Ponniyin Selvan 1 review (NO SPOILERS): Prepare to Focus Very Hard On Remembering Names/Faces/Relationships

This movie is a mental marathon! All these names, backstories, relationships, flying at you. It works, but only if you FOCUS. Very few cheap thrills, all classy quality thrills.

I found the first hour of this movie exhausting, like being back in college. Everyone is dressed the same, everyone has very long names and also nicknames, and if you don’t take mental notes and pay attention to every part of the dialogue, you will be totally lost. And then around an hour in, it started clicking for me, I could keep track of who was who and what they wanted, and relax a little bit and start enjoying it. So, watch out! Expect to do some Hard Thinking and then be rewarded when you get farther in and it’s all more just fun time.

I spent the first hour thinking the casting was TERRIBLE. The actors (besides Vikram, doing his Brando thing) were somewhat interchangeable which did not help me tell them apart. And then it clicked and I started enjoying and decided the casting was perfect. Aish is the exact right actress to play her opaque role, Vikram is all emotion everywhere, and Karthi is all trickery and jokes. And Trisha is, well, TRISHA. I adore her. She neatly steals the movie from her first appearance, as she steals all her movies.

I think ultimately the person who is most “poorly cast’ is the director, Mani Ratnam. Mani Sir is a genius of course, but he is really struggling to handle this new type of genre. He gets there, but it takes time. The relationship and dialogue scenes sing, and his heroines are as fabulous as always, but the pacing of the fight scenes, that is, how fast one comes after the other and then how long it pauses between, is a bit off. And the Ratnam natural light style of filming makes me squint when we are dealing with olden times candles and cloudy sunlight. It’s gorgeous, but maybe a little too hard to follow? Maybe color correction CGI would be the way to go just this once?

His biggest struggle is in adapting a Great Novel for the screen. There’s a particular flaw you always see in these adaptations, those fabulous characters and strong scenes that leap of the page and you just LOVE, but frankly do not work on film. You have to be brave enough to make hard choices, lose some of the stuff the novel fans will love in order to make a stronger film. This movie seriously needed a different opening. I can see how a novel that starts from the perspective of a lowly spy/friend who is struggling to follow all the complicated relationships of the powerful folks around him would be fun and smart. But as a film, I was just lost for an hour. Same with stopping the plot for the introduction of comic characters, with layering backstory on top of backstory, with giving all of this space to themes of religion, history, etc. etc. Love the nod to Asoka’s daughter founding Buddhism in Sri Lanka, for instance, but maybe that scene isn’t SUPER needed when making a tight clear film?

Still a super fun original movie to watch! The sort of complex female characters, flawed “heroes”, and complicated trickery cowardly but brave hero we get in Karthi is something you can risk when you are writing a novel, but not when you are writing a film script. That’s the advantage of taking a Great Novel and making it into a film. You have proven success already, you can convince producers to give you money for your strange plot and gray characters because everyone already loves them.

Oh, and now that I’ve seen the film, best song both in visuals and sound is “Chola Chola”. Nothing like Vikram having an breakdown in song in a way that is both macho and emotional.


12 thoughts on “Ponniyin Selvan 1 review (NO SPOILERS): Prepare to Focus Very Hard On Remembering Names/Faces/Relationships

  1. Funny how you found Aishwarya opaque. From everyone I’ve heard she has been praised as one of the best parts of the film and for portraying the character of Nandini well. Okay, I am biased. I like her and truly think she is a good actor, just needs the right role and director.

    On a side note: You HAVE TO watch Raavanan after this at some point. She is a revelation. Also, she and Vikram are just the best part of the film, apart from everything that is great. For fans like me, it has been almost 12 years waiting for them to be back together in a film, and it feels like Christmas.


    • Oh no, she is supposed to be Opaque! I think she plays the role perfectly for the character/is cast perfectly. She is supposed to be without emotion, impossible to read, impossible to truly understand.


  2. Are you suggesting I read your spoiler review before watching? I don’t want to be spoiled on the story though. I’m prepared to take notes of character names while watching, also maybe I’ll just wiki it?


  3. I agree that it took sometime to figure out who’s who and how they’re related to each other. I ended up seeing it twice this weekend and I enjoyed the second watch a lot more because I could pay more attention to the details rather than figure out the plot and characters.


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