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Ponniyin Selvan 2 review: Vikram, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan steal the show in Mani Ratnam's epic

With Ponniyin Selvan 2, Mani Ratnam has done a fabulous job in translating this epic novel onto the big screen. 


Last Updated: 08.54 AM, Apr 29, 2023


The story: Ponniyin Selvan 2 tells the tale of turmoil in the Chola empire in the aftermath of an assassination attempt on Arunmozhi Varman. 

The review: Ponniyin Selvan 2 has an advantage over its prequel. The first part had the arduous task of introducing the characters and setting up the entire plot, which required a slower pace to allow the audience to understand everything that was happening. However, the second part picks up the pace considerably, making it more exhilarating than the first.

In the climax of Ponniyin Selvan 1, Arunmozhi Varman aka Ponniyin Selvan (Jayam Ravi) and his trusted warrior prince Vallavaraiyan Vandiyadevan (Karthi) sink under the sea. And the movie ends with Oomai Rani (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) coming to the rescue of Ponniyin Selvan. It wasn't actually a cliffhanger. Nobody for a moment was thrilled by the question of whether or not Arunmozhi survived the shipwreck. As a matter of fact, director Mani Ratnam hasn't imaged the film, based on the iconic novel of Tamil writer Kalki's Ponniyin Selvan, in terms of genre cliches. There are fewer nail-biting moments in both parts that would draw the audience to the edge of their seat and effortlessly keep them hooked to the narration. 

This isn't your typical blockbuster movie where everything is laid out for the audience to understand. To appreciate why this literary work has been a passion project for Ratnam for over two decades, you must be willing to embark on a journey with the filmmaker and immerse yourself in the story.

The news of Arunmozhi's attaining a water gravy spreads like wildfire across the Chola empire, and it unleashes a sea of actions on multiple fronts. Pandyas are closing in on the members of the royal family; Madhurantakan (Rahman) is plotting a coup with the help of the enemies of the Chola empire; Nandini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) is successfully making her sinister moves to uproot the Chola empire and avenge the killing of Veerapandiyan; Aditha Karikalan (Vikram), the crown prince of the Chola kingdom, vows to avenge the death of his younger brother by beheading Nandini. It's total chaos and everything seems to be falling apart from all sides. 

Ratnam manages to capture the stirring emotions in each frame by deliberately doing away with static shots. Every conversation takes place with the character or the camera moving constantly in circles. This technique creates a sense of restlessness. And it's an accurate feeling given that barring a few exceptions, no character in this film is at peace with oneself. Take, for example, Aditha. He's a tormented soul. The life he had envisioned with Nandini was snatched away from him. And in a fit of sheer rage, he ends up killing Veerapandiyan in a dishonourable way. He's filled with regret, disappointment, shame and self-hatred. Despite her lingering feelings for Aditha, Nandini feels compelled by her duty to avenge Veerapandiyan, leading her to plot Aditha's death. This conflict of emotions is at the heart of the drama, affecting every character in the story.

Vikram and Aishwarya effortlessly steal the show with their performances. Their characters and the intense conflict between them are the beating heart of this part 2. The movie begins by tracing the budding romance between young Nandini (Sara Arjun) and young Aditha Karikalan (Santhosh Sreeram). And this stretch involves the most beautiful imagery in the film and composer AR Rahman's score elevates the effect of every frame of cameraman Ravi Varman to another level. 


The high point of the film is the confrontation scene between Vikram's Aditha and Aishwarya's Nandini. The meeting begins with a sinister shadow hanging over their heads, but soon takes a tone of reconciliation and then an unexpected turn.  

This two-part epic is Ratnam's ambitious attempt to capture the poetry of Kalki's vision. Speaking to one's imagination through words is far easier than trying to recreate that effect through visuals. Stanley Kubrick during the making of his space magnum opus 2001: A Space Odyssey famously told his co-screenwriter Arthur C. Clarke that "If it can be written, or thought, it can be filmed." But, what he may not have taken into account when he made that statement is creating a visual representation of a scene is not the same as visually capturing its emotional element. Using the power of imagery to convey meaning that words alone could not possibly capture is not an easy task. 

The verdict: In that aspect, Mani Ratnam has done a fabulous job in translating this epic novel onto the big screen. 


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