The credits read:
A musical by AR Rahman
A film by Mani Ratnam
Add to it, ‘A visual extravaganza by cinematographer Ravi Varman’ to encapsulate the awesomeness of this stunning audio-visual experience.
Reopening the glorious chapter of the Chola dynasty, the screenplay by Mani Ratnam, Kumaravel and Jeyamohan turns Kalki’s 1955 novel, a fact and fiction mix, into a captivating cinematic experience.
Using the foreboding visual of a comet blazing angrily in the sky and Ajay Devgn’s narrative voice in the background, Mani Ratnam sets the atmosphere for bloodshed that happened over 1000 years ago. The comet’s thirsting for the blood of the Cholas.
Alongside the swashbuckling bravery, heroic integrity and war skills of crown prince Aditya Karikalan (Vikram) and his younger brother Arulmozhi Varman (Jayam Ravi), the palace is rocked by the brainwork of their sister Kundavai (Trisha) and the beautiful Nandini (Aishwarya Rai) who’s at the crux of a two-level conspiracy of intrigue. With the three royal siblings and their father, emperor Sundara Chola (Prakash Raj) in different locations, it takes the wits and the warrior courage of Aditya’s friend and closest aide Vallavaraiyan Vanthiyathevan alias Vanthiyathevan (Karthi) to travel far and wide to appraise all of them of a plot that’s afoot to wrest the crown from them.
The two-tier palace intrigue revolves around the Chola throne in Tanjore and dizzies in and out of Aditya’s pierced heart. A heartwrench that has turned him into a wine and war seeking monster and Nandini into a seething snake.
Mani Ratnam serves it all like a royal spread. Music, dance, colour, levity, romance, heartbreak and blood-spilling battles make a spectacular audio-visual. A shoutout to production designer Thota Tharani.
The writing and direction ensure that emotions spill over a vast canvas with valour, vengeance, vanity and loyalty, driven by a generous dose of injured entitlement. The implications are historically spread over an empire but the core stays identifiably and essentially human.
Battle scenes on land and sea, with humans, horses and elephants, vibrant and varied dances, a background score that’s classical and yet contemporary, have energy written all over them.
On the minus side, one isn’t sure how the audience, especially the Hindi masses, unversed in the adventurous history of the Cholas will take to it. It also takes a long time to sort out the many scattered characters and their raison d’etre until almost halftime when the plot narrows down to its main players. With too many performers around to name them all, Vikram and Karthi stand out. And there’s nobody to touch Aishwarya Rai when it comes to beguiling beauty.
Since the story settles down by the end of Part 1, with Arulmozhi Varman still to emerge as Raja Raja Chola whose reign embellished the dynasty and the silent Rani (Aishwarya Rai in a double role), his mysterious guardian angel, still to show her face, there’s plenty to look forward to in PS 2.
Meanwhile, well done, Team PS.
Watch the trailer of Ponniyin Selvan 1: