Ponniyin Selvan Part 1 was a sweeping epic tale of kingdoms, war, lost love and treachery, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute. I’m happy to report that the second part is even better, although with less focus on big battle scenes and more nail-biting drama. But there are still plenty of sword fights and large-scale action despite the move to add some more emotional and dialogue driven scenes. The scale is just as epic and the scenery and costumes are incredibly stunning. I still haven’t managed to read the books, so can’t comment on how well the film follows the printed word, but as an all-encompassing action story, it completely worked for me.
The story starts with a flashback to happier times for young crown prince Aditya Karikalan (Santhosh) and the orphaned Nandini (Sara Arjun). The music here is simply wonderful and the Santhosh and Sara are both excellent in portraying the story of their romance and Nandini’s betrayal as she falls foul of Aditya’s mother and sister. This early focus on Aditya and Nandini ensures they are always kept in mind as the story moves back to the present day and the question over the fate of Arulmozhi (Jayam Ravi) and Vanthiyathevan (Karthi), lost in a shipwreck during a storm at sea and simultaneous attack by the Pandiya rebels. The betrayal and revenge featured at the start also sets the tone for the rest of the film as the story of Pandya vengeance and treason by the Chola chieftains threatens Sundara Chola and his empire. But behind the action there is always the doomed romance between Aditya and Nandini that taints everyone it touches. It also serves to explain exactly why Aditya (Vikram) is so tortured by memories of Nandini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) and his rage when he found her with the dying Veerapandiyan (Nasser).
All the threads start coming together as the various plots to remove the Cholas from power reach fruition. The Pandya rebels seem to be everywhere – they have infiltrated every palace and seem numerous in the city, all of which seems amazing since originally there didn’t seem to be quite so many of them. Even Vanthiyathevan becomes more serious as he tries to warn Aditya away from meeting with Nandini. The warnings are as clear as the bright red light in the sky portends doom, but both Arumozhi and Aditya prefer to face their enemies head on, which ensures plenty of excellent and well-choreographed fight scenes as they dodge each assassination attempt.
Throughout all the treachery and sneak attacks by the Pandyas, the tension between Aditya and Nandini is never far away. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is simply magnificent here in the role of Nandini, and says so much with her body language alone. There is her deep and abiding love for Aditya, despite his actions when he slaughtered the Veerapandiyan in front of her eyes and her entreaties to stay his sword. There is also her deep hatred for the Chola royal family, and her promise to the Pandya King to look after his son as her brother that add spice to her interactions with Kundavai (Trisha) and her mother Vaanavan Mahadevi (Vidhya Subramanian). Nandini’s conversations with the Pandya leader are sharp and filled with her hate, but the final climax with Aditya is absolutely brilliant with Aishwarya perfect in the depth and range of emotions she shows. Thankfully Vikram has calmed down after his excesses in PS1, and here his betrayal of a man tortured by his memories is spot on, and just unhinged enough to understand his behaviour throughout the film. It’s fantastic, and really very sad, made even more dramatic by the intense close-ups and claustrophobic feel of the final encounter between the two.
Less successful is Aishwarya’s portrayal of Mandakini/Oomai Rani, the woman in the Sri Lankan forests who repeatedly saves Arulmozhi. Since Mandakini’s back story is only revealed at the end, her nervous flitting around the palace seems out of place. With so little to work with Aishwarya appears washed out and tired rather than ethereal and mysterious, which I suspect was more how Mandakini was supposed to appear. There is also a lot less of Trisha too, which is a shame as I think she nails the role of Kundavai. However her big romantic scene with Karthi is amazing and worth every second of screentime. Their chemistry, while more subtle than that between Aditya and Nandini, packs just as much of a punch. I loved both of these actors here and would love to see a spin-off focusing on just these two.
The rest of the support cast of thousands are all just as good as in PS1. There is no-one who seems miscast and all the various warriors, chieftains, rebels and assorted palace staff all excel in their roles and bring the story to life. A.R.Rahman’s music is just as perfect and enhances every aspect of the film, whether action, romance or drama. I especially love Chinnanjiru Nilave which plays during the romance of the young Aditya and Nandini, but I can’t find the video song. So instead here is the excellent Veera Raja Veera pictured on Aditya and the absolutely stunning Vaanathi (Sobhita Dhulipala).
The film looks amazing too. Ravi Varman’s cinematography keeps the film feeling real despite the often glamorous settings and historical action sequences. You can almost smell the blood and sweat in the battle scenes, while the palaces scenes bring the essence of perfume and lamp oil. The juxtaposition of battle and intrigue is smoothly captured while Mani Ratnam’s strength lies in bringing out the emotion behind every scene.
I loved this film. Every single scene is amazing and the whole is perfectly pieced together. Every character is beautifully realised, so that even those who only appear for a brief moment are still seen as important to the story and have a reason to be there. With fantastic performances from the whole cast, the mesmerising soundtrack and sublime images, this is surely the best film of the year. 5 stars!