Ponniyin Selvan-2: An Emotional Stream
Star Cast: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Jayam Ravi, Vikram, Karthi, Aishwarya Lekshmi, Trishna Krishnan, R Parthiban, Prakash Raj, R Sarathkumar, and Jayaram. Ponniyin Selvan 2 Review
Cinematography by Ravi Varman
Edited by A. Sreekar Prasad
Music Composed by A. R. Rahman Ponniyin Selvan 2 Review
Dialogues by B Jeyamohan
Directed by Mani Ratnam
Major Spoiler Alert
Before starting to talk about Ponniyin Selvan’s movie, the book is 70-75 years old. Baahubali poster image of a mother saving a baby from being flown down the stream of water is taken from this book. Nandini’s character inspired many strong women characters and Sivagami has Nandini characteristics. And more specifically, the conspiracy theory behind Aditha Karikalan’s assassination exists in history and the book gave its fictional version. Baahubali conspiracy of killing a Prince using his own weakness has similarities to the originally written book. This is dedicated to those who think how come Baahubali and Ponniyin Selvan have similarities. Makers might have taken inspiration from Parthiban Kanavu, and Ponniyin Selvan both.
Here is the Ponniyin Selvan 1 review [Link] for context. If you’re interested read it and read this one too.
When you’re talking about history or making a movie in half-documentary and half-fiction fashion, you tend to think others are also aware of the people whom you’re talking about. If not, then you give a context to understand. Mani Ratnam kind of directors are more interested in telling you the story they have in hand. So, everything happens as part of the story through a scene or song. The song, Ponni Nadhi, works like a bridge between the Chola period and now. Through lyrics, the song introduces us to time period (971-972 CE) and also talks about the greatness of the Chola Empire. Vanthiyadevan has been used as the audience character (the person who introduces us to any new world or story, can be a voiceover or main character or secondary character) for Kalki Krishnamurthy to take us into the story of that time period. He researched, gathered information, and developed fiction around historical facts. If you read his books like Sivagamiyin Sapatham and Parthiban Kanavu, you understand how he twists things to add his drama to the facts and fictionalises them for effect. In Parthibanban Kanavu, he said Parthiba Cholan‘s dream has been fulfilled by Raja Raja Chola. Why Raja Raja Chola is great? Tamil culture, tradition, and heritage flourished after his reign all over Southeast Asia. His birth name was Arulmozhi Varman. Kalki called him Ponniyin Selvan and through Vanthiyadevan tried to introduce us to his greatness and majestic nature. Slowly, as we read the book, we understand that he grew up as a Nobleman to achieve the things he did. Even today, you can see the names of the people who constructed and helped them in constructing, even if it was a barber or water handler, on the Brihadeeswara Temple or Thanjavur Periya Kovil. Not just for this monument, Raja Raja Chola is majorly known for his warrior skills and expansion of the Chola Empire. He mastered sea trade and hence, the way he constructed sea fleets and a huge army, has become important. Beyond that, his kindness towards people, localising the governance, stopping the system that gives rise to small greedy lords and hereditary kings, and water management. He ruled close to people and in fact, Kundavai, his elder sister, and his maternal aunty have been given ultimate power. This phenomenon is rare in Indian history. This shows us how secure and unabashedly feminist he was in those times. So, why Raja Raja Chola’s story important? If he misses learning from great leaders how to lead people or aspire to promote such leaders, before voting we should know how a leader operates and who should be our leader. Hence, the history of great leaders and failed leaders is important. His governance without any doubt helped the Chola dynasty to flourish for 133 years from 1000 CE – 1133 CE. His ideas are still implemented, even in 2023 CE. He is not just a Tamil king or pride, he is an Indian King and the pride of India.
We have tied blindfolds to our eyes about history and in a loving way, Kalki Krishnamurthy gave it to us as a memorable novel. We need to stop locking ourselves in boundaries of language and borders, at least, to appreciate art and crafts. He even wrote songs in the book and they became so popular that Mani Ratnam also couldn’t do without them. Aga Naga (lovely face), Alaikadal (Rising up and down tides),Devaralan Attam (sacrifice to Kaali),Ratchasa Mamaney (Kamsa -Krishna story) phrases are taken from his written material. When it is a Mani Ratnam film, the technical aspects will be top-class without any doubt. The make-up team, Camera team, Production Design team, and Sound Design (PS-2) team need special mentions and a big bow down. To achieve such visuals during Corona pandemic, doesn’t make it any less of an achievement. A R Rahman‘s music and BGM added layers to the scenes. Just see how he used Chinnanjiru Nilave twice in different versions and contexts. He has put his heart into composing music and BGM for this film, without any second thought. Just listen to the instrumentation and the crystal clear clarity of the background score that never overpowers dialogue. Well, he adds to the experience in a grand way.
For Mani Ratnam, the story belongs to Aditha Karikalan (Vikram) and the drama around his assassination, not the after part. Hence, he started his story with Aditha Karikalan’s introduction in PS-1. It’s his mistake that drives the story. In the book, Kalki Krishnamurthy could start with Aditha or Vanthiyathevan and slowly introduce us to the noblest warrior prince, Arulmozhi Varman (Jayam Ravi). Because he decided to weave his story around the circumstances that led to the assassination of Aditha Karikalan, in a way answering to those who think Arulmozhi Varman assassinated his brother. Historians also agree that it’s not easy to kill a Co-regent Prince as he would always be protected. But Pandya rebels managed to do so. Sundara Chola or Uttama Chola could not bring the perpetrators to court but Arulmozhi Varman did after becoming King. What is the reason behind Aditha Karikalan’s assassination? How could those Rebels achieve what they did? History has no answers. Kalki gave his version of the answers. He started the story by telling us that Dhumaketu, the comet in the sky, will not disappear until it takes the life of a prince or King. So, Pandya Rebels needed someone to place them in the Fort. Hence, he created Nandini. He made Vanthiyathevan, Commander-in-chief of the army and husband of Kundavai, a likable character, a flirt, and a more down-to-earth-like audience. As he created Nandini, he needed a background for her. So, he made her love interest of Aditha Karikalan and her mother, Mandakini, a majestically beautiful lady driven by love. Hence, she doesn’t try to search for her lover but decides to kill herself. Veera Pandya saves her and they have children. As Veera Pandyan (Nassar) doesn’t return for her, she comes to her sister in Thanjavur. Then she gives birth to two twins – a boy and a girl. Nandini is left with a priest family and the boy is adopted by the Sister-in-law of King Sundara Chola. This thread had to be continued till the end and Kalki made Sendhan Amudhan (Ashwin Kakumanu), the real son of Sembiya Mahadevi. While history states Madurantakan Chola (Rehman) became Uttama Chola, upon coronation. All this added to his style of twisted ending to leave novel readers craving for more and reading again. Mani Ratnam took only Nandini and Aditha Karikalan’s story created by Kalki.
Why Mani Ratnam chose to skip fan favorite parts like twists in the end? Why did he not bring in Manimegalai? Why he changed many scenes? To compress a hugely popular novel into two films, is a huge task. He took upon it with a conviction to historical facts and Kalki’s written material. Kalki deserves a big salute for dramatizing the entire sequence and making it immortal. Mani Ratnam, on the other hand, got attracted to not Vanthiyathevan’s travel or Arulmozhi Varman’s magnanimity. He wanted them to contribute to Aditha Karikalan and Nandini’s story. Hence, his story arc ended with Aditha Karikalan’s death. With camera angles, color palettes, with hints to the conclusion in writing, he always told the same. See the background sets of Aditha Karikalan, always in the open. The colors he wears, the places he stays, and even his lines reflect his personality. Nandini, on the other hand, gets the opposite. She has flashy clothes, she is always behind the curtains, in shades, and operates in the dark. Parthibendran Pallavan (Vikram Prabhu) gets enchanted by her so much that he doesn’t even think for a second that she might have killed his friend Aditha Karikalan. He believes that Arulmozhi Varman planned his assassination to become the next king and till the end thinks the same. Mani Ratnam could have handled this character better in the war sequence. In this film, Vanthiyathevan gets sidelined and threats to Arulmozhi Varman take center stage as rebels think he is the weak link. But Arulmozhi always finds a way to save himself and the people around him.
Mani Ratnam has decided to mix the historical facts and fiction of Kalki in the right blend, at least in his vision. So, he changed the original plot of Mandakini, from a person saved and left alone to a person being raped by Veerapandyan and left alone. Veera Pandya in this version, wanted Sundara Chola to feel guilty about her and feel the pain of losing the love of his life forever. Mandakini, unable to face her lover stays away from the capital. She saved Arulmozhi in a young age, hence, she has motherly love towards him. She wants Nandini to not know this history and hence, stays away from her too. In Mani Ratnam’s version, Nandini doesn’t have a twin brother and Sendan Amudhan character lost its importance. So, Mani Ratnam chose to make real Madurantakan put forth his demand of accession to the throne, that is, acceptable by then following hereditary rules, too. Book gives him more time to understand his mistakes and a great scene of remorse, as he is the twin brother of Nandini. Here, he isn’t. The effect drops and hence, Mani Ratnam should have created scenes that show his honorable nature too. Not just his scheming side. The strength behind his drama weakened and hence, the climax looks weak too. Accession to the throne, is not an issue for Mani Ratnam, as his version of Ponniyin Selvan is about saving princes – a suicidal one and a majestic, noble one.
To show the nobility of Arulmozhi Varman, Mani Ratnam showed him as a person who is happy to work with even a lower-class girl. Accept a friend of his elder brother as his friend. Not care about his life to save Vanthiyathevan. In fact, he gets into trouble because he chooses to save his friend in the middle of the ocean. Also, he showed his nobility twice by making him reject the crown. Climax dialogues for Arulmozhi could’ve been better but that’s the idea. Even he stops Fort seize by his Uncle. Aditha Karikalan, in the book, doesn’t agree for the truce. But he wants to meet Nandini and hence, the assassination plan comes to life. Here, Aditha agrees to give up the throne and even go far away with Nandini. Mani Ratnam hence delivered the final scene of these two characters with such power. Mandakini chose love as her way while Nandini chose revenge and vengeance. In the book, it implies that Nandini could’ve married her own father. Mani Ratnam did not go down that route. He made Mandakini, a symbol of an angel by making her savior of Arulmozhi and Sundara Chola. She is ready to sacrifice her life. Nandini decided to take life and hence, she ends up being a dark angel. Color Palettes used by Mani Ratnam like yellow and red for Nandini scenes, and bright open spaces with white dresses for Mandakini scenes explain it clearly. Aditha Karikalan is a character with unrest and guilt. Hence, the camera always tries to show that unrest in 360-degree shots, staging, blocking, and even in his postures. The dresses he wears have colors of black and red in them. Vanthiyathevan until the end doesn’t leave the warrior outfit and yellow dress, except in Kamsa disguise. In the main confrontation scene of Nandini and Aditha, he used red tints and extreme close-up shots meticulously to showcase unrest. He took the teeth out of Sarathkumar’s character and he should have tried to use his character better.
Mani Ratnam succeeded for most of the two parts of his Ponniyin Selvan. His ideas have been brought to the screen with great love and affection. While he could have made better efforts in designing war scenes and giving meat to some fan favorite characters, he delivered a noteworthy film, nonetheless. His target has been to showcase a story that concentrates majorly on assassination and not the aftermath. As the aftermath is popular with audiences and concludes the threads well, he could not deviate from it. Book lovers will have issues with it but his version is also good enough for us to appreciate. For ten things he scrambled, he got ninety things perfect. Performances of every actor stand out but Chiyaan Vikram and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan steal a place in our hearts. Maybe had he dreamt about making accession to throne film, his version of Ponniyin Selvan might have had even better war scenes and an even stronger climax. For all its worth, he delivered a time travelling machine that could take us into Chola’s time-period through his lens. Like any journey this one also has flaws, underwhelming things but still, it’s worth our time.
As I said all in my mind, I’m moving on to listen to Shivoham, now.
Theatrical Trailer: Ponniyin Selvan 2 Review