Mani Ratnam says he is 'glad' he was unable to make Ponniyin Selvan earlier: 'Today, audiences are open to...'
Mani Ratnam talks about his upcoming film Ponniyin Selvan: I and why he is glad the film failed to get off the ground twice earlier.
Filmmaker Mani Ratnam has finally fulfilled his long-time dream of adapting Kalki’s literary masterpiece Ponniyin Selvan into a film after two failed attempts. In a recent interaction, he admitted that it is good that the novel was not adapted into a film before as this is the right time. He’s glad he could make it into two parts and release it now as audiences are ready to watch a film in multiple parts. Also read: Mani Ratnam says he was concerned PS I actors would gain weight during pandemic
Twice before Mani Ratnam attempted to make Ponniyin Selvan--in 1994 and 2011--but both times the project didn’t take off as planned. Talking about the long wait to finally make Ponniyin Selvan as a film in a group interaction in Chennai, Mani said he didn’t have to make major changes in the adaptation to appeal to sensibilities of audiences today, especially after the pandemic.
“The long wait has been some sort of liberation. Ponniyin Selvan is a five-part book and it’s impossible to compress it in a single film. Not sure if we could’ve done justice had we done the film back then. Today, audiences are open to the idea of watching a film in parts or as a series. Honestly, it was easier to make Ponniyin Selvan now. I'm glad Ponniyin Selvan didn't happen all these years because this is the right time,” he said.
Talking more about the adaptation process, the filmmaker said Ponniyin Selvan will be both a faithful representation as well as interpretation of Kalki’s novel. “I'm also a fan of the book and it has deeply impacted me. This is my interpretation and presentation of the story in the way it has impacted me,” he said.
Asked about the writing process and the experience of collaborating with multiple writers on the project, Mani Ratnam said it hugely benefitted him. “The writing process was very difficult. It's a five-part book. Any chapter can be made into a scene or two. To find one thread and follow it was very important. I had huge support in the form of Kalki, Jeyamohan and Kumaravel (co-writers),” he added.
Ponniyin Selvan can be best described as historical fiction. Even though based on the rule of the Cholas, Kalki’s novel is largely a work of fiction. Explaining the art of striking a balance between fact versus fiction in the process of adaptation, Mani Ratnam said: “This is not a game of guess work. It is based on Kalki's epic. Wherever we found historical facts that could be brought forward, we have done it with proper research. It’s not easy to make a five-part book into a two-part movie. You have to say a lot of things concisely. Audiences won't have patience to sit through a lot of things. Therefore, there will be small deviations from the book but only to link back to the story.”
Mani confirmed that the shoot for the second part is over as well. “In another six-nine months’ time, the second part should be ready for release. Post-production work is currently underway.”
In 2020, just after completion of the first schedule of the film, the world came to a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic. Mani Ratnam doesn’t believe in the argument that if not for the pandemic, he could’ve made a better film. “The only thing I was concerned about during the pandemic was that my actors shouldn’t put on weight. I was checking on them by constantly texting them. I can’t use the pandemic as an excuse and say I could’ve made a better film. The pandemic hit everyone, not just me. Our job is to deliver against all odds. After releasing the film, I can’t go and tell the audience, “the film is this way due to the pandemic”.
Ponniyin Selvan, which features an ensemble cast of Vikram, Jayam Ravi, Karthi, Trisha Krishnan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, and Aishwarya Lekshmi, releases in cinemas on September 30.