Ponniyin Selvan I (2022)

Directed By: Mani Ratnam

Screenplay By: Mani Ratnam; Elango Kumaravel

Cast: Vikram; Aishwarya Rai Bachchan; Jayam Ravi; Karthi; Trisha; Jayaram; Aishwarya Lekshmi; Sobhita Dhulipala; Prabhu; R. Sarathkumar; Vikram Prabhu; Prakash Raj; Rahman; R. Parthiban; Lal

Language: Tamil                                                   

Genre: Historical; Drama; Action

Run Time: 2 hours 47 minutes

Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan I is an adaptation of Kalki’s eponymous epic historical fiction series. It looks at the rising power and expansion of the Chola Empire during the reign of Rajaraja I or Ponniyin Selvan. The film sets the stage for the conflicts and political machinations that would complicate the story going forward.

Battles are being won and kingdoms are being annexed but besides resentful enemies, there are disgruntled courtiers who want to replace the powers that be so as to have more control over the functioning of the empire. This political plotting is complicated by personal vendettas – Nandini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), the Pazhuvoor queen wants to destroy the Chola Empire from within because of her ill-fated past with Aditha Karikalan (Vikram), the Chola crown prince.

Our introduction to the complex world of the time is through the charismatic presence of Vallavaraiyan Vanthaiyathevan (Karthi), a confidante and spy for Aditha who uncovers the courtiers’ plot and then gets further instructions that intertwine his narrative with that of the other players of the story.

The story traverses the length and breadth of the southern lands as well as Sri Lanka. Besides geographical diversity, there are race and ethnic concerns that add to the already murky undercurrents. However, on the surface, it is beautiful, witty like the charged exchange between Kundavai (Trisha), the Chola princess and Nandini. Nothing is openly revealed, but in this political chess game, the women seem to puppeteer a lot of the moves.

Kundavai, for instance, is the astute mind behind many of the ruling powers’ decisions as is Nandini in prodding her husband Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar (R. Sarathkumar), the treasurer, in the direction she wants him to take. Even the erstwhile Queen, Ponniyin Selvan’s betrothed, Samudra Kumari and Oomai Rani, expertly weave the plot.

Like a true historical, it doesn’t become a cult of personality but shows how many players have to come together, how the many different actions taken will finally lead to the events we read about in history books. History books can after all be bird’s eye in its viewpoint and depending on the teller, limited in its framework. While there are fictional elements to this film and novel saga, it does create an important balance in the lopsided historical retellings of our nation.

The music and the score are exhilarating in how it accompanies the storytelling.  Also, the gold figurines that were used to give the premise of the narrative were beautifully done.

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016) #SherylPuthur

ae-dil-hai-mushkilDirected By: Karan Johar

Written By: Karan Johar

Cast:

Ranbir Kapoor – Ayan Sangar

Anushka Sharma – Alizeh Khan

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan – Saba Taliyar Khan

Fawad Khan – DJ Ali

Lisa Haydon – Lisa D’souza

Imran Abbas – Dr. Faisal

Shahrukh Khan – Tahir Taliyah Khan

Alia Bhatt – DJ Alia

Language: Hindi; Urdu                                                    Genre: Drama; Romance

 

Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is a story about relationships and heartbreak. The film opens with an interview of Ayan Sangar (Ranbir Kapoor), a London-based singer who has gone from being a YouTube sensation to a popular singer whose music intrigues his audience for its poetry and pathos.

Ayan opens up about the relationships that made him and probably broke him. Alizeh Khan (Anushka Sharma) is a girl he meets at a bar. After a failed hook-up, they become good friends. It is a friendship characterised by straight talking and witty one-liners. They also bond on their shared love for Bollywood which is something that connects them to the subcontinent. They are two people who have learnt to deal with loneliness and distant parents in their own ‘carpe diem’ fashion. Their friendly chemistry leads Ayan to assume that there is more to their relationship. He falls in love with her and she loves him too, but platonically.

Alizeh is wary of relationships because of her previous turbulent relationship with the popular DJ Ali (Fawad Khan), whom she met at Lucknow while she was a student. She is not over him and his return into her life cause cracks to appear in her friendship with Ayan because he cannot take the rejection.

Ayan, in his desperation to forget or deal with his heartbreak becomes involved with an intelligent, sensual older woman Saba Taliyar Khan (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). She is a shayara (poet) and she is as intrigued by him as he is by her. Ayan has a pattern to his relationships which are largely about sexual satisfaction. If his earlier relationship with Lisa (Lisa Haydon) was marked by shallow physical needs on his side and gold-digging on hers, his relationship with Saba is on a more equal footing.

Conceptually, the film is great. It is about being ‘friendzoned’ by a lover. Literally every character in the film is friendzoned at some point or other. The film explores the complexity of modern relationships and points out the flaws in relationships that don’t have very solid grounding. It speaks about falling out of love with someone and growing steadily intolerant about certain aspects of your partner’s personality. And how, conversely, to protect a valued connection, one would turn the proverbially Nelson’s eye to the true dynamics of the alliance.

But, the treatment of the narrative is poorly handled. It abounds in clichés which get a tad bit irritating. Even the fact that the movie is narrated through an interview is implausible. That is an overlong interview and if it was reality, one could empathise with the plight of the interviewer.

That the screenwriting is lazy is obvious in the manner in which the denouement was reached. Another film that pretty much handled the same theme but in a far more mature fashion was Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu. Ironically, it is a Dharma Production.

Even the lead actors, who have obviously performed brilliantly, have taken recourse in roles they have essayed before. There is then nothing to look forward in their interpretation. Kapoor has reprised the pathos and confusion of his movies Rockstar and Tamasha (in fact, even the narrative borrows heavily from these two features). Anushka Sharma is mature in how she plays Alizeh but it’s still nothing new. However, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan has truly pushed herself out of a performative comfort zone. Even Lisa Haydon is hilarious.

Now the elephant in the room is the political controversy that this motion picture got embroiled in because it cast a Pakistani actor. Fawad Khan is barely there in the movie and it might make an audience member feel ‘oh a storm in a teapot’ but it is my assumption that the film may have been re-edited post controversy and would have chopped out much of his role. It is rather sad that he leaves Indian cinema not with a bang but a fizzle.

Also, I suspect all the characters, except for Ayan, were Pakistani in origin. Even the scenes that were later dubbed as Lucknow may have originally been Lahore. This is more plausible because the punjabiness of the wedding preparation and music would be out of place in a Lucknowi wedding. This may have then implied that the narrative was heading towards the idea that we are so much more similar than we give credit for. It also did not seem a narrative that harped on the India-Pakistan past but side-stepped it and moved into a ‘this is how South Asians are’. It would have challenged the viewpoint that Indians in India have about Pakistanis when contrasted with that of Indians abroad. This very fact would have made this a mature take on the tense kinship we share.

Even the fact that Sangars are supposed to Brahmin, Ayan however, plays a very un-Brahmin role. If the above was how Karan Johar intended it, it is truly unfortunate that he had to pare down and remove all those subtle nuances that may have made the clichés more bearable.

So he has broken or tried to break community and nation stereotypes. But he hasn’t stepped out of the traditional Bollywood ending of tragic catharsis or truly reconciled himself to ambiguous or incomplete endings. The ending, therefore, is unexpected, incredulous and unintentionally funny.

On a side note, the cinematography and art design were aesthetic. The music of the film is brilliant. Moving, poetic and catchy – a double thumbs up.