The events of Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan: 1, which released late last year, left audiences not just on a high, but also with many questions: What really happened to Arunmozhi Varman? Who is the mysterious lady who makes fleeting but impactful appearances? And most importantly, what happened to the succession battle for the Chola kingdom?
Ponniyin Selvan: 2 answers these queries — as it should. Mani Ratnam’s sequel takes liberal creative liberties by leaving out some parts from the Tamil classic in order to present it cinematically — and the climax might be the subject of some discussion in this context, especially among fans of the book — but it largely encapsulates the myriad twists and turns as the story unravels.
We were given a sneak peek into the romance of Aditha Karikalan (Vikram) and Nandini (Aishwarya Rai) in the first part. Ponniyin Selvan: 2 opens with this angle; the first shot is that of a young Nandini taking a dip in a river. Remember this shot, because it makes a sort of a comeback later in the film. In thes pan of a few minutes, Ratnam packs in almost three short AR Rahman songs to narrate this story of young love, before he plunges into the actual story.
We get why, though. The Karikalan-Nandini angle is the root of most of the confusion in the Chola kingdom, a place that continues to see much turmoil. Arunmozhi Varman aka Ponniyin Selvan iswell and alive — but he suffers from an illness. Can he return and reclaim his position as the successor to the throne? Will Aditha Karikalan meet Nandini and what will transpire of that? And what about Vandhiyathevan (Karthi), through whom we were introduced to the main characters?
The zing of the first installment might be missing here, but there is certainly more depth to the characters. Despite having to chronicle several character arcs and showcase the twists and turns, Mani Ratnam’s cinematic flourishes come to the fore. The director has always been an expert at showcasing two different character sequences packaged as one; remember how he juxtaposed Rajinikanth’s fight sequences with Arvind Swamy’s swearing-in ceremony in Thalapathi? He employs a similar technique during a death sequence; there is silence all around the body, while a slow-motion fight happens elsewhere, replete with Tamil poetic lines being recited in the background. There is poetry and poignance at once. Much like the sequence involving the three main actors — Vikram, Jayam Ravi and Trisha — that was heartening to watch.
Ponniyin Selvan 2
However, some of the scenes do extend more than they ought to; there’s a Vikram-Aishwarya Rai meet-up that becomes too dialogue-oriented, but do watch out for their sparking performances and cinematographer Ravi Varman’s rich use of light and colour in this particular sequence. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s hard work and effort to portray Nandini shows on the big screen, and she oozes confidence, but one wishes the makers gave this character more heft in the end. Somehow, she gets a lot of character-building (Vikram even describes her as ‘the snake from Pazhavoor’) but her different shades could have been conveyed more effectively. Thankfully, the Karthi-Trisha romance is more understated and subtle, with the likeable ‘Aga Naga’ playing in the background and ending with an apt top-angle shot.
If Karthi was the life of the first part — we had written back then that he “kindled a feeling of joie de vivre, thanks to his zesty acting style” — Vikram and Jayam Ravi get their act together here, with powerful performances. Vikram displays flashes of acting brilliance, especially during the sequence where he learns that a plot is brewing against him. Jayam Ravi comes across as more quiet and confident, especially in a sequence that involves Buddhist monks saving him from a tricky situation. Whoever said ‘mass’ moments needed lots of action?
Aiding this galaxy of actors — including Prakash Raj, Sarath Kumar, Parthiban, Kishore, Vikram Prabhu and Rahman — is a rousing score from AR Rahman who seems to know when to dish out soft musical cues (the usage of ‘Aga Naga’) and go all out with powerful vocals and percussion (the usage of the PS anthem). He even explores a paasuram from Andal’s Thirupaavai — the ‘Aazhi Mazhai Kanna’ track which, interestingly, refers to the sea, and is actually believed to have swallowed two key characters in the film. Editing this magnum opus would have quite a task, especially considering the number of established actors, but Sreekar Prasad’s cuts ensure we get a glimpse of as much drama as possible.
Despite the war sequences in the end, it is the interpersonal dynamics and drama between its main characters that make the core of Ponniyin Selvan. Kalki has packed inside his literary work several twists that might be a little hard to understand for someone unfamiliar with the PS universe and the family tree, but Mani Ratnam’s cinematic adaptation makes for a satisfactory watch.
Ponniyin Selvan: 2 is currently running in theatres