The genre of big scale epics has seen a huge revival thanks to filmmakers like Sanjay Leela Bhansali, SS Rajamouli and even Ashutosh Gowariker to an extent. The likes of Bajirao Mastani, Bahubali 1 and 2 and Jodha Akbar have created a deep impact in the audiences mind. With Ponniyin Selvan Part 1 legendary director Mani Ratnam attempts a genre which he has never done in the past. For those who are not aware the movie is based on a novel by the same name. Since I have not read the novel I will be purely judging the movie as a standalone piece.
Ponniyin Selvan tries to be a gripping combination of thrills, intrigue and emotions. However, in its effort to be plot heavy the film ends up being neither here nor there, particularly for the Telugu and Hindi audiences.
The story is majorly centered on the character of Vanthiyathevan (Karthi) he is entrusted by Aditya Karikaaludu (Vikram) with the task of delivering important messages to Karikaaludu’s father and sister (Prakash Raj and Trisha respectively). As per the messages plans are being laid out by princely kings to bring down the Chola Empire. Vanithiyathevan’s duty is to find out what are the evil plans and who are hell bent on tarnishing the glory of the Chola Empire. Aishwarya Rai plays princess Nandini. Nandini is someone who comes with a mysterious past, this mysterious past is connected to Karikaaludu. Other important characters include Jayam Ravi as Ponniyin Selvan.
What follows is a complex drama that is hard to keep up with.
One of the few redeeming factors of PS-1 is some of the performances starting with Karthi. The actor is a delight to watch whenever he is on screen. His comic timing and the general energy that he brings to the screen is something that uplifts the film at many places. His interactions with both Aishwarya and Trisha bring a smile to your face.
Vikram as Karikaaludu has less screen time but the actor’s intense performance is a treat to watch. Jayram Ravi makes his entry in the second half but the actor makes his presence amply felt.
Both Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Trisha look like million bucks thanks to director Mani Ratnam and the costumes by Eka Lakhani. Mani Ratnam along with Sanjay Leela Bhansali are one of those few directors who best understand how to use Aishwarya. Here too Mani Ratnam casts her smartly as the enigmatic queen with her own secrets.
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Cinematography by Ravi Varman also goes perfectly with the requirement of the film. He does a good job in showing the grandeur of Cholas through his lens. The production design by Thota Tharrani also adds to the richness of the frames.
The biggest issue with Ponnin Selvan- 1 is the numerous subplots integrated into the story by the director. Too many things are happening simultaneously and as a result it is difficult to catch up the plot.
The film is also filled with many characters that don’t make any impact whatsoever. Perfect examples of these are ones played by Prakash Raj, Sarat Kumar and Rehman.
The film’s editing is also subpar as the drama moves at a very slow pace, particularly in the second half. Some of the scenes are way too lengthy. A perfect example of this is the climax where Karthi and Jayam Ravi take upon some villains. The fight scene happens in a ship with thundering rain as a backdrop. It is definitely jaw dropping but this action block goes on way too long. Because of this the cliff hanger at the end doesn’t really make an impact.
Music by AR Rahman is pleasant but nothing spectacular. It is nowhere close to their previous associations.
Final word: Watch PS-1 if you are a fan of Mani Ratnam or you like slow paced historical dramas. The rest can give it a skip.