'Ponniyin Selvan: I' hit the cinemas this Friday. Produced by Mani Ratnam and Subaskaran Allirajah, the film is an epic period action outing.
This film is the first part of a duology based on Kalki Krishnamurthy's 1950s five-part historic fiction series Ponniyin Selvan. The story is set in the 10 Century AD.
Crown prince Aditha Karikalan (Vikram) and his younger brother Arulmozhi Varman aka Ponniyin Selvan (Jayam Ravi, who will come to be known as Raja Raja Chola I in the second part, to be released in 2023) are at the centre of the plot. Kudavai (Trisha Krishnan) is their sister. The two brothers and their sister are the offspring of Emperor Sundara Chola (Prakash Raj, whose character is almost bedridden). Vallavaraiyan Vanthiyathevan (Karthi) plays a warrior prince of another clan and a loyalist of Aditha.
An oracle predicts that royal blood will flow due to a clash in the palace. It is also learned from the prediction that Sundara Chola, who is frail, is going to breathe his last soon. This is when a battle for succession ensues, with Periya Pazhuvettarayar (Sarath Kumar, as the Finance Minister) and Chinna Pazhuvettarayar (R Parthiban) plotting from behind the curtains in company with Nandini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), a Pazhuvoor queen, who plays Periya's wily wife.
Can Aditha and Arulmozhi protect what is supposed to belong to one of them?
Karthi lives in the role of an intelligent warrior-messenger who gets humorous and sarcastic at times. Trisha brings charm to a mindful young princess, who always looks calm and composed. Jayam Ravi plays a thoughtful and ethical young prince with panache. Sobhita Dhulipala plays a princess who is Arulmozhi's love interest.
In terms of screen time, Karthi gets much. So, he gets to show versatility. It's like what happened in the case of 'Vikram', wherein Fahadh Faasil's character was made the male lead in the first half in an unexpected way. Kamal's character has a lion's share in the second half, just as Jayam Ravi in 'PS-I' now. Vikram is engaging in intense scenes.
There can be zero complaints with the casting of Aishwarya Rai and Trisha. Sarathkumar as a scheming baddie is impactful. Jayaram as a "fake" Vaishnavaite is superb. Prakash Raj and Rahman are average. Parthiban, Aishwarya Lekshmi and others fit the bill.
AR Rahman's background score is not out of the world; it is just adequate. The songs, especially 'Ponge Nadhi' and 'Raachasa Maavaya', leave an ordinary impact. Ravi Varman's cinematography is good enough when the proceedings don't demand chaotic action. Thota Tharrani's production design is not terrific at all. Sreekar Prasad's editing is broadly in tune with Mani Ratnam's focused story-telling. Eka Lakhani's costumes are sufficient.
Co-written by Mani Ratnam, Elango Kumaravel and B Jeyamohan, the film tells a story of revenge and a prolonged (and yet-to-be-concluded) battle of succession for power in a way that you are impressed with the plotting. You have to keep your focus on the dialogues throughout. It helps to read about the prime characters and their motives before heading to the film.
The boatwoman played by Aishwarya Lekshmi is a fictional character who purportedly didn't exist in history. Nandini, too, didn't exist in history, as per some scholars.
The action by Kecha Khamphakdee and Sham Kaushal is not for the ages. Don't expect your breath to be taken away by the battle scenes. This film is not about VFX, wars and larger-than-life fights. It's about emotions and plotting. Brinda's dance choreography is good.
'PS-I' works as a story. It doesn't have great VFX or action, though.