Disclaimer – I have read Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan. Also, I love Mouna Raagam, Nayagan, Thalapathy- these movies which I must have watched countless number of times, but hated Kaatru Veliyidai and Ok Kanmai (except ofcourse for his classic cult scenes/dialogues)
This is so that you don’t have a preconceived notion about me, while you read my review.
With all good seats becoming quickly unavailable in bookmyshow even during the second week of PS1, I was lucky enough to get a movie ticket yesterday. The theater was full house even for a 7 am show. People of all ages, ranging from babies to 80 year old were waiting in lines to enter the theater, something which I had never seen in recent times. On a not-so-different note, Ponniyin Selvan book sales have also soared sky high. Even those who hadn’t read the book before, were either trying hard to finish up the books before they watched the movie, or were listening to audibles or youtubers telling them a crux of the book. The actors, technicians and their movie promotions have been incredible in raising the pulse rate of the audience. So yes, PS craze was crazy!
So then, how was the movie? This is my review of Mani’s Ponniyin Selvan. And as much as I want to say I loved the movie, I was a little disappointed. Read on to know why.
I honestly felt iMani did a great attempt in trying to create Ponniyin Selvan, and the actors’ performance was stunning. The story here is incredible, Mani has his job cut out for him that way. The lighting was amazing, the screenplay was good. The main problem that didn’t work for me was how the 3 books were compressed into PS1. It felt rushed through. I wanted more.
I am not comparing Bahubali to PS here. Let’s compare successful book adaptation to movies instead. Can you imagine seeing all of J.K.Rowling’s 7 books in 1 movie or 2 parts? You know, we would have missed out on so many magical moments. Those small moments added to the character’s strength and made us fall in love with the characters and the movie. Infact, HP’s movie adaptation didn’t stay very true to the book. There were lots of adjustments that was done here and there, to make the movie interesting for people who hadn’t read the books to understand the movie. So Mani’s adjustment to PS book isn’t really my complaint here.
In PS1 – first 3 books had been abridged into a 3 hours movie. Mani, Jeyamohan and Elango have done justice to the screenplay. If I was told to cut the book to fit into 3 hours, I might have done the same. But as a person who longed to see every bit of drama which had unfolded in my mind as I was reading the book, transferred onto the big screen, I was disappointed to see it cut short before I could relish it. Each scene was over before my sensory buds could fully enjoy it! I wanted to savor each bite, but no that couldn’t happen.
This was not to say I hated the movie, don’t get me wrong. Some parts of what I saw was amazing. I particularly was excited to see Adithya Karikalan aka Vikram’s face emerging out of the mist. He on a horse, riding with flair, gosh, it was an absolute pleasure to see this scene. And as we get to see him fighting the Pandiyas alongside Vandiyathevan aka Karthi, I knew right then that the movie was going to tell Kalki’s PS story in it’s own words. I was not disappointed, I was only intrigued.
Ponni nadhi song visualized the book’s description of Chozha nadu’s valam so beautifully, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing it all play out scene by scene. Azhvarkadaiyan Nambi aka Thirumaal aka JayaRam’s introduction was true to the book as well and it was fun to see him. But I got to say, it didn’t gel well with me to see Vandiyathevan hitting Nambi, sitting on top of him or torturing Nambi by pushing his face in water, as this was not characteristic of Vandiyathevan at all. This was not the person Kalki had written about, the one most of the women had fallen secretly in love with, after reading PS. Vandiyathevan was someone, who could get out of any scenario through the magic of his words, violence was something he never portrayed in the book. So yes, that was kind of jarring in the movie. Left a sour aftertaste.
But in rest of the scenes, where Karthi meets Nandini aka Aishwarya Rai and Kundavai aka Trisha, he stayed true to his character. Be it whether a man who is struck dumb by beauty or love smitten, Karthi showed it in his eyes so well. But the women, Trisha and Nandini, seemed to have had an edge over him in the art of talking or expressing with eyes. Trisha’s meet cute with Karthi was not really from the book, but Mani’s imagination wasn’t bad at all. Ofcourse as a PS book lover, I would have loved to see Karthi barge into Kudanthai josiyar’s house, and apologizing like a fool later :).
There were so many such scenes, where as a PS book lover, I had expected and longed to see them come to real life, but was heartbroken to find that Mani had ignored them completely. And there were those which were showed on screen but didn’t come out the way I had imagined in my mind (the problem of all book readers here). For example, the secret passage scenes where Vandhiyathevan goes to hide and sees Mathuranthangan accidentally, went by so quickly and were more of a joke than a thrill factor. The book would have treated it differently. The entire sequence was different and was more interesting in the book. And while we are on this subject, can someone tell me why Chinna Pazhuvettarayar aka Parthiban was even seen in those scenes? Mani’s PS, you say?
Coming to Parthiban, I liked him as Chinna Pazhuvettarayar, with his ever so strict eyes that pierces a man’s soul. Sarathkumar aka Periya Pazhuvettarayar, does a decent job convincing us of being smitten by Nandini’s beauty. Coming to Nandini – she is the hero of PS. But I don’t think she was treated as such. Kalki’s Nandini never allowed Periya Pazhuvettarayar to come close to her. Touching her hand was the least he could do in the book. So, when I saw Periya Pazhuvettarayar hugging Nandini on screen, a soft cry escaped my lips. But I consoled myself saying this was Mani’s PS. And whatever Nandini talks to Sarathkumar comes by so fast.
The people I went along with didn’t read the book, and they enjoyed seeing Aishwarya Rai rather than trying to understand what she was saying. The dialogues were over so quickly. When asked if they were able to understand, I was shushed because they didn’t want to miss the next scene. In the interval block, however they divulged that they had no clue what Aishwarya Rai and Sarathkumar were talking about. But isn’t that where the main plotting happens? As for Nandini, she wears lovely jewels and walks slowly but doesn’t extrude mystery and cunningness typical of her. Also she is shown to be excited hearing Karikalan’s name while in the book, she actually would be excited to hear Nambi’s name which was strange. Mani’s PS1, I know.
As the movie progressed, I did wonder if people who didn’t read the book could understand anything of what was happening and why. Like that boy sitting on the cave beside Pandiya aabathuvathigal, did they know who he was, because it was not given any clarity in the movie.
Aditya Karikalan’s flashback however, was done justice and everyone could have understood the history there. His anguished eyes, angry demeanor, jealous character have set the scenes for PS2 beautifully. I enjoyed Aaditya Karikalan’s portrayal so much. The song Chola Chola – not so much.
The second part rushed by so quickly more than the first half, with Jayam Ravi showcasing his classic performance as Raja Raja Chozhan aka Arulmozhi Varman. But all the build up in terms of his character/behaviour given in the book for Arulmozhi Varman was missing in movie, which made me look at him as just another good character. We get to see all his important scenes in book3 whiz by so quickly that I was like, oh this happened?, and this now…oh this is that scene.. every second. Jayam Ravi had given a remarkable performance as Arulmozhi Varman, be it in the way he shows laughter in his eyes whenever he talks to Karthi, or the way he carries himself. But I wish Mani had given him more nuances to showcase his character apart from fighting. The book would have dedicated pages to tell the readers how even his face exuberates wisdom, calm and love. Jayam Ravi looked all that – but the scenes where he talks were rushed throughout, and never tried the convey the full essence to the audience.
Poonghuzali, oh gosh- so different from how Kalki had imagined her in the book. Hopefully she will be given a strong screen presence in PS2. People love her in the book, be it for her craziness, or wildness. In the movie, she was more like Nila athu vaanathu mela song lady, who can row a boat, catch fish and look stunning. She was reduced to a level that people who saw the movie without reading the book can only appreciate her for her beauty. No more dimensions to her character! I wish there could have been more scenes to portray her brilliance. Mani couldn’t do more, because he was scrunched for time and besides it is Mani’s PS not Kalki’s PS. Ofcourse , he didn’t show Manimegalai as well, the one who is filled with innocence, the one who left us in tears, at the end of the book. I wonder if she will be shown in PS2.
That’s the thing – I wish I could see it all. But whatever Mani wanted to show to us, he had crafted it in his own way, not Kalki’s way. The lighting was beyond excellence. His actors have all done their job well. Their costumes, hair accessories and jewellery were a treat to the eyes. There could have been none better than Mani who could bring such elegance to screen for PS characters. This was a classic Mani’s show all the way. But the story? I wonder why he chose to do this as a 2 part movie instead of a 5 part one.
Kalki’s PS – made us love every character in PS, because he spent time painting every single character in the book with vivid colors. There were so many dimensions to each character. Due to Mani condensing 3 books to 1 movie, many beautiful characters were left out…and even those shown, don’t get enough screen presence for us to understand their power, their character and fall in love with each of them, like we did in the book.
It was not that Mani had taken a bad movie. (I am not even going to talk about the castles or set – this movie was more about the characters and their story, so I would like to ignore that.) I am only disappointed that he had not brought the entire book to life here. If he had spent more time for each character, be it Chenthan Amuthan, his mother, or Poonghuzhali, or Nambi….. and had taken a real movie adaptation of the book – it would have been wonderful.
HP movie won because it did justice to each part of the book that J.K.Rowling wrote. Maybe Mani should have done that. PS could have been taken in 5 parts. This was the only way fans who adored the book would have been fully satisfied. It would have been like a complete meal. This way even those who hadn’t read the book would have understood the movie. Budget constraints ofcourse.
So Mani’s abridged PS1, has done a good recreation of the movie. And even though I say PS1 felt rushed and was over even before it began, it was truly exhilarating to see my dream characters on screen. Mani has paved the path for Ponniyin Selvan to come. I am pretty sure someone would do a web series on this soon. I only hope it is half as good as Mani’s PS or Kalki’s PS.