A friend who knew I was watching Ponniyin Selvan today, called me to check on the film and this is how the conversation went:
Friend: Before asking you for your views, tell me if you have read the book?
Me: Well, I purchased the book 2 months back and started reading as if I was preparing for some exam. The exam has come and gone now. But I haven’t been able to go beyond the 37th chapter in the 1st volume. So, it’s almost like I haven’t read the book. So, my views will be from a person who is distanced from the book and not based on its reference.
Friend: So, how did you find the film?
Me: Truth be told, I found the film underwhelming.
Friend: Ennada solra? You are a huge fan of Mani Ratnam….
Me: Yes, I am. As a master craftsman, Mani is on top of the game here. But…
Friend: Enna but?
Me: I think the decision to structure the 5-volume story into a two-part film was not a good decision. It compels the writers to fast forward and skim the surface of many events. The result – it was difficult to comprehend what was going on in many scenes. But…
Friend: Enna but again?
Me: If you keep that aside, the craft Mani has exhibited is outstanding.
Friend: You mean the visual effects, camera, etc?
Me: No, I mean the overall craft. Starting from the staging of the scenes to maximize the impact. And of course, aided by some outstanding camera work by Ravi Varman and team. There are some real tough scenes and Varman has executed them very, very well. Every frame is appealing to the eye. Just the lighting in scene after scene is brilliant. Thotta Tharani’s art and production design play a huge part in this. Difficult to make out which scenes are on location and which are shot on sets and that is a huge compliment to Tharani. Some great detailing has gone into costume designs as well.
I was also interested to see how the dialogues are structured being a period film. But I think Jeyamohan who has written the dialogues, has done a very good job keeping the lines simple and at the same time aesthetic. Of course, some actors couldn’t get the pronunciations right but that’s a small quibble.
Friend: You left out Rahman’s contribution…
Me: Well… for me, Rahman’s work in this film is a mixed bag.
Friend: Is it?
Me: Yes. I said this during the releases of the songs. The songs in isolation are good. But to me, the sounds do not match the era in which the film is set. The background score is better. It adds to the intrigue of many of the characters. The songs are well shot but they seem forced though they have shortened most of the songs. Same with dance choreography. In isolation, very well done. But, does it match that era? I am not too sure.
Friend: What about the actors, acting, etc?
Me: The film has a huge cast and Mani has gone for competent actors for almost all roles. So, he has managed to get the casting right or rather almost perfect. But among the actors who have material roles, my pick is Trisha and Aishwarya Rai among the ladies and Jayam Ravi among the men. Ravi was a pleasant surprise. And of course, Jayaram.
Friend: It seems many things have worked for you… But yet, you seemed disappointed. Are you looking forward to Part -2?
Me: Yes, I am. The thing is there is no proper closure in Part -1. So, unless you watch Part -2, the story is not complete. There are a lot of characters who came fleetingly in this part and you hope they have a larger play in Part -2. And of course, the main knot needs to be undone. Clearly, it is not a stand-alone film and needs to be seen with the second part.
Friend: Then, will it appeal to a Pan-Indian audience?
Me: I don’t think this can be a Pan – Indian film. Outside of Tamil Nadu, it will be difficult for it to appeal, very frankly.
Friend: What’s your recommendation? Should I watch it or not?
Me: I think you should watch it. But, will I put it as some epic, must-watch film? No.
Friend: So finally, is it a good film or an OK film?
Me: If I have to answer this in true Mani Ratnam style – “Theriyalayeppa!” (Can’t say really)