Mani Ratnam's Ponniyin Selvan, based on Tamil writer Kalki Krishnamurthy's historical fiction, is among the biggest Indian films of the year. Befitting a project of such scale and grandeur, the trailer and audio launch function of the film that has music by AR Rahman, held in Chennai's Nehru Indoor Stadium on Tuesday evening, was rich in production value and graced by the who's who of tinseltown.
Packaged with great musical performances and speeches, the launch could well be among the best film events conducted in recent times. Apart from the starcast, which includes Vikram, Jayam Ravi, Karthi, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Trisha among others, the two ruling icons of Tamil cinema — Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan — held forth as well. Here are some highlights from the event:
The endearing Rajinikanth-Kamal camaraderie
'Do you want to go down and sit, Kamal?'
'No, I'll stand here and listen to you, Rajini.'
The friendship and bond between the two superstars of Tamil cinema was well on display at the launch. While the two actors do not star in Mani Ratnam's magnum opus, they still have a connection with the director, having starred in his classic outings like Nayagan (1987) and Thalapathi (1991). Kamal Haasan said, "Ponniyin Selvan has been a dream film for a long time. MGR wanted to do it. When I requested him to give me the rights, he did so, but asked me to do it fast. I didn't understand why he said that then. However, I always knew one thing: if someone was attempting to make it as a film, it would be either me or Mani Ratnam. I'm glad he has pursued this dream. This will be an important victory for him."
Rajinikanth, after regaling the audience with fun tales about shooting for Mani Ratnam's Thalapathi in Mysore, revealed why no one had attempted to take up a cinematic representation of Kalki's classic Tamil novel on the big screen. "It's probably because there wasn't a part one, part two concept in the past. Otherwise, film stalwarts in the past wouldn't have let go of this subject," he said, adding, "Though I'm an avid reader, I didn't read Ponniyin Selvan initially because it was a lengthy read. After I came across a remark by Jayalalithaa madam that I would be apt to be cast in a cinematic version of the book, I was intrigued, and immediately started reading it. The writing and storytelling in this book is amazing."
Music and dance
Ponniyin Selvan marks thirty years of the Mani Ratnam-AR Rahman combination, which has dished out memorable albums since Roja (1992). Celebrating this collaboration were singers Sathyaprakash, Rakshita and a team of enthusiastic singers who took audiences on a musical trip to the Nineties and 2000s, performing numbers from hits like Bombay, Alaipayuthe and Guru. Some of the performances even got the celebrities among the audience on their feet; Siddharth and Trisha, the original stars of the fast 'Yaakai Thiri' number (Aayutha Ezhuthu) were seen singing and grooving during its performance. The other musical highlight was composers Yuvan Shankar Raja and Santhosh Narayanan trying their hand at some drumming along with Sivamani.
Apart from performing the 'Ponni Nadhi' number, AR Rahman spoke extensively about the research that went into finding the soundscape that suited the project that has lyrics by Ilango Krishnan, Kabilan, Siva Ananth and Krithika Nelson. The opening portions of 'Ponni Nadhi' in the film album was crooned by singer Bamba Bakya, who passed away recently. "I had done an entire album with him, consisting of ten songs. We can't finish it now unfortunately," rued Rahman.
A dream come true
If Jayaram had the crowd in splits with his mimicry of how Mani Ratnam would be on set, Karthi, Vikram and Jayam Ravi narrated why it was important that this historical novel be told on screen. Karthi said, "There are so many novels in Tamil but this is special."
For Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, who spoke in Tamil on stage, this was an opportunity to get back to her roots as an actor. "I started my training as an actor in Mani Ratnam's Iruvar. Ponniyin Selvan is precious in my journey as an actor."
It's also precious for actor Nasser, who had earlier acted in a play based on the same novel. "Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan were present during that occasion too," revealed the actor, "Back then, I played the role of Aditya Karikalan, which Vikram is now enacting in the film. Just rehearsing for that play was like going into the past. Whenever I go abroad, I'm always asked about Ponniyin Selvan. Like all of you, I'm also eagerly awaiting it."
The film, produced by Subaskaran of Lyca Productions, will hit screens on September 30. Mani Ratnam said, "After I completed my previous project Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, I met him (Subaskaran), who asked me what I wanted to do next. I said I wanted to take up Ponniyin Selvan. All it took for him was two minutes to say yes, to realise what has been a 70-year-old dream for the Tamil film fraternity. Will it be like Baahubali, he asked. I said no. Will it be like Padmaavat, he asked. I said no again. Ponniyin Selvan will be like what Kalki had written."