevates her confident, gorgeous presence with a controlled performance.

Ravi Varman's rich frames and veteran Thotta Tharani's monumental production design takes Ratnam's vision several notches higher. But A R Rahman takes the cake as he finds a great balance in rousing and poignant background scores.

The film starts off in a rather dull manner. It struggles to find the rhythm as a host of characters are introduced in quick succession. The fight sequences aren't tacky but they aren't extraordinary either.

That said, Ponniyin Selvan is a winner because Ratnam shows a new way to make epic films.

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Published 30 September 2022, 15:46 IST

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