Mani Ratnam vs Kalki...Ponniyin Selvan from a reader's standpoint!

(This article is authored by Alar) 

When you enjoy history, books, and movies - and especially if you're a fan of Mani Ratnam, this 'dream project' of Ponniyin Selvan would have hundreds of reasons why it is a 'dream film' for you.  Before the premiere, there is undeniably an uncontrollable flash flood of excitement. 

Growing up in the Chola land, I spent my childhood with my grandfather's bedtime story of Kalki's Ponniyin Selvan, from a stitched edition of Kalki's own magazine. What if the book were made into movies was my first crowd of thought after turning the final page of the fifth part. My favourite director, Mani Ratnam, announced the news of the adaptation shortly later, in 2010. 

Since then, there is always a heaviness of unresolved excitement until September 29, 2022. To me, Mani Ratnam has done his job, with sprinkles with his distinctive touch, without impairing Kalki's plot. As a history buff, I actually had the impression that a magic carpet had whisked me away to a distant land of riches, palaces, and the most fantastical cultural customs imaginable. 

Given that it contains a little bit of everything—exciting war scenes, dashing emperors, heartfelt romance, political intrigue and drama, daring sword fights, elephants, enchanting palaces, remarkable set design and scenery, amazing soundtrack— it's well worth the almost three hours. With the support of compelling characters, Kalki is destined to tell the story of the Chola king and the politics that surrounded the Chola kingdom. 

He placed more emphasis on the main characters' uniqueness and influence on the kingdom. Whereas Mani Ratnam focused more on the Cholas' narrative than on the character's valuation and depth. If we examine the differences between Kalki and Manirathnam's versions, we will find that, while both brands of the same product have the same aesthetic, they have different flavours.

Book vs Film: 

The book's first chapter opens with the hero Vandhiyathevan entering Thanjavur, the Cholas' beautiful capital, and moving on to encounter the empire, its people, and its palaces as well as its events as he travels.  Others hear him explain the reason for his entry into the area. There will be no authorised letter post (Olai) written by the prince to the king or to his sister when Mani Ratnam begins with Adithya Karigalan and Vandhiyathevan fighting the war.

His motivation was also made clear to the audience. Similar to how he tested their chemistry in Raavanan, Mani Ratnam significantly fueled the buried and unreachable love between Karigalan and Nandhini. It felt like Veera (Raavana) was taken in, especially in the scene where Vikram (Adhithya Karigalan) opens a flashback to Parthipedra Pallavan. 

In the book, Vaanathi and Kundhavai's relationship was vividly portrayed. The history of Vaanathi and how she came to grow up with Kundhavai was clearly explained. When sending Vandhiyathevan to Eezham (Sri Lanka) to bring her brother Arulmozhi, Kundhavai sends a medicinal practitioner's son along with Vandhiyathevan, as a reason for her father Sundara Chola's illness, so Pazhuvettarayar is aware of the situation. 

They also visit Kudanthai Jothidar to inquire about her father and King, the future of the Chola reign, and stage a fake crocodile attack in the lake as an attempt on changing the fear quality of Vaanathi - Kalki used these portions to show her importance in the kingdom and intelligence. Whereas Mani Ratnam's Kundhavai just sent him to bring his brother with a letter post (Olai). I hope Kundhavai have more jobs to do in the second part of Manirathnam's Ponniyin Selvan.

Another strong character in Kalki's work is Poonguzhali, who has her own section in the book. However, Mani Ratnam's Poonguzhali suddenly materialised with Karthi in a boat. There won't be any relationship between how they both meet. However, as I mentioned at the beginning, it's Mani Ratnam's touch of conveying shortly without impairing the plot. 

In the book, along with the doctor's son, Vandhiyathevan travels to Kodiyakarai in Nagapatnam to board the ship to Sri Lanka, and Poonguzhali protects them both. When they got separated in the jungle and Vandhiyethevan got stuck in the sand, Poonguzhali saved him for the first time. Later, when Pazhuvettarayar sent his troops to bring Vandhiyethevan back, she saved him once more. And then they both take on the voyage to Srilanka. 

I anticipated that Mani Ratnam would end the first part with the book fans' most talked about - the Karigalan's mystery. But we are taken aback by Mani Ratnam's revelation of the Mandhakini-Nandhini twinning and Arulmozhivarman and Vandhiyatheven's oceanic disappearance. Yes, as a fan of both Mani Ratnam and Kalki, I am anxiously awaiting the former's branded version of Kalki's identical product. After all, you cannot change the history of Cholas, right?