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It takes a combination of a director, technicians, actors, theme of the story and the politics it speaks about to attract the audience in droves to the theatres. When Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan 1 was released, the major draw was the curiosity to know how he had visualised Kalki’s iconic novel into a film. Even those who had not read the book wanted to watch a royal story unfold on the silver screen. This made PS 1 one of the highest grossing films in Tamil. Will PS 2 get the same warm reception?

A trans-ocean empire
The storyline of PS 2 (spoiler alert) goes thus:

As Sundara Chola, king of the Chola empire, lies bedridden and under treatment in Thanjavur palace, chieftain Sambuvarayar at Kadambur palace hatches a plan to make Sundara Chola’s kin Madhurantaka Chola the successor to the throne. Fishing in troubled waters in the Chola empire, a bunch of conspirators (aabathu uthavigal) from the Pandya kingdom conspire to kill Arunmozhi Varman in Sri Lanka. So, to foil their plan, Adita Karikalan sends his friend Vandhiyathevan to Thanjavur.

After a series of events, Arunmozhi Varman contemplates returning to Thanjavur from Sri Lanka. Even as the conspirators from the Pandya kingdom try to attack him mid sea, the ship capsizes in a storm, and Arunmozhi Varman and Vandhiyathevan are said to have drowned.

History tells us that Adita Karikalan was murdered. Kalki had used this fact intact in his fiction.  Maniratnam too has not played around with the historical fact as it is the murder episode that forms the crux of the PS-2

But a speech-and-hearing impaired old woman, who resembles Nandini, saves Arunmozhi Varman whom Vandhiyathevan and Poonguzhali, a boat woman, bring to the Buddhist monastery in Nagapattinam for treatment.

Subsequently, Vandhiyathevan, caught by the Pandya conspirators, gets to know about Nandini, who, on behalf of the Pandyas, is planning to kill Sundara Chola and his sons Arunmozhi Varman and Adita Karikalan.

Do Vandhiyathevan’s efforts to stop the enemies and save the royals succeed? Why does the mute woman look like Nandhini? PS 2 answers these questions in a fast-paced sequence of events.

Also Read: PS-2 songs out of tune with the essence of a period film?

Mani Ratnam describes how ‘oomai rani’ Mandakini saves the life of Arunmozhi Varman drowning in the Cauvery in the first part and in the Bay of Bengal in the second part, and thereby paves the way for the emergence of a trans-ocean Chola empire helmed by Arunmozhi Varman who was later celebrated in history as Raja Raja Chola-I. It is this narration that adds to the tempo of the film.

Adita Karikalan’s murder  
History tells us that Adita Karikalan was murdered. Kalki kept this fact intact in his fiction.  Mani Ratnam too has not played around with the historical fact as it is the murder episode that forms the crux of PS 2. The love story of a young Nandini and Adita Karikalan heightens the poignancy of the murder. Mani Ratnam, along with Kumaravel and Jeyamohan, crafts the screenplay to move at a rapid pace and logically culminates in the murder.

Cinematographer Ravi Varman is at his best, enriching the visuals of Nandini-Adita Karikalan and those of Kundavai-Vandhiyathevan.

Taking care not to let the run time increase, editor Sreekar Prasad has done his job strictly and scrupulously, including scissoring the durations of song sequences.

The audience is carried away by the way the Aganaga song, scored by AR Rahman, plays out on the screen. None of the songs last more than a minute and a half. But Rahman makes up for it with his background music. On the flip side, when heard separately, the overall music composition does not feel befitting a historical fiction.

Maniratnam does not like to leave his film audience confused as Kalki has done with his readers and hence, gives clear answers to some questions – which may sound natural and logical to those unfamiliar with the original novel but may take the novel readers by surprise 

Vikram, Aishwarya Rai, Jayam Ravi, Karthi and Trisha take the lion’s share of the screen space. As if indicating their characters’ importance in the story, they are listed in the credit lines in this order.

Vikram does justice to the role of a prince who is tormented by an unrequited love, dedicating his life to the battlefield. The scenes where Adita Karikalan meets Nandini after a long time and their private conversations are highly affecting. Both Vikram and Aishwarya Rai give a powerful expression to the troubled and complex emotions.

The second part gives more opportunities to Jayam Ravi to shine than the first part, which in turn reduces Karthi’s presence and scope. Yet, the scenes of them rubbing shoulders trigger applause from the audience.

Also Read: Will PS-II name Adita Karikalan’s killer unlike the novel?

While Sobhita Dhulipala and Aishwarya Lekshmi have been used as supporting actresses, Trisha has earned a niche for herself as a senior. But Prabhu, Sarathkumar, Parthiban, Jayachitra and others do not get much importance. Jayaram and Rahman have only five-six scenes, but make their presence felt.

The scenes showing the young Nandini (Sara) and the young Adita Karikala (Santhosh Sriram) are also impressive.

Clear judgments!
Kalki’s novel Ponniyin Selvan does not categorically unravel the secret about Nandini’s birth. Even after going through the novel, the readers are not sure whether she is Pandya king Veerapandian’s wife or daughter. Similarly, what happens to Nandini after the infamous murder? Why does Arunmozhi Varman, though tipped by all to take over the reins of the Chola kingdom, fail to ascend the throne at the end of the novel? Who are the real murderers of Adita Karikalan? Kalki does not answer these questions clearly. What he gives are just hazy descriptions of his own fertile imagination.

Some Tamil writers have pointed fingers at Arunmozhi Varman and Kundavai for the murder of Adita Karikalan. All said and done, the murder still remains one of the mysteries yet to be unravelled.

However, unlike Kalki, Mani Ratnam does not like to leave his audience confused, and hence gives some clear answers to these questions which may sound natural and logical to those unfamiliar with the original novel but may take the readers by surprise.

The film does not reflect the culture, arts and lifestyles of the 10th century the film is rooted in. As far as the film buffs are concerned, PS 2 is a beautiful phantasmagoria enriched by visuals and music. Period!

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