Ponniyin Selvan I: Why women are the true heroes of this film with best characters, writing and performances

Oct 03, 2022 06:37 AM IST

Ponniyin Selvan I: From Aishwarya Rai to Shobhita Dhulipala and Aishwarya Lekshmi, the women characters in the film (much like the book) have their own minds and the narrative uses their intelligence actively.

Kalki Krishnmurthy's Ponniyin Selvan books came out in 1955, and have all been lauded for the treatment given to its female characters. Mani Ratnam's cinematic adaptation comes several decades later and does equal justice to those characters. From Nandini (Aishwarya Rai) to Kundavai (Trisha) to Poonguzhali aka Samudrakumari (Aishwarya Lekshmi) the women are all powerful and pivotal to the narrative. (Also read: PS 1 box office: Aishwarya Rai's film crosses 150 cr worldwide in 2 days)

Ponniyin Selvan 1 stars Aishwarya Rai, Aishwarya Lekshmi, Trisha and Sobhita Dhuipala.
Ponniyin Selvan 1 stars Aishwarya Rai, Aishwarya Lekshmi, Trisha and Sobhita Dhuipala.

Mani Ratnam's latest outing, Ponniyin Selvan I released Friday and features Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Vikram, Karthi, Prakash Raj, Aishwarya Lekshmi, Shobhita Dhulipala and Jayam Ravi in important roles. The film is set in the historical reign of the Chola dynasty and describes the socio-political setting in the 10th century India.

The women in the film (much like the book) are not just tools to help move the men's stories forward - they have their own minds and the narrative actively uses their intelligence. Nandini and Kundavai are proactively involved in politics and the men around them treat them as equals very often. Kundavai's father Sundara Chola readily relies on her to devise ways to save the kingdom - as much as he relies on the sons to protect it during wars, and there are many who fear Nandini's cunning and intelligence.

Another delightful thing about the film is that both Nandini and Kundavai are driven by emotions that are solely for themselves. Their actions or motives are not an urge to seek acceptance or love from men. Their political ambitions are majorly independent from their emotions for their father and husband. Not only that, sparks fly when Kundavai and Nandini come face to face on screen for the first time. They exchange honey-coated barbs that Trisha and Aishwarya Rai do full justice to.

In many scenes, Nandini is a towering presence above all. Even when she isn't in the room, she is all everyone can talk about. Her influence extends from the bed chambers to the court to the battlefield. In a scene when everyone expects her to be sitting in the palanquin, presiding over a mutiny, her mere mention is enough to cause unrest. And to be honest, her gullible husband Parvateshwar could not have managed half the things that he did without her cunning and political gambits.

We also get to see the charm of Aishwarya Lekshmi's Samudrakumari - the woman who rows boats across the sea and never hesitates to brave the tempest at sea or in the prince's court. Her confidence and loyalty to truth, righteousness and the unwillingness to fall for the first flirt that gives her any attention is what you often see male characters display in movies. But not her.

Ponniyin Selvan I is the story of a soldier (Karthi as Vallavaraiyan Vanthiyathevan) who takes upon dangerous tasks to save his crown prince and the king. Women are important for his journey but mostly, they are the saviours of Mani Ratnam's film.


    Sweta Kaushal has 13 years of experience covering Bollywood and regional movies, TV shows, national current affairs and social issues.

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