It has been a dream for generations of Tamilians to have writer Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvam come to the silver screen. Many years ago, I watched the adaption of the novel into a stage play which was breathtaking. Ponniyin Selvan 1 (2022) by veteran director Manirathnam benefits not only from Kalki’s rich imagination but a dazzling lineup of stars: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Trisha, Vikram, Jayam Ravi, Karthi & many others. Writer Jeyamohan‘s dialogues and the screenplay aided by Elango Kumaravel were the real strength of the film – their work has answered how the characters should be speaking, do they speak in contemporary Tamil or alienating the audience by speaking the language as it was prevalent over 1000 years ago. PS1 is a visual treat, don’t miss watching it in a theatre near you.
The casting for the most part was perfect. Hands down, Trisha & Aishwarya who were more (is it possible?) gorgeous than ever dominated the narrative and stole our hearts. As Vandiyedavan, Karthi has given a good performance. Jayam Ravi has similarly brought to life Arulmozhi Varman. I liked the character of Azhwarkadiyan Nambi played by veteran Jayaram. The costumes and jewellery of all the characters were dazzling and outstanding.
Now the unsatisfactory parts. The forts shown in the film of the various cities feel North Indian. I didn’t get a Tanjore/Tamil Nadu vibe anywhere. So was the makeup of the artists, they didn’t appear South Indian – I don’t mean only the absence of darker skin tone but the accentuated features. The lush green visuals for Sri Lanka were brilliant but there was very little of the same for Thanjavur. Known as the rice basket of South India, ancient Tamil literature records that a full-grown forest elephant can comfortably hide in the paddy fields of the Tanjore, I expected to see that when Vandiyedavan was riding through it singing the “Ponni Nadhi” song, but they were absent.
For me, Cholas mean their sculptures and their Gods – and these were to be seen nowhere as well, not even in the palace scenes, instead we saw blank, empty columns. I have been to Gangai Konda Cholapuram, Darasuram, and Thanjavur Big Temple in recent months and that might be influencing my imagination of what the great Chola kings of the era would look like. I am not suggesting any of what is shown in the film to be inaccurate or historically wrong, I have no expertise to say so, it is just they felt short of my imagination.
Having said the above, I am eagerly looking to the sequel and being entertained once more.