How Mani Ratnam brought Kalki's Ponniyin Selvan alive: A side-by-side comparison - Hindustan Times
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How Mani Ratnam recreated Kalki's Ponniyin Selvan on screen perfectly in PS1. See comparison with official illustrations

Oct 03, 2022 10:46 PM IST

Kalki's Ponniyin Selvan was accompanied by illustrations by Maniam, which have served as the definitive guide to what the characters have looked like. A glimpse into how accurately Mani Ratnam recreated those looks in PS1.

When Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan was first published, it wasn’t as a novel but as serialisation in the weekly magazine Kalki from 1950-54. At that time, along with the words, were printed illustrations, depicting scenes and characters from the story. These illustrations by Maniam, and their subsequent recreations over the years, formed the basis of how the characters’ looks were defined in people’s minds. In the film adaptation, Ponniyin Selvan: I, Mani Ratnam has painstakingly recreated much of these looks and scenes, making sure to stay as loyal to his source material as possible. Also read: Ponniyin Selvan I's post-film scene explained: Who is that mysterious woman

Kundavai, as drawn by Maniam (on left) and as portrayed by Trisha Krishnan in PS1 (on right).
Kundavai, as drawn by Maniam (on left) and as portrayed by Trisha Krishnan in PS1 (on right).

The hairstyle of Aishwarya Rai's Nandini in the film mirrors the illustrations.
The hairstyle of Aishwarya Rai's Nandini in the film mirrors the illustrations.

The biggest example of Mani Ratnam’s attention to detail lies in the elaborate hairstyles of Princess Kundavai, played by Trisha Krishnan and Nandini, played by Aishwarya Rai. Both the characters resemble their original versions a lot, right down to the last minute detail. Sobhita Dhulipala's Vaanathi not only looks similar and wears the same jewellery but also drapes her saree in the same fashion as her character did in the original illustrations.

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Vaanathi, as drawn by Maniam in the magazine and as portrayed by Sobhita Dhulipala in the film.
Vaanathi, as drawn by Maniam in the magazine and as portrayed by Sobhita Dhulipala in the film.
Even the hilt of the sword wielded by Vikram's character has been recreated in the film.
Even the hilt of the sword wielded by Vikram's character has been recreated in the film.

The detailing has extended to the male characters’ armour, weaponry, and even their armbands, even if some facial features and facial hair do differ. For instance, both Aditya Karikalan (Vikram) and the title character Ponniyin Selvan aka Arulmozhi Varman (Jayam Ravi) look slightly different in the film as compared to their likeness created by Maniam 70 years ago. However, the armour and jewellery are similar. What takes the cake is that even the hilt of Karikalan’s sword has been recreated with the same detailing.

The iconic pose of Vallavaraiyan was recreated for Karthi's character poster for the film.
The iconic pose of Vallavaraiyan was recreated for Karthi's character poster for the film.

Everything, from the hair to the armbands of Karthi's character Vallavaraiyan was book-accurate in Ponniyin Selvan: I. In fact, the character poster for Vallavaraiyan featured him in the exact same pose that the illustration did, atop a horse, hair flowing, riding alongside the Kaveri (Ponni) river. The picture had become iconic over time and Mani Ratnam made sure to recreate it.

Nambi's tilak, paunch, and man bun in the film are all book accurate.
Nambi's tilak, paunch, and man bun in the film are all book accurate.

The similarity in details extend to secondary characters as well. Even a relatively smaller character like Jayaram's Nambi has been adapted to the screen by Mani Ratnam in full faithfulness to the original subject matter, right down to his tilak, paunch, and the peculiar hair bun he had. In fact, in the case of Emperor Sundar Chola (Prakash Raj), even the cot he rests has been recreated to perfection in the Mani Ratnam film.

Jayam Ravi's Arulmozhi Varman is the only character that looks quite different from the drawings but even then he retains his tilak and jewellery of a similar style.
Jayam Ravi's Arulmozhi Varman is the only character that looks quite different from the drawings but even then he retains his tilak and jewellery of a similar style.

Ponniyin Selvan: I released in theatres on Friday to critical acclaim and full houses. The film has already made 230 crore worldwide in just three days and is on course to be one of the highest-grossing Tamil films of all time. The second, concluding part is set to release next year.

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