What was great about Ponniyin Selvan: I was the way how Mani Ratnam preferred story and drama over creating a mere visual spectacle. If you look at that film, it had that tone of a tale that got narrated to us, and the characters and their baggage added to the film’s drama. Shot in one stretch, the second part, Ponniyin Selvan: II, maintains that quality and delivers a film that is rich in craft and optimal in grandeur.
Post the events in Part I, the Cholas are in a spot of angst as they fear the loss of Arulmozhi Varman and Vandiyadevan. Nandini decides to move on with her plans to take down the Chola empire by killing the siblings. How this plan faces setbacks due to the return of Arulmozhi and what is the story behind the woman who saved Arulmozhi and Vandiyadevan is what we see in Ponniyin Selvan: II.
Regarding character arcs, I would say part II has some drastic shifts happening. And thus, for someone like me who hasn’t read the book, the narrative feels pretty compelling. Even the most predictable dilemma looks fascinating due to the less verbal approach taken by Mani Ratnam in conceiving a scene. You don’t get to hear those overtly theatric outbursts from characters. They are primarily soft-spoken. Even in the scene where Sundara Chozhan tells Kundavai how he is similar to Karikalan, Mani Ratnam opts for his classic over-the-top shot rather than a detailed essay through dialogues.
With too many characters and conflicts, to be able to narrate this story with clarity is definitely a task. And to make it engaging and less typical is even more difficult. My admiration for Mani Ratnam in how he conceived Ponniyin Selvan comes from how he walked away from the conventional design of a scene. The way Vandiyadevan delivers his humorous lines, how he sneaks in and out of places, etc., looks more practical than convenient. Instead of destroying the existing notion of a period epic, Mani Ratnam reconstructs its texture through his frames and staging.
Ravi Varman adds that visually striking layer to the dramatic moments of this epic. The choice of locations, ambient lighting, etc., for various scenes, are very precisely chosen. Mani Ratnam knows the trick in conceiving romantic encounters on the silver screen, and I was happy with how he blended Aga Naga into the movie. Sreekar Prasad has done a brilliant job of maintaining that curiosity through some parallel cuts. I loved how he kept space continuity in those fight sequences. AR Rahman’s songs are terrific, and in Part II, Mani Ratnam uses them mainly as background scores. You only get snippets of songs. The movie has minimal areas of big-scale fight sequences, and they have captured and presented those moments more realistically rather than following the slow-motion pattern.
Vikram, as Aditya Karikalan, has glimpses of his Raavanan character. But his style works; like everyone else, he could pull off the character with minimal theatricality in his performance. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as Nandini and Mandakini gets a better space here to perform as her character is going through many realizations. Similar was the case with Jayam Ravi as the title character. Karthi, with his humor, enhances the scenes to an enjoyable level, and he gets good support from Jayaram. Trisha, as Kundavai, looks elegant, but the screen time was relatively minimal this time. Aishwarya Lekshmi and Shobita Dhulipala have very minimal scenes in this concluding chapter. Vikram Prabhu and Rahman get more prominence in the story in terms of screen time, and both were fine in their respective roles.
A week before, when I was watching the trailer of PS2 from a theater, the person who sat next to me said, “They tried to make something like Baahubali, but it didn’t work.” Well, if your final take on Ponniyin Selvan: I is similar to that opinion, then Ponniyin Selvan: II is not your cup of tea. For me, Ponniyin Selvan is an excellent example of how to prioritize a story’s drama while making epics rather than going after visuals and sequences that project the film’s grandeur.
For me, Ponniyin Selvan is an excellent example of how to prioritize a story's drama while making epics rather than going after visuals and sequences that project the film's grandeur.
Green: Recommended Content
Orange: The In-Between Ones
Red: Not Recommended