Ratnam seems too beholden to the source material of Kalki Krishnamurthy’s serialised historical fiction written in the 1950s. His film adaptation, unfolding in two dense and breathless parts, however, falters unexpectedly.
Flitting smoothly between personal and political, as well as the various cities and subplots in Ponniyin Selvan is Vallavaraiyan Vandiyadevan (Karthi). His odyssey gives the first part of Ratnam’s adaptation of Ponniyin Selvan its propulsive force.
Ponniyin Selvan 2 begins with a soaring reminiscing of their childhood romance, beginning with how they met and then were forced to part ways. Here, the film possesses something of a searing heart, where Ratnam’s artistry and his story prop each other up delicately, gorgeously.
In the end, when Nandini kills Aditha Karikalan — or perhaps he kills himself so that he can die in her arms — Nandini reacts with theatrical despair, knowing fully well that her heart is tugging at her to stop. Aditha dies. Nandini weeps and is swept away by her Pandya collaborators.
By picking up Ponniyin Selvan, he picked up a seminal piece of Tamil culture, and it seems that felt the need to round up the drama and seal it by invoking Tamil pride, expressing a cultural chauvinism, even if this is without an intention to indulge it. The film had ended for me with the death of Aditha Karikalan.
If there’s one thing that comes across as a unifying thread it is his inability to make physical violence sing or sting in the way emotional violence does in the stories he tells. The fights are dull patches to wade through.
Ratnam, like Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Achal Mishra, make a case for cinema as a visual medium. And in that sense, Ponniyin Selvan is another assured arrow in his quiver. But that is also my grumble. Ponniyin Selvan is merely another assured arrow in his quiver.
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