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Ponniyin Selvan: I

Farhad Dalal
By-
Farhad Dalal
Rating
3.5 Star popcorn reviewss

Introduction

Onto the final release of the weekend and I have finished watching the biggest magnum opus of the weekend Ponniyin Selvan 1 aka PS1 in a theatre near me. And if you gave been following my reviews then you would know that I am a fan of history and culture. In fact one of my favourite subjects in school was History. It might come from the fact that I am a stories person(and so my love for cinema) and through the subject, I got to learn and listen to so many stories from the past. It was quite honestly intriguing and indulging at the same time.

However, History as a subject did have an angle to it. While the chapters in our History textbooks did focus on the Historic events primarily in the north and central India, the sections of South India lacked the details. This is not a complain but just that the kid in me may have been deprived of some parts of the subject from down South.

So the Chola Dynasty barely might have had a passing page or chapter in the text books without any specific details of the events. And so when Mani Ratnam had announced his next directorial to be on the Chola Dynasty titled Ponniyin Selvan in a two part film, I was supremely excited. Honestly there was a lot to look forward to given the subject, scale, makers and the cast. Now that the film Ponniyin Selvan 1 aka PS 1 has been released, here are my two cents on the film.

Story & Screenplay

Based on a 1955 novel by Kalki Krishnamurthy, Ponniyin Selvan 1 aka PS 1 follows the story of the Chola dynasty wherein many people within the kingdom(and outside) have their eyes on the crown after the Emperor falls sick. The story is very intriguing primarily because I did not have much details about the Chola Dynasty. The enthusiastic history lover in me was immensely happy to witness this magnum opus onscreen. Standing at almost 170 minutes, the long runtime of the film was met with criticism. And I will try to reason with you my points on the same.

Firstly, the drama is a slow burner which takes time to develop. And to top it this is an immersive experience of the highest order. This basically means that the screenplay comprises of multiple characters and multiple subplots which demand your unwavering attention. The drama unfolds in the second layer which means it is complex and layered and hence if you aren’t familiar with this part of history, you need to be doubly focused. This is the sole reason why this film was met with mixed reviews. And quite honestly neither the audience nor the filmmakers are at fault. It depends on the viewer on how much he wishes to immerse himself in the drama. The level of satisfaction will depend on this very fact!

I can’t quite remember the last time a historical film was this cerebral in nature. If you are expecting an RRR or a Bahubali then you will surely be disappointed. The entire drama unfolds in the second layer, at times even the third layer, making it consistently layered and cerebral. The ulterior motives of characters is when the film scores the best as far as I am concerned. The conversational nature of the screenplay was really refreshing for me although it maybe a niche to many others.

The subtle twists and turns in the screenplay are interesting and engrossing. Each scene reveals a new dimension which could possibly impact the overall scenario. In almost a Game Of Thrones kind of approach wherein every character is well fleshed out and a crucial player in the overall screenplay. Where the film falters is in its combat sequence which seem to be haphazardly shot(and surprisingly so). Barring the sequence in the final act, the action sequences do not quite work.

A minor drawback could also be the origin story of Ponniyin Selvan. He is introduced only after the halfway mark and he probably could have been given a little more screentime for the audience to whole heartedly warm up to him. But the final act is spectacular and takes the cake. And things are nicely setup for the second part to absolutely go for the kill. Multiple threads are still loose which would eventually terminate in the second part which really promises to be the biggest magnum opus ever! Hopefully, some of the flaws in part 1 are rectified which would raise the bar in part 2.

Dialogues, Music & Direction

The dialogues are cerebral and really well translated in Hindi. It did not seem out of place like in Brahmastra and were quite effective given that the format was conversational. The music and BGM by AR Rahman is exceptional who seems to have found his mojo again. It blends brilliantly with the drama only to enhance the impact of several scenes. The cinematography is really good and this film is a visual delight. However, the combat sequences wern’t shot very well. The editing us good as is the costume design which definitely gives the film as aesthetic look. Director Mani Ratnam has done a splendid job even though this is far from his absolute best. But the brilliant filmmaker that he is, even on a bad day he is way better than so many other filmmakers. Also, Mani Ratnam’s filmmaking is an acquired taste, you will enjoy the film more in its second and third viewing. Here, his direction is first rate wherein he deliberately challenges the audience to keep the attention on right throughout.

Performances

The performances are excellent here. Vinodhini Vaidyanathan as Vasuki does have her moments to shine. Arjun Chidambaram as Varagunan and Riyaz Khan as Soman are first rate as is Kishore as Ravi Dasan and Lal as Tirukoilur. Ashwin Kakumanu as Senthan is impressive despite a limited screentime. R Parthiban as Chinna Pazhuvettaraiyar is excellent to watch as is Rahman as Madhurantaka and Prakash Raj as Sundara Chola who is an absolute pleasure to watch every time. Vikram Prabhu as Pallavan and R Sarathkumar as Periya are both pretty good. Jayaram as Nambi adds to the comic relief of the film rather well.

Sobhita Dhulipala is excellent here in a limited screentime although I do feel her character may have better scope in the next part. Aishwarya Lekshmi as Poonguzhali is brilliant too and another character who I think might play a vital role in the second part. Trisha as Kundavai looks so pretty and does a swell job here in a very well restrained role. Karthi as Vallavaraiyan is quietly charming but he also excels in a few combat sequences. Jayam Ravi as Ponniyin Selvan is just warming up in part one(although very endearing and really good here). I am sure he will own the screen in the second part. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as Nandhini is just so brilliant. Driven by a motive of revenge, her character is calculative and she expresses her motives so beautifully through her eyes. This is vintage Aishwarya if ever there was one. Chiyaan Vikram is one of my favourite actors who doesn’t always get his due credit. Here as Aditya, his character required a trait of madness to it. And he just delivers a stunning performance while never going overboard! This was a towering act which will only grow in the next part.

Conclusion

Ponniyin Selvan aka PS1 is a brilliantly immersive and cerebral magnum opus that needs your undivided attention to truly understand the nuances of its writing. And it is definitely a big screen experience. Available in a theatre near you!

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