Form: Vikram, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Trisha, Jayam Ravi, Karthi
Director: Mani Ratnam
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
It’s a vile feat to shrink a complex five-part novel into a two-part movie. It takes courage. A whole lot. If a director has that quality to the required degree, it is Mani Ratnam. Ponniyin Selvan – Part 1a historical epic that is huge in scope and varied in visual scope is proof.
The sprawling, spectacularly edited film is an ambitious, almost flawless adaptation of a much-loved literary work that shows exactly why it was a film project so daunting that MG Ramachandran and Kamalahasan could only make failed attempts to put it together.
Needless to say, the story places enormous technical and artistic demands on Ratnam and his cast and crew. They prove to be up to the arduous task of achieving the size, pace, and stylistic blooms required by the story and the available image-creation technology.
That certainly does not mean that the experienced director completely surrenders to the seduction and power of computer-generated images. Ratnam is too good a craftsman and storyteller to rely too much on the dazzle of the kind of rampant visual effects that recent Indian blockbusters like Baahubali, RRR and KGF.
Ratnam doesn’t resort to sensory or visceral overdrive, instead drawing strength from the clever script written by him, B. Jeyamohan and Elango Kumaravel, and from a cast of actors at the top of their game. PS-1 is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the mind.
He rejects excesses with VFX and places the historical fiction in a realistic zone to achieve the goal of capturing the sheer magnitude of Kalki Krishnamurthy’s 1955 cult novel describing the era of the Cholas.
It took six and a half decades for the story to hit the big screen. The wait has been worth it. The Tamil language PS-1 has versions dubbed in Hindi, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam that are running in theaters across the country.
In the 167 minutes Ponniyin Selvan – Part 1some passages seem a bit rushed as the introduction of an arsenal of characters and the exposition of historically dense details have to be cracked into a couple of three hour films.
Editor A. Sreekar Prasad, whose often-proven skills are tested to the limit, ensures that the story has just enough breathing room not to fall into the occasional incomprehensible.
Once the prelude is out of the way and all the main characters are lined up, the PS-1 gets moving. It presents a phenomenally smooth ride through an exhilarating series of events – fierce battles, palace intrigue, lost love, vanquished soldiers seeking revenge, brave resistance – that captures the climaxes of chola history in a way that is both tactile and texture compelling.
The most notable aspect of PS-1, in addition to the consistently impressive performances from a cast led by Vikram and brilliantly supported by the likes of Karthi, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Jayam Ravi and Trisha, is Thotta Tharini’s production design and well-considered choice of locations brilliantly captured by cameraman Ravi Varman. The story unfolds in spaces that are dazzling without being fantastic as the settings of historical epics of this nature usually tend to be.
PS-1 evokes to perfection the spatial characteristics of the tenth century – be it stone structures, interiors of fortresses and palaces or ships and boats at sea. But at no point do the images look like they were created on the computer. PS-1 is a wonderfully tactile film that stays rooted in a certain period without having to create improbable cardboard cut-out sets that hang somewhere between a childlike understanding of design and a childlike imagination.
Likewise, the dramatis personae of the film – the ailing Emperor Sundar Chola (Prakash Raj) and his three descendants, Crown Prince Aditha Karikalan (Vikram), his younger brother Arulmozhi Varman (Jayam Ravi, who appears late in the film under the guise of the titular character) and Sister Kundhavai (Trisha), and their assistants and adversaries inside and outside the kingdom – are never less than human.
They deal with palpable emotions, even when they struggle with challenges of great proportions. The characters, be they Chola royalty or men of ordinary descent, sound believable even when in declamation mode, moving seamlessly from unusual wisdom to chatty chatter.
With the air of outright appearance masterfully kept in check, PS-1 is a historical saga that draws in audiences without resorting to the art of the magician. Its magic lies purely in its layered cinematic qualities.
Doom is brewing in the expanding Chola Empire with Nandini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), the wife of scheming finance minister Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar (R. Sharathkumar), who has vowed to destroy the kingdom. She holds a personal grudge against her former lover Aditha Karikalan.
The conspiracy, in which the brother of the finance minister and Chinna Pazhuvettaraiyar (Radhakrishnan Parthiban) and a large number of royal leaders are part of the Tanjore Fort, aims to overthrow Sundar Chola and enthrone his nephew Madurantaka (Rahman). to make.
Sensing the great danger ahead, Aditha Karikalan sends his best friend and trusted assistant Vandhiyathevan (Karthi, who steals almost the entire first half of the film thanks to the character’s gift of chatter and amorous antics) with a message for Emperor Sundar Chola.
Brave and cheerful Vandhiyathevan evades elements in the king’s court and survivors of a defeated Pandiyan army bent on avenging their slain King Veerapandyan.
While power-hungry or infatuated men are much of the conversation, PS-1 is faithful to the source material in that it assigns equal importance to the women in the story. In addition to the beautiful and strong-willed Nandini, the tough and down-to-earth Chola Princess Kundavai plays an important role as the story progresses.
Kundavai is not only sent by her father to pacify her older brother Aditha Karikalan, she also instructs Vandhiyethevan to travel to the Sinhala kingdom with a message for her brother Arulmozhi. Two other women in the plot – Vaanathi (Sobhita Dhulipala), who dreams of marrying Arulmozhi, and boatwoman Samuthirakumari (Aishwarya Lekshmi) – don’t have much to do in this part of the magnum opus. There’s probably more in store for them in the future.
The drama’s first part, action-packed and eventful, ends at a point in the story that leaves many questions unsolved and points to what could be at the heart of Ponniyin Selvan – Part 2, slated for release in 2023. little time, but it always looks and sounds – AR Rahman’s songs and background music form the backbone of the sound design – like a meticulously conceived and executed film work.
PS-1 iis both exciting and enriching. Another dose would be just perfect.