Ponniyin Selvan 2 Review: When ace Mani Ratnam, who has helmed films such as Dil Se, Iruvar, and Guru, decided to take on the project of Ponniyin Selvan and bring it to the big screen, everyone was aware that he had a massive responsibility on his shoulder. The revered novel by Kalki was and is loved by many people and is often talked about even today. If that wasn’t enough to make me aware of the books, the numerous women who were named Nandini because of the books in my class at school stood as a constant reminder of the 1955 novel continues to influence families. When I watched Ponniyin Selvan 1, it was evident that Ratnam was under pressure to come through with people’s expectations.
As someone who has not read the books, Ponniyin Selvan 1 felt like a never-witnessed-before experience. However, the writing was weak, especially since Ratnam expected that the audience would be aware of the backgrounds and the characters from the book. The narrative also was patchy at the time. Why am I saying all this right now? It’s because, fortunately, Ponniyin Selvan 2 irons out the big narrative problem I had with PS1.
PS2 doesn’t start off where PS1 ends. Instead, it shows you who will be the heart and soul of this film — Nandini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) and Aditha Karikalan (Vikram). We are finally given a lowdown of what prompted Nandini’s fight for the throne, her history with Aditha, and also given a hint at how an orphan entered the circle of royals. Ratnam makes you invest in their story so well that for a split second, you forget that it is a story about Arunmozhi Varman aka Ponniyin Selvan (Jayam Ravi). Soon enough, the director brings us back to Arunmozhi.
As the trailers have already revealed, Arunmozhi is alive despite falling into tormented waters in the first film and is preparing for the war to save the Cholan throne. He has his sister Kundavai aka Ilaya Pirattiyar (Trisha), Princess of the Chola Empire, by his side to support her while his brother Aditha is out to keep the Chola Empire intact. Although the battle and safety of the thrones are the primary plots of Ponniyin Selvan 1, Ratnam develops a crucial subplot about Nandini and Aditha.
In Ponniyin Selvan 2, Ratnam actually gives time to allow the viewers to understand their relationship. He lets you learn a little more about the motive behind Nandini’s animosity against Aditha, her impact on the decisions of the throne, and her origin story, letting you empathise with her when the climax nears. He also tries to give you a better perspective on the plotting and the impact of each troupe in the war better in the sequel.
However, once the final twist of the film sets in, he returns to rushing through the impact of the twist and even ends the war in a matter of minutes.
What remains seamlessly between Ponniyin Selvan 1 and 2 is the performances and the magnanimous cinematography. Aishwarya reminds us that she flourishes as an actress under the guidance of Ratnam. She conveys her inner turmoil, her heartbreak, and her wounds so effortlessly. You could tell that the camera surrendered to her.
She is brilliantly supported by Vikram. Their first scene together is nothing but them locking eyes and exchanging a few lines but Vikram emotes the emotion of hurt admirably. One of the best scenes in the film is their confrontation scene. Another star that shone in the first part and continued to carry it forward in PS 2 is Karthi. Playing the role of Vallavaraiyan Vandiyadevan, he balances humour and emotional scenes with equal prowess.
Trisha continues to be a scene-stealer in the second one. Prakash Raj as a wounded Sundara Cholan stands out in the scenes he’s given. Unfortunately for me, Jayam Ravi in the titular role wasn’t as impactful as I thought he would be. Given that he was kept under wraps for most parts of PS 1, I expected him to truly come forward and shine in the scenes as the great leader. But it did not come through.
Ponniyin Selvan 2 excels on the cinematography and music fronts. Cinematographer Ravi Varman helps Mani deliver some of his statement wide-angle shots. One of my favorites is the top-angle shot in which a heartbroken Sundara Cholan confides in Kundavai about his past and falling on his back on the elevated floor. Another scene is the heavily lit chambers in which Aishwarya and Vikram are talking and the gravity of the discussion is conveyed with the growing close-ups.
Ratnam’s long-time music collaborator, Oscar-winner AR Rahman also helps the director in elevating the film’s magnitude. The film ends with a song sung by Rahman, which feels like a perfect seal of conclusion to the two-part series.
Having watched both films now, I feel Ponniyin Selvan deserved a tad more depth, given the various characters and plotlines. The two-part series could have been explored as a grand web series of sorts, something similar to Game of Thrones, or even as a three-part film series, allowing the characters to be fleshed out fully and letting people pick their favourites. Overall, when Ponniyin Selvan was announced, it appeared like a great door-opener for those who weren’t aware of the five-part novel. However, the two-part series concludes as a great cinematic experience that fell short on storytelling.
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