Ponniyin Selvan I Review: Female Characters Shine In This Period Drama

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Women run the show in Mani Ratnam-directed film Ponniyin Selvan I. The character of Nandini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) and Kundavai (Trisha) are political minds on which the conflict of the whole film relies. These characters are solely not created to show the aura of the 10th century and how princesses looked in those times. We also see grey women characters who hold a vendetta against the Chola dynasty.

While Nandini will go to any lengths to have her way, Kundavai is shown as the smartest kid of Samrat Chola. Her brothers may be great warriors, but she bears a great political mind. When her father Samrat is ill, and the throne is in trouble, Kundavai drives people, executes strategies, and tries to keep her brothers Aditha Karikalan (Vikram) and Arulmozhi Varman (Jayam Ravi) together.

Another strong character, Poonguzhali, also known as Samuthirakumari (Aishwarya Lekshmi), is shown as a lady who works on the boat and ferries commuters. She is smart enough to sense the enemy and protect her king, for whom she secretly has feelings too. Poonguzhali stays with Arulmozhi in the climax scene- something we rarely see women characters do in commercial films.

Ponniyin Selvan I Review, Justifies Novel

Mani Ratnam adapted Ponniyin Selvan I from Kalki Krishnamurthy’s 1955 novel by the same name into a cinematic purview. Ratnam and his writers’ team picked a few crucial events from the five-part epic and turned them into a compelling film without distorting or giving extravagant treatment. However, they managed to do so without tampering the complex characterisation of women in Krishnamurthy’s work.

Mani Ratnam created strong portrayals of women instead of just keeping them for the sake of their part in the lives of kings.

From a storyline point of view, Ponniyin Selvan I depicts the early life of Arulmozhi Varman, a young Chola prince, who went on to become emperor Rajaraja I (947–1014). Ratnam has done justice to the novel, as the backdrop, the setup, background score, and acting are picture perfect. Ravi Varman’s camera does a fantastic job in bringing the story to life. Cinematography has fine detailing, especially the war sequences. AR Rahman’s music enhances storytelling as usual.

Ponniyin Selvan I, Ponniyin Selvan I Review

Although the storytelling does falter in some places. The face-off between Nandini and Kundavai needed more heat, for instance. Varman, aka Ponniyin Selvan’s life, being such an important character gets quite a bland introduction. You might not get goosebumps throughout the film. Another thing that doesn’t work is that the film goes back and forth to narrate the backstory of characters, but a void in storytelling can be sensed.

Nail-biting climax

The film is set in the 10th Century in an era, where the Chola dynasty was ruling across Southern India, under the reign of Sundara Chozhar (Chola Samrat), played by Prakash Raj. The first part revolves around Samrat’s children- Kundavai, Aditha Karikalan, and Ponniyin Selvan and the conspiracy to take them down. It traces the conquest of Aditha and Selvan in Kanchi and Sri Lanka. Mani Ratnam introduces two conflicts running parallelly, one is within the empire by royal chieftains, and the other is external ie., Pandiyan’s revenge and claim of the throne.

The most impressive and important character in the film is Vallavaraiyan Vanthiyathevan (Karthi), a brave, sarcastic warrior prince of the Vaanar Clan, and also the love interest of Kundavai. In a novel as well as a film, the incidents are narrated through the eyes of Vanthiyathevan, whose connection with the whole story is of being Aditha Karikalan’s confidante. Vanthiyathevan brings soul to periodic drama, his witty, quirky, and flirty nature brings flavours to mundane fight sequences. Most of the fight sequence features Vanthiyathevan, they are exemplary. His character is fit for a spinoff, given its backstory.

The ocean sequence in the climax is nail-biting. The climax puts you on edge and makes you restless about what will happen next. The film also sets the stage for the next part. With all the twists and turns, and brewing conspiracies, the film is worth a watch. And, if you are a fan of history and want to tour the world a few centuries back, then you are going to enjoy this film.

Views expressed are the author’s own.

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