Star Cast: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Vikram, Karthi, Jayam Ravi, Trisha Krishnan, Sobhita Dhulipala, Prakash Raj, and ensemble.
Director: Mani Ratnam
What’s Good: Mani Ratnam worshiping Aishwarya Rai and her beauty is worth in every frame he creates. It is the women actually running the show.
What’s Bad: But the way of telling this tale scatters everything and fails to collect it all in the final act, leaving a whole lot for part 2.
Loo Break: Multiple sequences seem like you have seen, use one of those.
Watch or Not?: For the grandeur and scale and the hope that there is something much better in Part 2, you must watch this one. But don’t have very high hopes.
Language: Tamil (with subtitles).
Available On: In Theatres Near You.
Runtime: 167 Minutes
Based on Kalki Krishnamurthy’s arguably cult novel by the same name, Ponniyin Selvan Part 1 is about the Chola Dynasty and the times when the course of the throne was about to change. The politics for the chair and the bad games played in the dark make for an intriguing plot.
Ponniyin Selvan 1 Movie Review: Script Analysis
Mani Ratnam movies are an experience of sheer dedication towards filmmaking and in any piece of art, the man creates you see his soul and that of a painter. So there is of course a surety that the filmmaker will never go wrong entirely in shaping a movie. While we have seen his eye for detail and what it manages to make, does Ponniyin Selvan stand true to his name?
Mani Ratnam, Jayamohan, and Kumaravel come together to adapt Kalki’s novel for the screen. The maverick filmmaker sets out with all the amazing elements to create a perfect film. There is AR Rahman composing music (their collaboration turns 30 this year), Ravi Varman capturing the world, Aishwarya Rai back to his vision (together they have worked for 25 years), and some of the biggest names from the Tamil industry. So you instantly know how big a movie it is.
But what the end product ends up being is a product that is not just scattered but also too disjointed. Imagine a season of Game Of Thrones cramped into one 3 hours long movie. The blame cannot be on the writing team entirely because Ratnam chooses to make a film out of a novel that spans a very long time and multiple houses that are at war and spread in different parts of Asia. While we are introduced to one, time doesn’t permit us to stay with them and understand, we are rushed to another and some more only to end up with confusion in names and titles.
At the core of it, Mani Ratnam wants to say that while the internal politics and the external tension around the House Chola were slowly making the base weaker, it is the women who are actually running the charade. They call Nandini the poison, but Ratnam tries to delve into her soul but is guarded by the poison. There is a certain kind of divinity around her and every presence means a massive turn. But even she falls prey to time constraints and a lot of her is pushed to the next part.
That brings me to the problems with the things pushed to Part 2. If the first part is an introduction of sorts for you, why not stretch it a bit more to hook the audience to a cliffhanger that is worth rooting for? Of course, the final still is intriguing but only for Nandini and who is the mysterious lady, but there is no curiosity for the Cholas as a whole. Because I don’t know them much other than the lazy flashbacks and their greed or worry for their house.
Ponniyin Selvan 1 Movie Review: Star Performance
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is envisioned as a mirage that looks beautiful but is not real. Even her real life is perceived like that by many. So when Mani Ratnam places her in front of his lens you know magic is about to happen. She even manages to enthrall us with her charm but everything around her is just not it.
Karthi gets to have the longest time in front of the camera. The actor is an effortless talent and knows what is expected out of him. Bravery, where it’s needed, and humor when there is a blank space, is his job and he does pretty well. There is a flirtatious trait about him and that gives him a very fine layer.
Vikram in his wild approach to his character is in full form but it is the script that takes some bizarre decisions around him. First, it gives him minimal screen time, and second, it makes him indulge in flashbacks by making him explain them to oblivion.
Trisha Krishnan and Sobhita Dhulipala bring the charm and chirp to this story and they should have had more to give the story a good turn. Everything at this point looks too incomplete but not in a way that will make you wait for next, but be angry with the first for raising too many expectations.
Ponniyin Selvan 1 Movie Review: Direction, Music
This is not the Mani Ratnam one would expect in a movie this big. Of course, he gets back his most loved muse of 25 years, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. He even worships her as he frames every scene around her like he is shooting some angel. But the rest just lacks the Ratnam visuals we all crave for. It felt like the scenes involving Nandini were directed by the Ratnam of yore and the rest were mostly taken care by the ADs.
Barring two or three scenes none look like Mani and Ravi Varman have collaborated on them. He takes the known route, even some frames look like they are borrowed from the Sanjay Leela Bhansali universe. I understand resembles is uncanny but that doesn’t mean we don’t the wild soul of filmmaker we have admired all these years.
AR Rahman gives an album that is limited to the movie and not otherwise. I am a religious follower of this man and especially the duo who have given the Indian cinema some of its most iconic numbers. But this isn’t it. There are good pieces no doubt, the background score during the final boat battle is superb but when two legends meet your expectations only go higher.
Ponniyin Selvan 1 Movie Review: The Last Word
Ponniyin Selvan is an iconic book and one that has enthralled readers in the South for years, the adaptation does manage to explain why showing the basics, but the big show lacks the thunder it must have. Part 2 has a lot to answer and if the approach stays like the first, hopes are dim.
Ponniyin Selvan 1 Trailer
Ponniyin Selvan 1 releases on 30th September, 2022.
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