There’s a reason why Mani Ratnam is called a master storyteller. In Ponniyin Selvan I, based on the eponymous novel by Kalki, the veteran filmmaker shows who’s the boss, and in what’s easily his most ambitious film ever, he passes with flying colors. Mani Ratnam achieves the unthinkable with his film adaptation of the Ponniyin Selvan which he presents with enough thrills, intrigue and drama to keep you pinned. Also read: Ponniyin Selvan I release live updates: Mani Ratnam film set to be highest-opening Tamil film of 2022
The story is majorly centered on Vanthiyathevan (Karthi), who is entrusted by Aditha Karikalan (Vikram) with the task of delivering important messages to his father Sundara Chola (Prakash Raj) and his sister Kundhavi (Trisha). As per the message, plans are being laid out by princely state kings to bring down the empire. It becomes Vanthiyathevan’s duty to find out what the evil plans are and who’s orchestrating everything to tarnish the glory of the Chola Empire. Upon investigation, it is learnt that Nandini (Aishwarya Rai) is the mastermind behind the efforts to bring down the Chola dynasty. But what has turned Nandini into a revenge-seeking princess remains a mystery.
If you’re walking into Ponniyin Selvan expecting an SS Rajamouli-style action spectacle, you might be disappointed. Mani Ratnam relies more on drama to create the tension and it works to a large extent. The film definitely needed more high moments to make you root for the characters, especially someone like, say, Arulmozhi Varman (Jayam Ravi), who is the successor of the Chola kingdom. It’s such a powerful character but he gets a very bland introduction scene that falls flat.
Thankfully, the masterful writing makes up for the lack of more crowd-pleasing moments. It’s really commendable of Mani Ratnam and his team of writers to pick crucial moments from the five-part novel and turn them into captivating scenes for the big screen. Some of the film’s most crucial scenes involving key characters of the story have been so well adapted for the screen. For instance, every scene involving Aishwarya Rai (who is a revelation) is so well written that it leaves a lasting impact.
Mani Ratnam extracts solid performances from each of his actors. Irrespective of their screen time, each actor stands out and it’s a treat to watch them bring out their best. Aishwarya Rai as Nandini has to be the pick of the actors as she has very little to say in terms of dialogues but has so much to express with her eyes and she nails it so convincingly.
Karthi as Vanthiyathevan keeps the mood in an otherwise serious film very lively with his slightly exaggerated but strong performance. Vikram as Aaditha Karikalan lands a very emotional part and as a tragic hero delivers a measured performance. Jayam Ravi as Arulmozhi Varma only appears in the second half but has enough scenes to score and leave a mark. One of the reasons the film leaves the intended impact is because of the superb casting which includes good work by the supporting cast as well. As usual, AR Rahman brings out his A-game in yet another collaboration with Mani Ratnam.
Ponniyin Selvan I
Director: Mani Ratnam
Cast: Jayam Ravi, Karthi, Vikram, Aishwarya Rai, Trisha Krishnan, Sarath Kumar, Jayaram and Sobhita Dhulipala