Ponniyin Selvan – I

Mani Ratnam’s epic stays faithful to Kalki’s original literature.


I believe that Ponniyin Selvan-I is a sincere effort in adapting the essence of a great novel into a movie and the team succeeded in their effort to make the movie feel real, grounded, and contemporary despite the grand staging and historical setup.



After getting to read Kalki’s novel by many quite recently and soon after everyone might feel this adaptation will have to overcome three major hurdles if it were to become a great movie (not just a good movie), they are as follows:


1) Adjusting the book for today’s audiences:

The work by Kalki has unquestionably weathered the test of time, and it is still highly engaging and rich today. A contemporary audience may find certain parts implausible or even laughable. Kalki Krishnamurthy’s excellent narration wins over readers and helps them overlook the story’s flaws. When prominent characters deviate from their character arcs by abruptly hopping to opposite ends of the spectrum, or when they bring up “Kolli vaai pisaasu” or “pei,” Kalki has his own narrative to assist him keep the audience captivated. However, it will be challenging for a movie, particularly one that is striving to be realistic and up-to-date, to persuade its viewers that some of these occurrences are possible. No doubt about it; this has to be rewritten.

PS-I gets through this obstacle with relative ease. I liked how it cut out the fat and concentrated on the essential parts of the music. To me, this indicated that the film sacrificed humor in favor of realism. Even though Manimekalai was conspicuously absent from the film, I’m crossing my fingers that he’ll make an appearance in the sequel.


2) The two-part film adaptation of a five-part book:

There were a lot of people I heard arguing that the book would be better served by being converted into a series rather than a movie shortly after the announcement of this movie. When I finished the film, I had that impression. The book had a large cast of important characters, each of whom was given extensive biography and motivation. Without rewriting the screenplays in some way, it seemed almost impossible to produce a decent movie, much alone a fantastic one.

In order to condense everything into a 2.5-3 hour movie, the film adapts the storyline, alters the way characters are developed and combines/skips characters. In my perspective, it only achieves some of its goals.

To begin, I’ll say that I like how quickly the narrative and characters were established when Nandini questioned Vandhiyathevan about why he had obstructed her palanquin. Despite his declining health, Emperor Sundara Cholar handles his succession with the dignity befitting his position, and Kundavai’s plan to marry off the daughters of the Petty Kings to her brothers fools them into believing she isn’t plotting against them. I also appreciate Kundavei not sending a message but instead going to Aditha Karikalan to talk about the problem. These weren’t exactly what happened in Kalki’s account, but they didn’t seem tacked on or out of place, either.

The movie still seemed hurried despite these alterations, which may have been due to the fact that there were just too many people and stories to fit into the running time. The authors had to weigh the possibility of trying to ruin Kalki’s tale against the cost of abandoning character arcs, and they ultimately decided to forgo the arcs for many of the characters. Major personalities like as Azhwarkadiyan Nambi, Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar, and even Nandini are mostly unexplored (I do realize this will get addressed in part 2).


3) What moviegoers anticipate from a cinematic outing:

To preface, this is not a movie about those who read the book; this is a given for any film based on a best-selling book. However, this film had the additional problem of meeting the expectations of most moviegoers. Theater-goers often look for epic scale and spectacular action, but PS-1 manages to be both visually impressive and grounded in realism. If you add to that the fact that Ponniyin Selvan is primarily a political drama and not an action/thriller, you can see why it could be hard for it to break beyond of the state of Tamil Nadu and into wider audiences. There is a risk that moviegoers who might enjoy seeing this on their own time at home won’t shell out the cash to see it in theatres.


1. The opening shot of Vikram on the White Horse, the shots of Karthi as Kamsa, the shots within the palaces and in the buddha vihar, and so on, were all extremely attractive to the eye and showed off the superb production design and costume design. While there were a few problems, the visual effects were generally strong.

2. The narrative is fascinating and full of energy. Because of how fantastic Kalki’s book was, I had no doubts about this.

3. The actors, and particularly the main characters, have all turned in strong performances. Almost never did it seem strange to hear these commercial artists rapping in senthamizh or see them dressed in 10th-century garb.


1. The songs (and occasionally the background score) did not complement the movie very well. The songs themselves were fine on their own, and almost all of the songs had some magical moments that had me excited. However, the way the story tried to keep moving forward while the songs were playing gave the impression that the songs were forced into the movie, and this actually restricted the flow rather than enhancing it.
2. “Edits and Screenplay changes were sudden and far from lovely, there were multiple occasions over the course of the movie in which it seemed like I was ripped out of a set-piece and dumped immediately into another one. This gave the impression that the movie was running much faster than it really was. This is one of the primary reasons why telling this narrative in a television series, streaming series, or miniseries would have been a superior option.
3. In my opinion, a movie should be able to stand on its own, even if it is a part of a duology or trilogy, and it should be able to provide satisfactory answers to the majority of the audience’s queries. In many respects, PS-1 had the impression of being unfinished, which made it seem less like a movie and more like an extravagant episode of a television program.

In conclusion, I thought that PS-1/Ponniyin Selvan: Part 1 was a good movie that would be very enjoyable if you went into the movie with the following expectations:

  1. With the expectation that you will be watching a political drama rather than an action movie; and
  2. With the expectation that the movie will be about the Ponniyin Selvan war and without having the expectation that every page of your favorite book would be shown on the screen.