Review: Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan is a sprawling epic that has so far remained elusive to film for many a Tamil filmmaker, and Mani Ratnam finally brings the dream alive with this spectacular adaptation that superbly captures the intrigue, thrills and page-turning quality of the books. In this first of a two-part franchise, the director and his writers – Jeyamohan and Ilango Kumaravel – rise up to the challenge.
The film does have a shaky start, with the director taking his time to set up the plot. Crown prince Aaditha Karikalan (Vikram) entrusts his friend Vandhiyathevan (Karthi) to deliver a message to his father and emperor Sundara Cholar (Prakash Raj) and sister, princess Kunthavai (Trisha) on the threats that the kingdom is facing. The schemers include Periya Pazhuvettarayar (Sarath Kumar) and Chinna Pazhuvettarayar (Radhakrishnan Parthiban), the empire’s finance minister and commander, the numerous kings who have sworn fealty to the emperor, the remaining forces of the vanquished Pandya king and most importantly, Nandhini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), Karikalan’s former lover and the wife of Periya Pazhuvettarayar, who is determined to bring the entire Chola empire down for reasons of her own.
These portions, which inevitably have a bit of exposition given the nature of the plot, have rather jerky transitions as we are introduced to the numerous players in the plot and the history between them. There are times when we feel too many events being crammed up in a short time, which might make it hard for those who haven’t read the books, to follow the plot. The swift character introductions also mean that we are already on to the next character before we have fully grasped the motives of the one we have just been introduced to.
But then, the film starts settling down and by the time we reach the intermission point, we find ourselves engaged in this narrative involving palace intrigue. And when the action shifts to Sri Lanka, where Karikalan’s younger brother, Arunmozhi Varman (Jayam Ravi), the titular Ponniyin Selvan, is trying to capture the king of the land, the pace quickens and the film races towards the end, with nail-biting sequences involving the slain Pandya king’s personal guards – who land there to kill Arunmozhi – and the director sets up the sequel on a high note.