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Friday, September 22, 2023

Ponniyin Selvan II (PS-2) Review: When The ‘Veers’ Embrace Vulnerability

Despite taking a while for many non-Tamil speakers to work out the crux of Ponniyin Selvan‘s first part, audiences eventually discovered it and the visual spectacle left us all enthralled and an enigma. Just seven months later, Mani Ratnam’s re-telling of Kalki Krishnamurthy’s 1955 novel of the same name, continues as the Chola dynasty continues to face peril from the Pandyas and other power-seekers.

Before Kamal Hassan briefly recaps the first part, we are transported into a flashback of young Adhita and Nandhini. Young blossoming love is cut short after she is driven out of the Chola kingdom due to being an orphan. Perhaps also due to her audacity of falling in love with a prince. This hints at the narrative delving into this doomed romantic saga. Subsequently, The second part begins precisely where the first part ended. Arunmozhi Varman (Jayam Ravi) and Vallavaraiyan Vandhiyadevudu (Karthi), who sank into the sea while fighting with Pandyas get saved by a mute woman Mandhakini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan).

Later Arunmozhi Varman gets treated by Buddhist monks in Lanka. At the same time, Nandhini (also played by Aishwarya), along with Pandyas, plans a conspiracy to eradicate the Chola dynasty. This is also the time Chieftains of the kingdom try to make Madhuranthakudu (Rehman) the Chola King by dethroning Aditya Karikaludu (Vikram). This leaves many questions which the film promises to answer.

So do we get the response? Partially. The issue is that despite the film translating to ‘Son of Ponni (Kaveri)’, it becomes more focused on the subplots and surrounding themes rather than actually focusing on the principal character himself. In fact, the FILM writing of Jayam Ravi’s character comes across as weak. It seems as though every other character is depicted in a stronger light and the lead is overshadowed.

The onus is more on the ill-fated love story and the focal point is that. Mandakini is a pivotal character in saving the lineage and a well-wisher, yet her truth revelation is very rushed. As such, this is merely mentioned in swift conversations. It would’ve been more effective to see flashbacks or more scenes which allow viewers to fully grasp her role. Even an important war scene seems to be abruptly executed, whereby the significance of the dynasty and its future establishment is cut short. I personally wanted to see more about ancestry and its impact on indigenous India.

Also, it might be fascinating to know to what extent the content presented on screen is a competent adaptation of the novel. Or even whether it accurately portrays the Cholas. It is often a challenge to present historical stories on celluloid due to the lack of several physical documented evidence. Furthermore, history is a subject of heavy debates and discussions nowadays which is why it is challenging to reach an affirmative conclusion. But certainly, I would like to know the rationale behind Ratnam’s depiction.

Perhaps the biggest strength of the characters, particularly the male trio, is their confidence in embracing vulnerability. Instead of being toxic characters that thrive on machismo, we get to see them expressing their despairs and regrets. Show-stealers among the male cast are undoubtedly Vikram, Karthi and Prakash Raj. There is a display of their strength as certain royalties and fighting spirits, yet brokenness as humans. Vikram particularly symbolises Ratnam’s tropes of a complex and grazed male lover. Remember Kaatru Veliyidai? Here too, there is the notion of a broken-hearted man.

With Trisha’s Kundavai character returning, she too displays her strength as the protective princess. Whilst there may not be many heavy dialogues in the first part, she uses her wit and strength to support her family. Of course, the limelight is on Aishwarya who presents the antagonistic Nandhini with eloquence and grace. Her blue eyes encompass sadness, regret and yet anger. All these emotions are powerfully explored and she is excellent. Her character resonates with the filmmaker’s previous female leads like in Dil Se. Where the person’s trauma and drive for revenge are impaired by her love.

As we mentioned in our review of the previous film, Ratnam presents his filmmaking tropes again here too. Enriching the overall appeal is the spellbinding cinematography and enthralling action scenes. Even the diverse camera scenes provide a visceral and prestigious appeal to the story. This makes the movie an enjoyable cinematic experience. AR Rahman’s album, in comparison to PS-1, does not have much recall factor with the exception of chartbuster ‘Aga Naga’. But even then, are very briefly incorporated into the movie and utilised as atmospheric sounds. Having said that though, the background score itself is soulful and majestic. It gives you goosebumps throughout

Where the first one is politically driven, here it’s action and emotionally oriented. There were major responsibilities resting heavily on the movie’s shoulder. To a major extent, it does succeed. Although the screenplay and writing falter slightly in Ponniyin Selvan ll and fall short of perfection. Nonetheless, it is undoubtedly a visual treat and a visceral experience on celluloid. The two-part series is a testament that Indian cinema is now able to produce such magnum opuses on a global level without the reliance on Western outfits. May we continue to see such extravagant experiences on screen.

⭐⭐⭐.5 (3.5/5 stars)

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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