Ponniyin Selvan 1 Review: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Karthi and Vikram steal the show in Mani Ratnam’s visual spectacle based on Kalki’s famous book


Film: Ponniyin Selvan 1- PS1

Cast: Karthi, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Vikram, Trisha, Jayam Ravi, Aishwarya Lekshmi, Sobhita Dhulipala, Jayaram, Sarathkumar, Prakash Raj, Prabhu

Director: Mani Ratnam

Rating: 3.5 Moons

After many years of dreaming and visualizing Mani Ratnam has finally released his dream project, Ponniyin Selvan-PS 1 in theatres. Based on the eponymous novel by Kalki, the book is a masterpiece of Tamil literature published in the 1950s. Ponniyin Selvan is a five-part historical fiction series that tells the life story of Arulmozhi Varman, who later ascended the Chola throne and became the great emperor Rajaraja Chola I. Kalki’s 2220-odd pages series tells the gripping tale of the power struggle among the three popular Southern kingdoms of the time- Cholar, Cheran and Pandiyans.

Mani Ratnam with his stellar ensemble cast of Karthi, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Vikram, Trisha, Jayam Ravi, Aishwarya Lekshmi, Sobhita Dhulipala, Jayaram, Sarathkumar, Prakash Raj and others has managed to achieve the unthinkable and present a film at par with the series with its grandiosity, stunning visuals, breathtaking costumes and impeccable performance and direction. The only sore point in the film is its slow pace and dragging narrative that makes one’s attention waver at times. He manages to capture Kalki’s wit, story and narrative with enough thrills, intrigue and drama that will keep you invested till the very end. If you're expecting commercial potboiler scenes of war, battle and chase sequences then you might get a trifle disappointed because the film and the story is much more than just fight sequences.

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Ponniyin Selvan 1 tells the story of the power struggle in the Chola kingdom after the king places the ruling of the empire on his brother Sundara Chola (Prakash Raj) due to his ill health. Sundara Chola transfers the reign to his son Aditha Karikalan (Vikram) which leaves Madhuranthakudu (Rehman) who is the actual heir and son of the Chola dynasty’s late king disappointed with this decision. He seeks the helps of another king Pallavaraaya (Sarathkumar) to conspire against and get the throne. Aditha Karikalan gets the whiff of a conspiracy afoot and sends his brave warrior and army commander, Vallavarayan Vanthiyathevan (Karthi) to find out what’s happening and deliver important messages to Sundara Chola and Aditha’s sister Kunthavai (Trisha). The film centres round Vanthiyathevan’s mission and to discover who’s orchestrating everything to tarnish the glory and the clout of the Chola Empire. The importance of Nandini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) and how Ponniyin Selvan Arunmozhi (Jayam Ravi), brother of Aditha and the next king of the Chola Kingdom stop this connivance is what the story all about.

Karthi does a fantastic job as Vanthiyathevan and gets the meatiest role. He is the most entertaining character in this period drama and his flirting scenes with women evoke quite a few laughs. After, Karthi it is Jayam Ravi and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan who steal the show. Jayam Ravi is introduced only in the second half but still manages to leave an impact. Aishwarya is a revelation and once again leaves no doubt in the fact that Mani Ratnam extracts the best work out of her. Her character is extremely significant to the story and she not only looks ethereal on screen with her unmatched beauty but emotes well with her eyes and facial expressions without much dialogue. She is s brilliant that she captures the fear, the hate, the seduction and the cunning impeccably making it sheer joy to see her on screen. Nandini goes all out to outsmart the men and does it without even a hair out of place.

Trisha as Kunthavai also looks exquisitely beautiful in the film and matches Nandini’s tenacity and ruthlessness with aplomb. They are presented as contrasting characters in the book and even in the film remain so, with Nandini being all fire and ice while Kunthavai is all calm, composed and serene.

Mani Ratnam’s magic lies not in capturing the kingdom as the period peace but presenting the characters with amazingly sharp wit, intelligence and sparring words. The conversations between Nandini and Kunthavai or between Vandhiyathevan and Azhwarkaddian are the highlights of the film. However, the film lacks in showing how the characters evolve and grow into themselves which is evident in the books and makes them an interesting read. Mani Ratnam has also made sure that the women in his story are not relegated to being second fiddle but are an integral part of the plot and the power struggle, showcasing them with intelligence, wit and cunning.

Ponniyin Selvan- PS 1 becomes a bit too full of drama for the common viewer and at times becomes tiring and lengthy. The film has so much content packed in that it becomes a bit too much. The screenplay is also confusing and convoluted and the slow pace of the narrative might tax your patience. The film needs serious trimming and we hope the editing in the following sequels would be crisper. The screenplay by mani Ratnam and Elango Kumaravel could have been more engaging.

The costume work by Eka Lakhani is superb and she deserves special mention for making the film spectacular. Her attention to detail for the look and costumes of all characters, especially Aishwarya and Trisha are worth applauding. The film’s production values are remarkable and production designer Thota Tharrani has done a superb job with this larger-than-life drama. Music by AR Rahman is contemporary but pleasant. The cinematography by Ravi Varman is top-notch and presents the Chola empire majestically. Ponniyin Selvan –PS1 is definitely a must-watch if you love period dramas and have wanted to see Kalki’s world on the big screen.

PeepingMoon.com gives Ponniyin Selvan-PS 1, 3.5 Moons.