These are the hype times, and the hype machine keeps on working. But even after making room for it, the anticipation and buzz surrounding the release of Mani Ratnam’s album Ponniyin Selvan 1 – hit theaters around the world today – has been impressive. Even in distant nations, where Tamil films are only superficially released, they are taking a different path to Ponniyin Selvan. For example, in Sweden, great films in Tamil are released on a single, undefined screen. But Ponniyin Selvan is being released in 3 theaters, including an Imax. This is unheard of for a Tamil film in recent times is what the locals say.
Can a movie that comes with that expectation live up to that? Well, before we get into what the critics say, here is a brief recap of what the film is all about and why it matters to Tamil audiences.
history of history
Ponniyin Selvan is a five part historical fiction series based on the life of Arulmozhi Varman, who later became the great Chola Emperor Rajaraja Chola I. Written by famous author ‘Kalki’ Krishnamoorthy, the 2000+ page novel was first published time as a weekly offering in Tamil Magazine Kalki from October 29, 1950 to May 16, 1954. The story is basically a saga of the power struggle between the three popular southern kingdoms—Chola, Chera, and Pandiyan.
The novel, with its bold narrative and Kalki’s elaborate prose, has captured the imagination of Tamils for several decades, and the book is among the best sellers in Tamil and has been translated into several languages with equal success.
The book fascinated filmmakers, and many of them, including the legendary MG Ramachandran, and the most talented Tamil filmmaker Kamal Haasan, among others, wanted to bring the novel to life on celluloid. But for various reasons, most notably the daunting nature of the task, the movie version of the beloved book never materialized. And then director Mani Ratnam, whose films are often a far cry from historical ones, began the task three years ago.
And despite the pandemic and the lockdown, the man managed to shoot the film in two parts, and the first part is already in theaters. The film has a star-studded cast – consisting of Vikram, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Jayam Ravi, Karthi, Trisha, Aishwarya Lekshmi, Sobhita Dhulipala, Prabhu, Sarathkumar, Vikram Prabhu, Jayaram, Prakash Raj, Rahman, and the music is by AR Rahman and camera by Ravi Varman.
Despite Mani Ratnam’s indisputable class and style, and regardless of the talent of the vast and the crew, the question that kept ringing was: can a book like this Ponniyin Selvanthat captured the public’s imagination in countless ways, to be successfully made into a movie?
Positive words, mostly
Going by the early reviews of the film, the answer seems to be a big ‘yes’. Mani Ratnam, early reports suggest, has the winner in his hands. “…Mani Ratnam finally brings the dream to life with this spectacular adaptation that superbly captures the intrigue, emotion and page-turning quality of the books,” said the reviewer for India’s leading newspaper. India times (opens in new tab). Writers Jeyamohan and Ilango Kumaravel, the review added, have condensed the novel admirably, with the changes adding to the narrative momentum.
“The soul of Kalki’s book is effectively maintained. The characters’ motives are never really questioned as the plot keeps you well aware of what’s at stake.” another reviewer said (opens in new tab).
On Twitter, where the noise is always loud for these releases, the first words were no less flattering. a user @Darktoevsky (opens in new tab) said, “Period film with zero western influence, so ingrained, original, mostly live locations. First of its kind at South Indian Cinema (sic).”
Film producer and Kollywood personality Dhananjayan (opens in new tab) tweeted: “#PonniyinSelvan is brilliant teamwork led by #ManiRatnam sir @arrahman @sreekar_prasad DoP #Ravivarman #ThottaTharani and others. Every Tamil will be proud of this epic film by @MadrasTalkies_@LycaProductions. Narrated so well. Don’t miss out on Theater experience 👏🏆😇 (sic).”
Amidst all this commotion, there was also a set of fans from the Telugu States who claimed that the film was boring and less interesting. The response from Tamil fans was that these fans did not want Ponniyin Selvan overshadow bahubali.
Well the fight between the fans, well this is a much more intense battle than anything from the kings in Ponniyin Selvan may have fought.