A nice story-teller, Mani Ratnam is experimenting with a real-life historic in Ponniyin Selvan, factors out N Sathiya Moorthy.
IMAGE: Vikram as Aditya Karikalan in Ponniyin Selvan.
Now that Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan, the primary of the 2 components of the pan-Indian movie, is due for international screening on September 30, a cottage trade has propped up in Youtube discourses throughout the Tamil-speaking world, the language being the mainstay of the movie, the historicity it’s based mostly on — and naturally the serialised novel by freedom period author and journal editor, Kalki R Krishnamurthy (1899-1954).
The Youtube channels dish out discussions with historians who’ve been working and writing on the ‘late Cholas’ of the tenth to the thirteenth century, or stand-alone one-man reveals by aspirational journalists and self-taught aficionados of the fantastic period of Tamil historical past.
Then, there are those that have made Ponniyin Selvan the movie, the forged and the historical past the unique story and the movie are coping with, part of their unique packaging.
IMAGE: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as Nandini in Ponniyin Selvan.
Of course, the approaching film is simply the primary of a two-part manufacturing with the second promised to launch subsequent 12 months.
Mani Ratnam, nevertheless, shot all the movie in a single go, additionally as a result of the actors couldn’t be anticipated to dedicate their time solely for two-plus years, the Covid lockdown having eaten into his taking pictures and journey schedules in a really massive manner.
If nothing else, most male actors put on naturally grown hair and wig, on account of which they have been showing in social and household capabilities as such.
They couldn’t shave their beards or lower their hair, for taking part in different characters in different movies earlier than the PS taking pictures was full.
The Youtube discourses commenced even when Mani Ratnam’s movie-making hit newspaper headlines in 2018, and has continued on and off, and picked up higher momentum when the discharge date of PS-I turned identified earlier this 12 months.
The authentic discourses on Facebook and WhatsApp teams needed to do extra with the start anniversaries of Rajaraja Chola, by whose novelist title the movie too is titled.
Though nobody is speaking about it overtly, everybody is aware of and says so in whispers that Tamil cinema, moderately Indian cinema, significantly Bollywood, desires PS to hit the jackpot on the field workplace.
The odds, they are saying, are even, if not low. That is as a result of the Tamil readers’ particular person studying expertise, reducing throughout generations, and their expectations from the novel need to be matched by the film-maker’s personal narrative.
IMAGE: Trisha Krishnan as Kundavai in Ponniyin Selvan.
For these exterior of Tamil Nadu, viewing PS-I in one other language, greater than the historicity, the viewer has to ‘join’ with the product.
A higher storyteller, Mani Ratnam is experimenting with a real-life historic — the place the author has taken too many liberties with characters, characterisation, and therefore info.
Thus, there’s anxiousness in different film0makers who now are itching to make historic films out of their favorite novels, in Tamil or different languages, and are ready for the BO verdict.
More importantly, in addition they need to know if the viewers are prepared to just accept anybody aside from MGR-Sivaji-Gemini period actors as kings and rulers, although there are not any such hang-ups over heroines donning related roles.
Before the MGR-Sivaji period, there have been these like M Ok Thyagaraja Bhagavathar and P U Chinnappa, doing such roles.
In the MGR-Sivaji period, once more, there have been actors like Muthuraman, Sivakumar and A V M Rajan, who acted as lesser characters. Actors like P S Veerappa, M N Nambiar, S A Ashokan and R S Manohar performed the antagonist(s). S V Ramga Rao, S V Sahasranamam and the like performed character artistes, as they have been in social dramas of the time.
It is a distinct story relating to a pan-India historic, as totally different from puranic themes.
Going past the face of the actors and the fame of the film-maker, the viewer ought to have the ability to relate to the storyline.
It can’t become one more Raja-Rani story, although as Indian cinema has had them in Hindi and Telugu originals, amongst others, in recent times.
Here once more, for the Hindi viewers particularly, Aishwarya Rai’s is the one on-screen face that they will recognise. But the argument additionally goes that earlier than Baahubali I, the actors weren’t identified exterior the Telugu desam, comprising Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
IMAGE: Jayam Ravi as Arulmozhivarman in Ponniyin Selvan.
For all this, nevertheless, Mani Ratnam shouldn’t be the primary film-maker who dreamt of capturing Kalki’s work on celluloid.
In his time, the inimitable M G Ramachandran, who together with thespian Sivaji Ganesan had captured the Tamil film-goer’s creativeness for his or her interval films set in palatial backgrounds, had wished to do it himself.
When he lastly relented after his hay day on the silver-screen had been changed by these in lively politics because the founding father of the AIADMK get together and as chief minister not very way back, Kamal Hassan opened up on his personal goals.
As Kamal stated on the PS-I audio-launch at Chennai just lately, he had to surrender on the thought, as the thought of a two-part movie had not been considered within the nineties as they’re now.
Kamal had acted in Mani Ratnam’s Nayakan (1987), a box-office hit to vast crucial acclaim, was satisfied, as anybody else in his place, that Kalki’s magnum opus couldn’t and shouldn’t be compressed right into a two-to-three-hour providing.
As an apart, Rajinikanth, one other of Mani’s favorite actors in super-hit Thalapathy (1991) informed the Chennai viewers, how he had wished to play the antagonist Periya Pazhuvettarayar within the PS concession and the way Mani Ratnam had stated ‘No’.
As the film-maker stated, Rajni’s followers wouldn’t have it, and it could imply they shopping for bother when none might exist.
As the wag quipped, if Rajini or Kamal have been to star in a Mani Ratnam PS, then it could be about them, and never even concerning the characters that they portrayed.
That would have been doing injustice to the author. Anyway, it could not have been a Mani film, as Nayakan and Thalapathy turned out to be of their occasions.
IMAGE: Karthi as Vanavarayan Vandhiyathevan in Ponniyin Selvan.
The query arises if Mani Ratnam can recreate Kalki’s wordy magic by his celluloid mastery.
Though the decision shouldn’t be out, the reply simply now’s a studied yes-and-no.
Kalki’s readers, together with the ’90s youngsters who picked up the five-volume basic in latest weeks for the texture of it, has to just accept that reproducing his narrative width is probably not doable even in a two-part movie.
A 10 or 15-part teleserial for an OTT platform would have been a greater choice, however it couldn’t have introduced out the opulence and results that the story and packaging demand on this tech period and which will be reproduced solely in a theatrical expertise — not on a small drawing room TV display screen, with a lot of home distractions.
The screenplay, penned by Mani Ratnam and Elango Kumaravel, with whom the grasp shares the title-card area, thus sticks to a manageable narrative, which some old-world Kalki aficionados would really feel as a let-down.
A theatre character who had dabbled in movie roles on occasion (the newest memorable providing was in Kamal Hassan’s Vikram, as Agent Lawrence, the weapons specialist who sacrifices his life whereas saving the protagonist’s grandson), Kumaravel had scripted the entire of Ponniyin Selvan as a four-hour lengthy play within the nineties.
It was staged in an improvised open-air theatre in Chennai way back to 1999, and as a closed-door efficiency extra just lately in 2014.
The price, in accordance with him, was Rs 50 lakhs within the late nineties and double that quantity in 2014.
Kumaravel had not gone to fulfill the creativeness of particular person viewers, however given his personal interpretation, or condensation of Kalki’s narrative-style writing.
As Kumaravel recalled in a Youtube interview just lately, he selected the underlying theme of Kalki’s work (on which the writer didn’t bestow a transparent and sustained focus, delineating it from the descriptive narrative).
His focus was about an impending emptiness to the Chola throne because the reigning monarch was ailing, and the way different characters round him seen the choices to fill the emptiness, coupled with particular person aspirations, ambitions and supposed roles and contributions.
That also needs to clarify why Mani Ratnam roped in Kumaravel for help whereas writing the script and screenplay in his inimitable model.
As Kumaravel defined, Mani Sir has given his personal interpretation of Kalki — and that’s what the film-maker’s brand-image has been, all alongside, even on social themes.
Going by the teaser, there could possibly be a naval engagement or motion (vis-a-vis Sri Lanka?) that has not been pictured in Kalki’s model.
Contemporary period Tamil novelist, B Jeyamoh an, who has dabbled in historic novels to name his personal, with a way of social historical past, has penned the dialogues for PS I
IMAGE: Director Mani Ratnam with the Jaeger Le’Coultre Glory To The FilmMaker Award on September 6, 2010 in Venice, Italy. Photograph: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
Incidentally, this isn’t the primary time that Kalki is being filmed. In his lifetime, celebrated Tamil film-maker Ok Subrahmanyam created historical past by making a movie out of Kalki’s Thyaga Bhoomi (1939), a social drama set within the midst of the liberty motion — therefore the title, although the primary story-line was not about it.
As it goes, when the British governor of the then Madras Presidency banned the film, when re-released after an earlier ban had been lifted, the producers opened the gates of Chennai’s Gaiety cinema totally free reveals till the police may serve the ban orders. But that was in a distinct period, in a distinct setting, however it’s a file of kinds.
Likewise, it’s unfair to check Mani’s Ponniyin Selvan with S S Rajamouli’s Baahubali concession, the primary really pan-Indian film, which created sensation and box-office information which can be exhausting to interrupt years down the road.
Rajamouli’s was his personal story, his personal imaginative and prescient of the characters, all of whom have been imaginary.
For Mani Ratnam, a lot of the essential characters have been real-life personae, to whom Kalki’s very descriptive pen had added character and traits.
His problem is to see if the mainline Tamil film-goer would settle for how a lot of deviation, no matter be the impact on the untrained viewer in different Indian languages.
Worse nonetheless, by the previous many years since Kalki serialised Ponniyin Selvan within the Tamil weekly journal by his title (sure, additionally Kalki) within the mid-fifties, generations of his readers as much as the current one have imported their very own concepts and visions on particular person characters and occasions in Kalki’s novel.
It is tough for the filmmaker even of Mani Ratnam’s caliber to reside as much as each’s expectations, that are based mostly purely on the fertile nature of particular person creativeness.
Thus, for example, conventional Tamil film-goers concept of a ruler, particularly these supposedly residing in opulent model in lavish palaces and never thrown into the jungles by the enemy, is considered one of standard elitism.
Like south Indian viewers couldn’t digest Ramanand Sagar’s Lord Krishna in Nitish Bharadwaj in opposition to a blue-painted N T Rama Rao in very many Telugu originals and a few Tamil movies within the period of Eastman Colour…
Traditionally, Tamil movie’s princes and emperors have been fair-complexioned (even when made up within the case of actors aside from MGR), clean-shaven, et al.
This applies to the youthful technology viewers, too, who haven’t seen an authentic Tamil historic made of their time.
To them, too, MGR, Sivaji Ganesan and Gemini Ganesan (the final one, principally within the black-and-white period), say, as much as the mid-eighties.
Most of Mani Ratnam’s male characters in PS-I put on a beard and tresses which can be uneven, as in Mrinal Sen’s DD rendering of Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India, once more within the late eighties.
This is in contrast to the ladies in PS-I, who seem within the conventional Tamil filmi outlook, earmarked for interval films of the type.
Considering that each one these male characters hold showing in virtually each scene, the viewer acceptance turns into simpler and essential on the similar time.
At the identical time, the youthful technology’s acceptance of getting older actors in characters which can be eternally etched of their twenties could be a difficult query for which the reply could be identified solely when the movie is launched.
For occasion, there’s Vikram (56) as Aditya Karikalan, ‘Jayam’ Ravi (42), as Arulmozhi Varman aka Rajaraja Cholan aka Ponniyin Selvan, and Karthi (45) as Vanavarayan Vandhiyathevan, pal and aide of the previous, which character turned the hero within the creativeness of many readers.
Among the feminine leads, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan (48) as Nandhini and Trisha Krishnan (39), as Chola princess Kundhavai are previous their prime by way of age, however not so by way of their display screen presence, characterisation and expertise.
For Tamil movie-buffs from an earlier period, Trisha may merely match into the function that yesteryear actor Lakshmi carried out in Sivaji Ganesan’s Rajaraja Chozhan (1971).
At the time, the actor was nonetheless in her late teenagers, and that additionally helped her carry the function, other than her efficiency, which challenged that of Sivaji Ganesan in choose scenes, as that individual script demanded.
Another facet of PS-I is the historicity of characters, which debate started on Tamil social media even when Mani Ratnam introduced the challenge years in the past.
This has solely elevated because the movie’s launch date was introduced, with some attributing even ‘Brahminical casteist outlook’ on Kalki, and even to Rajaraja Chola, or Ponniyin Selvan, after whom the challenge is titled. But these are peripheral discourses by subaltern students, each deserving and self-styled, who level to Rajaraja Chola ‘encouraging’ oppression of (Dalit) farm labour, and levying heavy taxes, to fund his conflict efforts, and so forth, and so forth.
In the case of Kalki, some have argued that he had not noted the supposedly Brahmin start of Ravidasan and Soman Sambavan, who’re believed to be the assassins of Aditya Karikalan (performed by Vikram) however leaving them to seem like non-Brahmins, presumably from a martial neighborhood from the rival Pandya camp, with the previous possessing tantric powers, too.
Yet, they don’t speak about Kalki characterising Senthan Amudhan, born right into a supposedly outcast fishermen neighborhood, as somebody reciting Saivite hymns in Siva temples and because the common provider of flowers for every day pujas.
Of course, within the novel, and therefore the film, among the key characters like Nandini, who resembles her mom, a give-away, (each performed by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), Chinna Pazhuvettarayar (performed by Parthiban), Azhvarkadiyan Nambi, the ever-present spy, for whom his occupation and preventing wordy duels in defence of his Vaishnavite religion in opposition to Saivites, have been compartmentalised, are a few of Kalki’s innovations.
Nambi, for example, is Ponniyin Selvan’s model of Gundodharan, the Pallava spy within the writer’s equally superior work, Sivagamiyin Sabatham (Vow of Sivagami), serialised a decade earlier within the mid-forties.
What makes Ponniyin Selvan distinctive amongst Kalki’s three historic novels — the third one being Parthiban Kanavu, serialised in 1941-1943 — is that there are solely identifiable antagonists however no single protagonist, to provide it a hero-centric filmi attraction.
That was not the case when Parthibhan Kanavu was made into a movie in 1960 with Gemini Ganesan and Vyjayanthimala within the lead.
That wouldn’t be so if and when somebody makes an attempt to movie Sivagamiyin Sabhatham, both.
Despite common interpretation that Vanthiyathevan was the centre-piece in Ponniyin Selvan novel, he’s not. The title hero, too, shouldn’t be.
The latter’s elder brother Aditya Karikalan shouldn’t be as a result of for a hero he will get killed treacherously in the long run.
For a present-day superhero film, there will not be anybody for a film-maker to eulogise and fill his screen-place with, in each scene.
This makes expectations over Mani Ratnam’s therapy of Kalki’s characters excessive.
IMAGE: Director Mani Ratnam with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. Photograph: Getty Images
Now the query arises if, how and the way far did Ponniyin Selvan arouse the ‘Tamil consciousness’ in its serialised kind within the post-Independence fifties, when pan-Tamil Dravidian ideological conflict between Periyar E V Ramaswamy and his one-time DMK acolytes beneath C N Annadurai was at its peak. Or, did it in any respect achieve this, as being claimed by some, now.
Truth be informed, the Tamil literary world had begun transferring away from that previous, the place most historians and common storytellers like Kalki have been Brahmins or have been from non-Brahmin higher castes.
The Dravidian technology promoted poet Kanaka Subburatnam, who is healthier often called Bharatidasan, who adopted the title as a dasa of Subramania Bharati, who, it’s typically argued was price a Nobel Literature prize however was by no means thought-about.
An iconoclast Brahmin, Bharati nonetheless didn’t measure as much as the non-existing Dravidian yardstick.
It is one other matter that Bharatidasan, even whereas projecting himself as a dasa, or servant of Subramania Bharati, wrote extra within the pan-Tamil ideological line.
That was additionally when the likes of Annadurai, Karunanidhi and non-Dravidian writers like Jayakanthan turned celebrities of their proper.
Compared to the period when Ponniyin Selvan was being serialised and even when it got here out in a five-volume e-book kind some years later, with a number of print runs and editions, it’s the current technology that’s discussing the e-book, and with that the Chola rule, their greatness and ‘smallness’, and so forth, and so forth, in higher element.
But then, except the film-maker deviates violently from the written authentic – which he’s believed to not have achieved — the Youtube discourses concerning the greatness of the Cholas and even the so-called meanness of Rajaraja Chola, if any, is probably not there in Mani Ratnam’s providing. Because that was not the theme of Kalki’s authentic both.
That goes to be problematic for these hoping for a connection of the type that would set off the Tamil consciousness of the type, which the Cauvery water dispute, the Sri Lankan Tamil difficulty and the Jallikattu protests (2017) had achieved of their time!
N Sathiya Moorthy, veteran journalist and writer, is a Chennai-based coverage analyst and commentator.
Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com