Everything does pass, and we can endure and we can survive!! – Rahul Dravid
There are very few people who havent been mesmerised by these lines. “ஆதி அந்தமில்லாத கால வெள்ளத்தில் கற்பனை ஓடத்தில் ஏறி நம்முடன் சிறிது நேரம் பிரயாணம் செய்யுமாறு நேயர்களை அழைக்கிறோம்.விநாடிக்கு ஒரு நூற்றாண்டு வீதம் எளிதில் கடந்து இன்றைக்குத் தொள்ளாயிரத்து எண்பத்திரண்டு (1950ல் எழுதியது) ஆண்டுகளுக்கு முந்திய காலத்துக்குச் செல்வோமாக.” They mark the beginning of an epic – Ponniyin Selvan!
MGR, Kamalahasan and now Maniratnam have tried and then shelved it. What is it about Ponniyin Selvan that makes such big names, including an ace director like Mani shelve it?
The reason that Mani gave was that it is financially an unfeasible film. A film about a South Indian hero would surely not fetch much in North Indian and worldwide markets. Essentially Ponniyin Selvan only has the Tamil audience and to depend mainly on one ethnic group of audience for a film’s success would be irrational and is a risky affair. While this reason is very much plausible, I sense that it is not complete.
I very strongly feel that it is not only the financial aspect that made Mani shelve it. Among Tamils, Ponniyin Selvan is a rage; it is a cult – for both readers and listeners. I have not known anyone who has heard or read it and says that they do not like it. For anyone who is associated with Ponniyin Selvan, it is a part of their lives. The characters are more like our friends, some like our enemies and in a movie we want justification to every incident that Kalki wrote. When a director like Mani announces the movie, expectations reach Pluto and beyond. It is very difficult even for someone like Mani to live closely up to this. One simply cannot swim in the Niagara. Mani is no Poonguzhali. 🙂
Ponniyin Selvan demands very aggressive and perfect casting. It requires someone of the caliber of Gufi Paintal (the one who did the casting for the epic serial Mahabharat) or a team like Susie Figgis, Janet Hirshenson, Jane Jenkins and Karen Lindsay-Stewart (those who did the casting for Harry Potter Part 1) to do the casting. Mani’s major mistake was that he cast Vijay in the role of Vanthiyathevan. No, I am not against Vijay and I am someone who firmly believes that Mani can make anyone act. In Ponnyin Selvan, though Vanthiyathevan is the central character, it is Arulmozhi Varman (later Rajaraja chozhan) who is larger than life. Although unstated, the story revolves around him. If Mani intended casting Vijay as Vanthiyathevan, he needed to cast someone larger than Vijay as Arulmozhi Varman. The only actors who are larger than Vijay in Tamil industry are Rajini and Kamal. Now, imagine that! Imagine the problems in that! No one in their right mind can accept either Rajini or Kamal as Arulmozhi Varman. We can accept them like we accepted Sivaji in Rajaraja chozhan – as the matured Rajaja Chozhan, not as the young and dashing Arulmozhi Varman.
Even better must be the casting of Kundavai. Tamil cinema currently does not possess a Poonguzhali. And where in the world do we search for Nandini? In the history of Tamil cinema, Neelambari of Padyappa is a pivotal landmark essayed by Ramya Krishnan. Azhagum thimurum serndha character! Which is why they wanted Aiswarya Rai for the role! Neelambari was only a small figment of inspiration from Nandini. Imagine portraying Nandini herself!! Much of Ponniyin Selvan revolves around the duels between Nandini and Kundavai. The fights between a female snake and a tigress should be brought out brilliantly. Arulmozhi Varman stands on Nandini’s villainy. The better the portrayal of Nandini, the better Arulmozhi Varman will be.
Now all these people must be actors who are larger than Vijay. Mani surely will struggle for such actors and their images. Casting for a film like Ponniyin Selvan should be done on the likes of Harry Potter. An auditioning and choosing of lesser known actors can make Ponniyin Selvan successful. Actors should be born out of Ponniyin Selvan! This is something that Mani did for Roja and Alaipayuthey. He unearthed Arvind Saamy and Madhavan. But he doesn’t want to take the risk for Ponniyin Selvan – the miseries of ageing!
Nothing can be missed! Readers are extremely aware of even the most intricate details of the 5 part novel. If this movie came out, people would evaluate Maniratnam on this! Mani is not someone who is used to such evaluation. He has set his own standard and cannot move into a new sphere at this stage.
Also, the task of making a five part novel into a 3 hour movie is, more than anything else – injustice. Ponniyin Selvan can be successful if it is attempted in parts, like Harry Potter or The Lord of The Rings. Or Mani can even attempt smaller parts of it. Like he made Thalapathy. Thalapathy is an offshoot of a story from The Mahabharata. It is an inspiration of the character called Karna. Thalapathy was a contemporary flick. A period film on the same lines can be attempted. A part of Ponniyin Selvan can be made into a movie by a director of the caliber of Mani.
Add to this the regional phenomenon, the financial constraints, the toil in creating really large sets, involvement of extremely skilled swordsmanship, horse riding, the struggle in recreating forests and very strenuous stunt scenes, the list extends by a few more elements. Amidst all these factors making such a magnum opus a success is quite a tough task; read impossible.
Walking across the Niagara on a tightrope is talent, not doing it is intelligence! 🙂 Mani is intelligent.