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Ponniyin Selvan: Part 1 Movie Review: Mani Ratnam makes a spectacular adaptation of Kalki's epic

Modified On: 06 October 2022 | Reviewed By:

Storyline: The Chola kingdom is under threat from forces both internal and external and with crown prince Aaditha Karikalan, his younger brother Arunmozhi Varman and the emperor, Sundara Cholar separated by the situation, it is up to a messenger to ensure the safety of the kingdom. Can he succeed in his mission with all odds is the story.

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Ponniyin Selvan 1 Review: Kalki's Ponniyin Selvan is a epic story that has so far remained elusive to film for many a Tamil filmmaker, and Mani Ratnam finally brings the dream alive with this spectacular adaptation that superbly captures the intrigue, thrills and page-turning quality of the books. In this first of a two-part franchise, the director and his writers — Jeyamohan and Ilango Kumaravel — rise up to the challenge. The manner in which they have condensed the novel is admirable. Jeyamohan's dialogues are especially a highlight as he uses language that is both classical and colloquial without making it seem odd.

Crown prince Aaditha Karikalan (Vikram) entrusts his friend Vandhiyathevan (Karthi) to deliver a message to his father and emperor Sundara Cholar (Prakash Raj) and sister, princess Kunthavai (Trisha) on the threats that the kingdom is facing. The schemers include Periya Pazhuvettarayar (Sarath Kumar) and Chinna Pazhuvettarayar (Radhakrishnan Parthiban), the empire's finance minister and commander, the numerous kings who have sworn fealty to the emperor, the remaining forces of the vanquished Pandya king and most importantly, Nandhini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), Karikalan's former lover and the wife of Periya Pazhuvettarayar, who is determined to bring the entire Chola empire down for reasons of her own.

These portions, which inevitably have a bit of exposition given the nature of the plot, have rather jerky transitions as one is introduced to the numerous players in the plot and the history between them. There are times when one feels too many events being crammed up in a short time, which might make it hard for those who haven't read the books, to follow the plot. The swift character introductions also mean that we are already on to the next character before we have fully grasped the motives of the one we have just been introduced to.

But then, the film starts settling down and by the time we reach the intermission point (the ghost from the last that haunts Karikalan), we find ourselves engrossed in this narrative involving palace intrigue. And when the action shifts to Sri Lanka, where Karikalan's younger brother, Arunmozhi Varman (Jayam Ravi), the titular Ponniyin Selvan, is trying to capture the king of the land, the pace quickens and the film races towards the end, with nail-biting sequences involving the slain Pandya king's personal guards — who land there to kill Arunmozhi — and the director sets up the sequel on a high note, with a swashbuckling stunt on a ship on the stormy sea.

The casting is more or less spot on. Karthi is terrific as the playful Vandhiyathevan, and along with Jayaram, who plays the spy Alwarkadiyan, infuses humour into the largely serious proceedings. Aishwarya captures the spirit of Nandhini with her beguiling looks, while Vikram, Jayam Ravi and Trisha are effective as the royalty. Shooting largely on real locations, cinematographer Ravi Varman gives us spectacle in the visuals of grand fort walls, the spacious halls with multiple pillars and high ceilings, a solitary boat on a wide expanse of the ocean and innumerable bodies lined up on the beach. While AR Rahman's chopped-up songs are mainly used to further the narrative, his score helps in lending a rousing quality to the proceedings in the second half.

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