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Ponniyin Selvan Movie Review

I got to see the movie on the third day of release. I hate first day first shows. There is too much noise and excitement that one cannot enjoy the movie. And I really wanted to enjoy this one.

As is my usual style, I am going to be jotting down my thoughts on this movie as easily readable/skimmable points, and they are in no particular order.

Cast

The cast is just amazing. Karthi was perfect for Vandhiyathevan. There is a word in Tamizh called ‘Thunukku’ – loosely translating to spunk. The attitude of going by the gut and having the confidence that one can take care of any repercussions. When one reads Kalki’s account, one can almost see the almost naughty wicked smile on Vandhiyathevan’s face. And from now on, when I read it from now on, Karthi’s face will come to mind.

Jayaram is awesome as Nambi. Perfect wit. Again very close resemblance to the character. Each time he says – Narayanaaaa, it is perfect match. The only thing that I did not quite like is the relationship between Vandhiyathevan and Nambi portrayed in the film, where the latter is shown as manhandled by the former a few times etc. I always felt that there was a very complex emotional bond between these two – vaccillating between jealousy, hate, suspicion, trust and in some places massive respect. That did not quite come out. but its ok – for those who do not know about this from the book, the characters do their part well.

Jayam Ravi does justice to the Prince Arulmozhi Varman role. I noticed a very natural persona portrayed by him (brought out beautifully by the director of course). No overacting. And then you realize that, this is exactly what the characterisation of Ponniyin Selvan is, in the epic by Kalki. He is portrayed as this down to earth, no nonsense, no drama Prince.

Now the two ladies – both Trisha and Aishwarya do their part really well. Trisha balances the emotions of coyness, the responsibility of being royalty, and the twinkle in her eyes lights up each time she sees Vandhiyathevan. Perfect portrayal in my opinion. Aishwarya does not necessarily need to do anything. I think her looks lends itself to the deceptively helpless but super dangerous character that is Nandini. Honestly she does not need to (and she does not) do anything exceptional ; but casting made all the difference.

The Pazhuvettarayars play their part. Nothing special. I really wish more could have been brought out of Chief Minister Anirrudhar played by Mohan Raman. A miss. The script could have brought out so much for this character, especially given the superb actor as well.

Not a lot has been spoken about Madhuranthakan in the reviews, but I liked Rahman’s acting. The Prince who was intentionally brought up as a Shiva worshipper and no exposure to ruling the Kingdom, who is cunningly brainwashed and lured into being the true heir of a large Kingdom, is portrayed pretty darned well by him. His lack of expertise but the lust that has been injected into him, comes out well.

Lastly, and intentionally lastly, I really wish they could have cast someone else for Aditha Karikalan. Vikram looks too old. And no, please dont justify the character requires a war torn look. Vikram just looks old. He showcases his acting prowess with his monologue etc, but this was the one casting miss that I would say.

The story and the cinematography

My opinion is going to be that of a movie goer who went to see an adaptation of this ultimate epic that everyone is talking about. I intentionally put aside any expectation of similarity to the book.

In recent years, my wife and me have just lost patience to watch 3 hour Tamizh movies. Just cannot able to. This one broke that jinx. It is fast paced and we did not even notice the time fly by.

Again, I would say – ignore the several plot twists that the original tome has. Kalki wrote this like a mega serial for a weekly Tamizh magazine. Can you think of making something like Radhika’s Chitti into a movie. Just put that into perspective. I liked the way Jayamohan has involved most of the characters involvements into the plot and kept most of the main story line intact. There are a couple of scenes that seemed forcibly added for movie effects – example – the bridge falling down with Chinese warriors hacking the wooden beams/ropes down. Ahem. Was not really needed.

I am not an expert in Cinematography but I kind of liked the simplicity of it all. I really did not expect grandeur. Maybe because I saw the few interviews following the audio launch where I heard about Mani’s fascination of Kurusowa and realism etc. I liked what I saw. Some awesome scenes stand out – Vandhiyathevan walking through the market place of Thanjavur. Kalki takes a chapter for this, but brilliantly covered in a couple of minutes. The meeting between Kundavai and Nandini was covered beautifully. Poonkuzhali’s and Vanathi’s characterization could have been slightly better – the former being portrayed kinda crassly in my humble opinion. Her strength as an independent woman does not quite come out. For those who have watched the movie, there is an easter egg from Prabhu (General Periyavelaar) where he calls Poonkuzhali – “Ey Ponnu ..”. That is such a common dialogue of this veteran actor and brought a smile to my face.

The Camera, lighting etc etc has been debated enough by others. I just felt it did justice to the story that was told.

Locations are brilliant (classic Mani!). The sets are decent. I read somewhere that Thota Tharani has always wanted to do a period movie (his father did sets for all the raja rani movie of yesteryear).

There was a comment by some ‘reviewer’ about the dialogues being weak and it was surprising for Mani’s calibre. Hello, you cannot bring in Thalapathi or Roja level dialogues to a period movie like this. The dialogues are not the hero here. It is the story line and the plot.

Music:

The only comment that I will make is – the music supports the story well (mostly!). Two of the songs are part of the screenplay. There is at least one song that seemed force fitted. The music is nothing to be recalled for. Maybe the one song – Ponni Nadhi Paakanume – is hummable and has recall factor ; the rest are meh. Not bad. They are ok. But not spectacular or recallable.

Summary

Overall, I liked the movie. I am glad that this awesome epic got its movie. Please do not compare the book and the movie. The movie is an adaptation. It is near impossible to make the full book / plot into a movie. Maybe a series, but not a movie.