Ponniyin Selvan 2 Review (SPOILERS): Well, That’s Not What the Summary of the Book Promised Me!

Hey! They changed the plot! Like, quite a bit! Mostly by cutting things out. But for those of us (me) who rely on online summaries to follow the dang thing, it was very confusing. Once I let go of what I thought was going to happen and just enjoyed what was happening, it was fine.

Whole Plot Straightened Out in Chronological Order:

Years before the present plot started, when he was a young prince, Prakash Raj was shipwrecked on Lanka and saved by Aishwarya, a young fisherwoman. They fell in love and he slept with her (his “sin”). Once he got home, he sent a trusted friend to find her but was told she died, so he remarried and had his three children with the Queen. Years later, he saw an orphan girl being raised by the temple priest who looked exactly like Aishwarya. When he learned his son was in love with her and wanted to marry her, he sent his guards to take her away fearing it would be incest, that this was his daughter. In reality, his enemy the neighboring king Veera Pandya had kidnapped and raped Aishwarya and then abandoned her, knowing Prakash loved her and wanting to hurt him. Aishwarya gave the child of rape up to the temple and Veera Pandya, in guilt, sent spies to watch over her. When she was banished, driven to sex work, he found her and took her into his family as his “foster daughter”. Years later, Aishwarya had to watch the man she loved, Vikram, kill her foster father. As he died, Veera Pandya gave Aishwarya the responsibility of taking care of his young son and avenging his death. Vikram, ashamed of himself for killing an unarmed man in a fit of anger and emotion, and wracked with guilt for breaking Aishwarya’s heart, fled to the northern battlefields. Aishwarya, as part of her revenge plan, seduced the aging treasurer R. Sarathkumar of the Chola kingdom in order to incite a rebellion and sneak in assassins. Prakash Raj is old and sick, Vikram is fighting to the north, and his younger son Jayam Ravi is fighting in Lanka. Aishwarya and her husband sneak in the king’s cousin, Rahman, from the temple where he was raised into the forts and palaces and encourage the other chieftains to support his claim to the throne. Ponniyin Selvan 1 happens.

The initial rebellion plan fails and Rahman goes to find allies and is offered a chance to work with the northern kingdom. He agrees, so long as it is a bloodless war. He does not want the kingdom divided or his family harmed, just wants to be put on the throne. Aishwarya meets with her fellow rebels and spies and orders them to assassinate all three men (Prakash Raj, Vikram, and Jayam Ravi) simultaneously. But her plan fails because it is overheard by Karthi, the spy. He reports it to the princess Trisha, and also takes her to meet her brother Jayam Ravi in Lanka. Vikram also arrives in Lanka and the three siblings are united. But Vikram declares he must return because Aishwarya has invited him to visit her and he cannot say “no”. Trisha orders Karthi to secretly follow and protect Vikram. Karthi witnesses Aishwarya kill Vikram, or rather Vikram using Aishwarya to kill himself, knowing that she has no choice but to kill him and seeing it as his atonement. Meanwhile, a group of assassins tries to shoot Prakash Raj while he relaxes in his palace, but Aishwarya 1 has followed them knowing they intend to hurt Prakash and sneaks into his room to warn him. Their eyes meet and they see each other once again before Aishwarya jumps in front of arrows to save his life and dies. Jayam Ravi survives multiple assassination attempts in Lanka through the loyalty of Karthi, the Buddhist Monks, and his own intelligence. Aishwarya is dragged away by her fellow Pandya rebels and finally learns the truth about her own parentage. In despair at how she has been a pawn for others her whole life, she kills herself. The infighting in the Chola kingdom suddenly stops when they are attacked by the north. At the last minute, Rahman comes to join his cousins on the battlefield, turning against his allies when they broke their promise of a bloodless battle. Rahman proves himself in battle, racing far ahead of his cousins and killing the lead enemy. After the battle, Prakash Raj crowns Jayam Ravi as his heir. But Jayam takes the crown and gives it to Rahman as the rightful heir by blood, and by his actions in battle.

So here’s the big thing they removed from the book! In the book, Aishwarya is a twin with Rahman. There was a baby swap and the true heir was raised as a humble flower seller. This swap is discovered at some point, Rahman goes off to join the Pandyam rebels and the Humble Flower Seller joins the royal family. And then same ending, Jayam Ravi gives up the crown because it rightfully belongs to Humble Flower Seller.

(justice for Aishwarya Lakshmi! She does a great job playing spicy fisherwoman, and then the whole big ending for her character is cut. I’m more angry about that than on losing out on the Humble Flower Seller is Prince plot)

I’m okay with the change because it is part of the whole concept of the hero not needing to be the king. The hero of the story is Jayam Ravi, because you can be a very good person and worthy of having stories told about you, without wanting the throne. So it’s not SUPER important who he actually gives the crown up to, just that it is someone seemingly less “worthy” but still perfectly fine and capable. The whole idea of the Magical Destined Ruler is questioned by this story, lots of people have flaws and virtues and the possibility of being good leaders.

I am NOT okay with the change because the kept they flower seller character! And his girlfriend, the spicy fisherwoman. I was all excited to see this sweet flower seller learn he was royalty, and to see the spicy fisherwoman try to process the reveal. But no, they just dance around the edges of the plot and then kind of go away never to be seen or mentioned again. What an odd choice! Either take them out entirely or squeeze in the conclusion to their plot. Maybe I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t read the summary in advance, but I think I still would have? They are semi-prominent characters and they have no conclusion. I guess because they can’t do the book conclusion and it would be unfaithful to use a non-book conclusion.

There’s so much else that is so good, it was easy to distract myself from this odd deletion. The Vikram-Aishwarya conclusion really is magnificent. We have seen Vikram be tortured and angry and bitter over her marriage. And we have seen Aishwarya being an ice woman wanting only revenge. Once they are preparing to actually meet though, we see Aishwarya increasingly nervous and Vikram confident. He knows it is the right thing to do and he knows what the conclusion will be. They meet, and Aishwarya fails to kill him. Vikram lovingly tries to talk her into it, to tell her it is all right, he wants to die at her hand. Aishwarya tries to play it off, that she never loved him, that he owes her nothing. They talk in circles around her denial of love and his insistence on it. And then finally, he impales himself on her knife as they embrace. In the end their bond is only between themselves, only for themselves, and all the family loyalties and public drama is meaningless.

There’s also the flashback to the royal childhood, in which we get to see the origin of Vikram and Aishwarya, and also Aishwarya and Trisha. Young Sara Arjun is amazing, as always, and manages to convey shyness, love, growing confidence, in her and Vikram’s flirtation of the eyes. Until finally he claims her in front of everyone, only for her to be dragged away by guards the next day and they never see each other again. That love story is touching and beautiful, but it is the interactions with Young Trisha (Nila) that I find more interesting. Nila the Princess is surrounded by friends, laughing, clever, confident. She tries to befriend Sara Arjun the shy temple maiden but miss-reads her shyness as rudeness and disinterest. The two women immediately conflict in personality with misunderstandings that last to the present day, with Aishwarya being cool and calm and Trisha being clever and quick and confident. It is this conflict between the two girls that leads Vikram to believe Trisha caused Aishwarya to be sent away in the present, unaware that it was Prakash’s fear of incest that truly caused her to be sent away.

The Trisha-Aishwarya conflict continues to the present day. The start of the film is a small story of Vikram’s best friend arriving at Aishwarya and her husband’s camp with a message. Aishwarya easily enraptures him, and realizes he previously belonged to Trisha and her beauty. The two women are fighting for the souls of the men around them. I don’t know if that is how the novel is structured, but the film makes it far more interesting to watch the scheming women fight in shadows against each other than any of the boring male vows and battles and alliances.

Not necessarily the most interesting character, but definitely the funnest to watch is Karthi. He lies, he schemes, he thinks on his feet, and he is the secret weapon of the royal family. The moment Aishwarya has her in her hands and he talks himself into being released is the moment she loses, it’s all about Karthi. And the moment he meets Trisha and immediately falls in love, she wins. The scene where they reunite is delightful, the two of them parrying each other in dialogue with Karthi blindfolded. Even the audience isn’t aware of how much they know of each other and when they know it, but under the lying and tricks, they are coming to their own kind of understanding.

The whole story is just fascinating, the lies and pain and mistakes all piling up together with these flawed people just trying to do the right thing moment by moment. And then it ends with that magnificent twist, that sometimes you can just give up and give something away and that’s okay. Not everything has to be held on to with a tight grasp, you can just open your hand and let go.


8 thoughts on “Ponniyin Selvan 2 Review (SPOILERS): Well, That’s Not What the Summary of the Book Promised Me!

  1. Yes, you finally watched the movie and you had somehow the exact same thoughts that I had!

    I also love that Vikram and Aishwarya scene so so much. Like I just want to watch that scene again and again. The last time I felt like this about a scene is the final scene of Kandukondain Kandukondain, with Ajith almost letting go of Tabu. However, Vikram and Aishwarya’s scene is really special as you see the feelings of both of them and how they both play back at each other. It shows all the love yet hurt they feel. OMG I want to watch it again!

    However my problem was the same as yours that removing the birth plotline brings a whole bunch of plotholes which shouldn’t be there. Like Aishwarya Lekshmi and Sobhita Dhulipala are also supposed to have a love triangle with Jayam Ravi. That also builds into the whole birth switch plotline, I feel like adding bits and pieces of the story just doesn’t work as it doesn’t explain numerous aspects of the storyline. Like my basic wish is that Mani Ratnam put the same amount of effort into everyone’s story that he did with Vikram and Aish.

    However like you, those individual scenes are so so so good that I’m overlooking all the flaws and want to rewatch the movie immediately. Even though it’s not possible for me currently.


    • The other thing that was strange, you have Sobhita declare that even if Jayam Ravi becomes king, she wants to be just a wife, not a Queen. And you have Aishwarya Lekshmi talking about she wants jewels and power. It’s really leaning towards an interesting conflict of one wanting the public face and the other the private, and then that whole thing goes away! Never gets resolved! Sobhita and Jayam are together, but also he ends up being the King of Kings? And Aishwarya Lekshmi’s story just ends.


      • Yes, like in the book all these plot holes get filled however in the movie we’re just left with some inkling of what the original story is. Like in the movie one of the major reasons why Sobhita ends up with Jayam Ravi is due to the pure love she has for him. I was actually hoping that they would have a stronger love story with Jayam Ravi and Sobhita in the movie as that was sort of looked over a bit in the book. However instead there is a lot of plot holes.


        • I will say, Sobhita calling out “hey Mauhat” at the end was super cute. That she was still so in love with him even if he’s just a Mauhat and not a crown prince.


  2. Saw it last night after re-watching PS1 on Prime the night before to try and catch up with the details. Even without having read the books I’ve found the plot dense and complicated but maybe I’m just a bit slow. Your précis above has gone a long way to helping me understand a lot of what I had missed. Thanks.

    I think when PS2 comes out on Prime I’ll do a back to back re-watch to see if I can understand the story better as a coherent whole.

    Vikram and Aishwarya’s final scene broke my heart even though it makes some sense in the larger story. I so wanted them to have reconciliation and a happy ending but I guess I’m just an old soppy who’s seen too many rom-coms.

    The resolution of Karthi and Trisha’s story surprised me a little, though I was very happy for them. Karthi, falsely accused and disgraced in front of the Emperor, seemed at the rock bottom of his character arc and I would have expected the mud to stick even if he was given permission to redeem himself on the battlefield. I fully expected him to either die heroically or retire to a monastery to live out his life in quiet contemplation and remorse for his perceived failure.

    Still, this is Indian cinema so anything is possible.


  3. Small correction: there is no Lanka in this movie. Arulmozhi Varman and Vandiyadevan are rescued by mandakini and brought back to the Chola lands by Poonguzhali, but AMV is very ill with fever and they take him to a Buddhist monastery which is in Nagapattinam (in the Chola Kingdom) to be cured. Aditya and Kundavai go there to see him. And the assassins force him out of hiding by threatening to destroy the monastery. (That was one of the nice subtle character beats I really liked about Ponniyin Selvan the character – he risks his own life rather than have harm befall the monks. I think it’s setting up his integrity so his decision at the end is even more befitting of his character. He will always choose the path that leads to less harm for bystanders.)


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