Ponniyin Selvan is a five-volume historical Tamil novel, set during the Chola Dynasty, one of the three most illustrious with the other two being the Pandya and the Chera Empires.
Serialised by the legendry journalist and author, Krishnamurthy, in his magazine, Kalki, the plot popped out of the pages week after week from 1950 to 1954, catapulting the circulation to dizzy numbers. In southern India, Krishnamurthy became synonymous with Ponniyin Selvan or The Son of Ponni, and the plot and its macabre machinations haunted the dreams, the desires and the dread of just about every household. Such was the integrality of Selvan and his story.
What still continues to amaze is it’s a multitude of characters, each clearly etched and fascinatingly layered, and the story itself is extraordinarily detailed – though sometimes confusing. There are intrigues and counter-intrigues, conspiracies and counter-conspiracies, and there are chameleon-like men and women who are out to wreck vengeance, create social havoc and destroy the Chola Dynasty. There is greed, there is valour, there is sacrifice. There is love, there is romance and there is sexual coyness.
Portraying a messenger and protector is the young and handsome Vanthiyathevan (Srikrishna Dayal). He uses his wile and intelligence to bewitch women and smuggle into palaces messages on dry palm leaves from Karikalan to his father and sister, Illayaprati Kundavai (Preethi Athreya), and finally from her to Arulmozhi Varman or Ponniyin Selvan, who is fighting a war in Sri Lanka. Perhaps the most delightful character is Azhwarkadiyan Nambi (Hans Kaushik), the eyes and ears of the kingdom’s Prime Minister. The romantic thread runs from Vanthiyathevan to Kundavai, and from Selvan to Vanathi, a beautiful princess and Kundavai’s friend.
But yes, the men and the sheer brilliance of colours and costumes draw your gaze away from Ponniyin Selvan’s glitches.