Ponniyin Selvan I: Why you must not have Baahubali, RRR size of expectations with this one

Published on Oct 02, 2022 09:06 AM IST

Months after Baahubali creator SS Rajamouli’s RRR, here’s why you should not compare his work with Mani Ratnam’s period drama, Ponniyin Selvan I.

Aishwarya Rai in a still from Ponniyin Selvan I. 
Aishwarya Rai in a still from Ponniyin Selvan I. 
ByRuchi Kaushal

Filmmaker Mani Ratnam is a cinema school in himself with not a few but numerous timeless Tamil and Hindi classics under his belt. He launched Aishwarya Rai with Iruvar and even she has admitted that he has shaped her film career with titles such as Guru, Raavan and now Ponniyin Selvan I. Yet, when a cinelover (bitten by the comparatively noval pan-Indian bug) may watch the trailer of Ponniyin Selvan I which arrives in the same year as SS Rajamouli’s RRR, they will expect it to offer something similar to this biggest Indian entertainer of the year or Rajamouli’s two-part magnum opus: Baahubali. But here’s the catch: It isn't quite made in the same mould. Also read: Ponniyin Selvan I movie review

Mani Ratnam, 66, is not a few-film wonder but a well-known name across India and the world ever since he delivered his 1992 romantic thriller, Roja. The Arvind Swami and Madhoo-starrer established his fan following among the non-Tamil audience. Much before that, he had already won three National Film Awards for Mouna Ragam, Geethanjali and Anjali, the latter being India's official entry for Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Since then, he has enchanted the global audience with several romantic thrillers like Bombay, Dil Se, Guru, Raavan, Saathiya and Tamil fans with Kannathil Muthamittal and others. The filmmaker may or may not have witnessed a money rush at the ticket counters with every film outing but he can safely be called the first pan-Indian filmmaker with the most beautiful critically-acclaimed films.

Coming to Ponniyin Selvan I, the film is not a work of fiction but a period drama, though it serves the hit mix of epic war scenes, the charm of history, romantic tension between historical characters, massive ships, grand sets and soul-stirring old school music. A viewer does expect every scene to hold their attention, but a little lethargy is brought on by the historical facts and exposition to keep the historians from complaining. Also, Mani Ratnam has been a master storyteller since more than 35 years, yet he ensures not going overboard with unbelievable action sequences or bewildering stunts, like those witnessed in Rajamouli’s pathbreaking but fictitious blockbusters.

The way he has captured the simple scenes showing the beauty of a river or paddy fields can never be anything less that stunning. The war scenes do not bring out the same impact as the soldiers turning into a football to be hit by a palm tree seen in Baahubali or the water and fire elements in the fight scenes in RRR but Mani effectively makes up with the drama, his specialty. The burden of it also seems to be on wrapping up battle scenes too soon in order to stick to the extensive storyline.

A still from Ponniyin Selvan I. 
A still from Ponniyin Selvan I. 

Paired with AR Rahman’s musical score, Mani Ratnam weaves magic with rare dance acts like Devaralan Naach and the Krishna-Kansa leela in the song Rakshas Mama Re, with Sobhita Dhulipala playing the beautiful Krishna and Karthi playing the wicked Kansa. The female lead Aishwarya Rai doesn’t have any romantic numbers either but she makes sure to do the magic in simply raising her eyebrows a certain way while decked up in her natural beauty and traditional jewels, an out and out Mani Ratnam heroine at her best. Vikram and Karthi also do not spin the same magic as Prabhas’ Baahubali or Ram Charan and Jr NTR’s Ram and Bheem, respectively but then expected them to be kings, not blockbuster-minting OTT heroes.

Ponniyin Selvan I has been in the making for years and the moment it lights up the silver screen, it takes us to the visually delightful world created by Mani Ratnam. And throughout the film, the excellent storyteller makes sure he sticks to his grounded storytelling, keeping the human emotions his top priority. Needless to say, if you too are a fan of Mani Ratnam's ageless classics, this one is surely not to be missed.

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