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Ponniyin Selvan: Surfacing of Indian classical epic

"We welcome our readers to get into the boat of imagination and go sailing down the flood of sourceless endless time. Let's travel a century for every second and quickly reach the times of a thousand years before the present"


This introduction of Ponniyin Selvan from Part 1, "The New Flood" stays accurate to its claim as the story does take the readers to an anachronic era of the most prosperous and majestic realm of the Chola kingdom.

In the depression and gloom of the colonial period of India, R.Krishnamurthy wrote a fantastical epic reminiscing the glorious period of India and took the minds of readers to the golden castles of the Chola Empire. One of the most celebrated historical novelists in Tamil, Ramaswamy Krishnamurthy was an active participant in the freedom movement and joined the non-cooperation movement but he also worked as an editor of the widely read Tamil magazines, Anadavikatam and Kalki.


The cinematic adaptation

The epic had been unsuccessfully prompted by MGR to be released on the big screen in the past but now Maniratnam known for his films like Bombay and Dil Se has taken the initiative to introduce us to the classical epic of Kalki. "PS-1 '' reached the theatres on September 30, 2022, and received applause and praise primarily for its cinematography and majestic attire complementing the magnificent setting. The imperfections have their due in fight sequences as they leave little to no impact compared to elaborate combat scenes of other Tamil period movies. The movie particularly shines in the vivid portrayal of political drama as in the Ponniyin Selvan novel. The haughty ambition, the betrayal in love, the overpowering jealousy, and the ultimate vengeance make a connection with the audience surpassing the periodical difference. 

Furthermore, these raw emotions were executed with perfection by the talented cast of Ponniyan Selvan. Vikram in and as Aditya Karikalan captures the viewers from the first scene, Karthi as Vallavarayan seems like the protagonist for most of the movie as he transitions into a sarcastic yet humorous warrior effortlessly, Aishwarya Rai delivers a stellar performance in the negative role of Nandini. Maniratnam has already proved his excellence in direction with his hit trilogy on terrorism namely Roja, Dil Se, and Bombay and this film also proves his metal. 

A.R Rahman serves and enriched the PS-1 with "Chola Chola", "Alaikadal", and "Sol".


Unlike the period movies that have been released in the past which have a lot of war chaos to unpack, PS-1 comes with a different core and excels in portraying suspenseful political drama. Watchers are led into the deeper design and working of the royal household of the Chola kingdom. The actual political and geographic scenario at the time of Chola's rule. Like how once the Pandav feudatory, Vijayala captured Tanjore in AD 850 and started the Chola dynasty, as soon as Sundara Chola lay paralyzed, Pandava started conspiring to take back hold of Southern Tamil.


The movie has still drawn some criticism from book lovers as they felt the movie to be rushed. Consequently, they argue upon the fact that the five volumes have been squeezed into two movies of three hours which will in turn affect the portrayal of deep characters who need a proper establishment. It's troubling for the viewers to comprehend zillion characters all at once. Many believe its development would have been better in an epic series like "Game of Thrones" rather than a movie.

Maniratnam however asked the viewers and even the actors to trust the film-making process. Many films have been inspired by novels but installed their artistic feature in them. Maniratnam's film managed to attract critical acclaim, audience, and book lovers to the theatres. The audience rating came to 4.5 out of 5 and has got the momentum to overtake Kamal Hassan's Vikram. The movie left people lingering for the second part which is scheduled to release in the Summer of 2023.


Why Ponniyin Selvan is termed an Indian classic

The novel Ponniyin Selvan was serialized in the magazine, Kalki but is written in five volumes originally. Though the language is simple, it renders startling cliffhangers, a creative plotline, and throughout a glib delivery of an intricate epic.


The novel has been the result of careful and intensive research of the Chola Empire presenting the grandeur of the Chola dynasty with splendid literature. Kalki Krishnamurthy took his historical inspiration from K.A Nilankantha Sastri written "The Cholas" and Sadasiva Pandarathar composed "History Of The Later Cholas". In other instances, his literary encouragement comes from Walter Scott and Victor Hugo.


Our history books proved inadequate in propagating the longest-ruling dynasties of India but with the surfacing of Ponniyin Selvan, its complex themes and woven characters have hawked the curiosity of the audience into the actual past of the ruling elites of the Chola Empire, its most famous kings namely Raja Raja Chola. The outline of Ponniyin Selvan entails the nasty conspiracy of the assassination of the crown prince after Sundara Cholan. The story follows the narrative of the journey undertaken by Vallavarayan Vandiyadevan of the Vaanar clan and the close confidante of Adithya Karikalan who senses danger in Chola and sends him to investigate. This in turn unravels the pantheon of characters like Nandini, Arulmozhi Varman, Kundavai, Nambi, etc. They lead the story forward and many other characters join the narrative. 


Indian Classics and their due 

Ponniyin Selvan sheds light on the underrated regional classics of India, and how much potential and richness they possess. Nonetheless, English classics have earned the respect and have been adapted into movies although with a Desi touch and Indian cultural setting like Maqbool and Haider inspired by Macbeth and Hamlet respectively. But novels like PS-1 have taken root in India and represent a patriotic and original shade of the country. They stand in a better position to form a connection with the audience but they remain in the background.


Classics like Indirabai, a Kannada novel by Gulavadi Venkatarao narrating the plight of widows were well written and showed the female perspective on the traditions prevalent at the time. On the other hand, the Malayalam novel Indulekha by Chandu Menon is a story about the educated and intelligent Indulekha who decides to marry Madhavan, of the newly educated Nayar caste portraying inter-caste marriage. These underrated novels capture the simpler and more realistic virtues of common life. They also bring to focus how Ponniyin Selvan, Indirabai, and Indulekha presented powerful women who showed power in making their decision and changing the world dynamics where women were just supposed to be romanticized. These regional stories have the heart of Indian heritage and ethnicity and ardent readers would love to witness these Indian Classics on the big screen


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