Seven months after the release of the first instalment of ‘Ponniyin Selvan,’ the conclusion of the two-part film hits screens worldwide. The first film is a masterclass in setup; we are transported to Thamizhakam at the turn of the first millennia, and thrust into the midst of a group of conspirators, plotting to overthrow the Chozha empire. The tale strikes the balance between urgent storytelling and intricate world building, and ends on a brilliant cliffhanger, leaving the viewer itching for answers. Unfortunately, the sequel does not come close to scaling the heights of the first film.
After a brief flashback sequence, the film picks up where the first part left off. We follow the cast of characters race against time as the group of conspirators draw closer to seeing the fruits of their efforts. The plot contains twists and turns aplenty, which is where the main issue of this film lies.
Even the biggest complaint of the first film divided the audience. Some thought the film too slow, and others felt it too rushed. With Part II, I am firmly in the latter camp. Despite a promising start, the pace of the film quickens exponentially until the end. Two films worth of content is chopped down into one, where twists and revelations leave the viewer with no time to process what they are told. A trilogy would have given the plot time and space to breathe, however, in its current form the film leaves a lot to be desired.
The first half of the film goes smoothly. Karthi returns in the role of the charming Vanthiyathevan, however even this charm dissipates under the weight of the film post-interval. The true star of both films is Aishwarya Rai Bhachan’s Nandini, a mysterious, scheming siren, pulling the strings of many of the film’s central characters. Her character arc is literally the stuff of classic literature, however this film does a disservice by speeding through it. The emotional impact of her story's end remains unfelt. Most of the other characters are not given the time to be properly fleshed out: Ashwin Kakumanu’s Sendhan Amudhan, Aishwarya Lekshmi’s Poonguzhali, Sobhita Dhulipala’s Vanathi all remain as glorified extras.
The pre-interval scene was exactly the point where something felt amiss. The fantastic interval scene of the first film had suspense being built up expertly through Vikram’s Aditha Karikalan’s monologue, flowing into the booming anthem ‘Chozha Chozha,’ which then slips into the revelation of what was behind the door: a chiaroscuro painting of a shot portraying his first love tending to the wounds of his arch-nemesis. In comparison, the interval of the sequel can be described as lacklustre and confused.
Due to the hasty patching together of the film, not even the crew is truly given the opportunity to shine. The cinematographer, Ravi Varman, captured stunning vistas in the first instalment, depicting the natural beauty of the Thamizhakam landscapes. There are a few instances of this, especially in the opening flashback, but is mostly missing in the rest of the film. Another rushed shot which had the potential to be picturesque was the burning Kadambur palace in the final hour of the film. The costume, makeup and set design departments must be commended for their continued great work, however.
AR Rahman’s soundtrack was a hint of the mess to come. The first film’s brilliant soundtrack had an entire range of some of the composer’s best recent work. In comparison, other than the wonderful 'Aga Naga,' the rest of the soundtrack featured what sounded like background score. This unfortunately is the case, which further exemplifies how little time the film had to tell its story. Although the first film cut down most of the songs’ lengths, there was still time to include them.
Overall, ‘Ponniyin Selvan Part II’ falls from the graces of the first film. There are flashes of brilliance here, however the rushed storytelling leaves the viewer with a wholly unsatisfactory conclusion to this epic tale.
Krishna's rating: 3 stars
Official trailer for the film below.