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A comparison of how Mani Ratnam brought Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan to life

Mani Ratnam

Ponniyin Selvan was initially published not as a novel but as a serial in the weekly journal Kalki from 1950 to 1954. At that time, drawings illustrating scenes and characters from the novel were printed alongside the text. These illustrations by Maniam and their successive recreations over the years established the basis for how people conceptualized the appearance of the figures. In the film adaptation of Ponniyin Selvan: I, Mani Ratnam meticulously reproduced many of these looks and moments, remaining as faithful as possible to the source material.

The ornate hairstyles of Princess Kundavai, portrayed by Trisha Krishnan, and Nandini, portrayed by Aishwarya Rai, are the most striking illustration of Mani Ratnam’s attention to detail. Both characters closely resemble their previous incarnations, right down to the smallest details. Sobhita Dhulipala’s Vaanathi not only resembles the character in the original pictures in appearance and attire but also drapes her saree in the same manner.

Detailing has been extended to the male characters’ armour, weapons, and even armbands, even though their face characteristics and facial hair vary. For example, both Aditya Karikalan (Vikram) and Ponniyin Selvan aka Arulmozhi Varman (Jayam Ravi) appear slightly different in the film compared to their likenesses produced by Maniam seventy years ago. Nonetheless, the armour and jewellery are comparable. Even the hilt of Karikalan’s sword has been faithfully restored with the same level of precision.

In Ponniyin Selvan: I, everything about Karthi’s character Vallavaraiyan was faithful to the novel, from his hair to his armbands. In reality, the character poster for Vallavaraiyan depicted him in the identical stance as the painting, astride a horse with his hair flowing and riding down the Kaveri (Pondy) river. The film had become a cultural landmark, so Mani Ratnam made sure to reproduce it.

The similarity in particular extends to secondary characters. Even a seemingly minor character like Jayaram’s Nambi was faithfully transferred to the big screen by Mani Ratnam, right down to his tilak, his unusual hair bun, and his pudgy stomach. Even the cot on which Emperor Sundar Chola (Prakash Raj) naps has been meticulously replicated in the Mani Ratnam film.

Ponniyin Selvan: I opened on Friday amid critical praise and packed theatres. Already one of the highest-grossing Tamil films of all time, the film has grossed 230 crores worldwide in just three days. The second and last instalment will be released in 2020.

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