Ponniyin Selvan 2 : My experience

Spoiler alert! pls read at your own discretion. Also, this is a very long post, meant  for followers of the books and /or  movies and music . 

In this post, the first half is dedicated to the soundtrack of  PS2 and in the second I share my movie experience. 

Let us start with the  song track of PS2.  The music and background score are inseparable from the movie experience for me. Most expectations of tone, intent and treatment are set when the songs come out. 

As a true blue fan of the books and the musician at hand, I promptly listened to the whole track as soon as it came out . Of course the second edition would not have full song sequences considering how much it has to pack into three hours. The sound track was expectedly shorter. It was very evident most would be used as BGMs . Ilango Krishnan has done  spectacular lyrical work - I enjoyed the beauty of the lyrics - both original and derivations from classical texts like Thiruppavai. The lyrics are  in old literary Pazham Tamil. What better chance to learn some beautiful forgotten Tamil words?  

We got Aga Naga, the love ballad first. I preferred the BGM version of Aga Naga when Vandhiyathevan meets Kundavai for the first time in PS1. However, this one grew on me with time. I am linking Ilangao Krishnan speaking about the lyrical process here . Aga Naga is written in the beautiful Andhadhi style, where the last word of a line becomes the first of the second line. 

அகநக அகநக…
முகநக முகநக…

முறுநக முறுநக…
தருநக தருநக…


As Ilango says in an interview - அகநக முகநக முருநகையே என்றால், அகம் மலர முகம் மலர்கிறது. உதட்டில் மலர்கிற புன்னகைப்போல என்பதுதான் முறுநகை. அதுபோல பூக்கள் சிரிக்கின்றன. தருநக தருநக வருநனையே என்பதில் தரு என்பது மரம். நனை என்பது பூக்களின் ஒரு பருவ நிலை. ஆக மரம் சிரிக்கும்படியாக மலர்கின்ற பூவே என்பது இதனுடைய அர்த்தம்

Aga Naga is not just princess's song on her love - Kundavai also sings about the beauty of  her land and her people.
 அழகிய புலமே…

உனதிள மகள் நான்…
வளவனின் நிலமே…
என தரசியும் நீ…

வளநில சிரிப்பே…
உனதிளம் வனப்பே…
உனை நினைக்கையிலே…
மனம் சிலிர்த்திடுதே…

உன் வழி நடந்தால்…
உயிர் மலர்ந்திடுதே…
உன் மடி கிடந்தால்…
தவி தவிக்கிறதே…

How beautiful!

Veera Raja Veera is the centre piece, an exquisite track  which is currently under controversy for having derived form the DagarVani Dhrupad Shiva Stuti. Which makes one wonder - when two compositions are so close to each other, where does it stop being original and are the original creators credited enough? Classics , over time , are  free for everyone to adapt and interpret.  I am sure I would not have listened to the DagarVani Dhrupad composition if not introduced through Veera Raja Veera.  Either way, the fans of music win. It is for the creators to sort it out among themselves and find peace.  

Aazhi Mazhai Kanna is a beautiful Thiruppavai song written by Andal, usually sung on Day 4 of Marghazhi. 

Forgive my super short  translation, but the essence is this:  She invokes the rain God to shower down on earth - She asks the rain to  take take water from the ocean, rise up, thunder , take on the blue-black color of Krishna, to shine like his Chakrayudham disc, to sound as mighty as his conch and come down to the earth , bring life and prosperity. How pale is this description compared to the beauty of the words , the depth and devotion in the actual Thiruppavai verse? 

ஆழி மழை(க்) கண்ணா ஒன்று நீ கை கரவேல்
ஆழி உள் புக்கு முகந்து கொடு ஆர்த்து ஏறி
ஊழி முதல்வன் உருவம் போல் மெய் கறுத்து(ப்)
பாழிய் அம் தோளுடை(ப் ) பற்பனாபன் கையில்
ஆழி போல் மின்னி வலம்புரி போல் நின்று அதிர்ந்து
தாழாதே சார்ங்க முதைத்த சர மழை போல்
வாழ உலகினில் பெய்திடாய் நாங்களும்
மார்கழி நீராட மகிழ்ந்தேலோர் எம்பாவாய் 

Here is Harini's mellifluous rendition of Aazhi mazhai Kanna. I realised right away this would feature as young Nandini's introduction . Young Azhvarkadiyan thought she would turn into an Andal like Perumal devotee. 

Shivoham - an arousing devotional 1.5 min track -  it was very evident this would fall in the place the Kalamugar Sivanadiyars come together. 
The song is taken from Nirvana Shatakam written by Adi Shankara

My favourite of the lot though, was Chinnanjiru Nilave. My first thoughts were " This sounds so much like a Bharathiar poem. The style, the use of Anname, Sakiye , Chinnanjiru and so on, reminded me a lot of  Bharathi's " Chinnanjiru Kiliye Kannama".  Much later, I heard Ilango Krishnan say in an interview that it was indeed written with Bharathiar's style in mind.  It is a song on the pain of unrequited love. Of course it had to be Aditha Karikalan singing with Nandini in mind. 

This track is used superbly in two instances in the movie. The female version by Khatija Rahman features in a particularly morbid situation in the movie , to sensational effect. 

" Ilayor Soodaar" 

PS2 was a door to read more Tamil literature . I  enjoy Tamil poets and writers of yore singing to  inanimate objects. Using them as the subject to sing praises of their God or King  or love interest.  Ilayor Soodaar is a poem from the Purananuru, by poet Kudavayil Keerthanaar. 

It is a song of grief. The poet describes the sorrow engulfing the nation  after their beloved king dies .  He sings to a Mullai flower -  " O Mullai, why did you flower?  The brave king is dead . The warriors wont wear you in their garlands. Women wont have you on in their hair . Nor will children, artists have any use for you. Why did you flower now? "

இளையோர் சூடார் ; வளையோர் கொய்யார் ;
நல்யாழ் மருப்பின் மெல்ல வாங்கிப்
பாணன் சூடான் ; பாடினி அணியாள் ;
ஆண்மை தோன்ற ஆடவர்க் கடந்த
வல்வேற் சாத்தன் மாய்ந்த பின்றை
முல்லையும் பூத்தியோ, ஒல்லையூர் நாட்டே?

Here is a translation I got off this link

முல்லையே! தன்னுடைய வீரம் வெளிப்படுமாறு பகைவர்களின் வீரர்களைக் கொன்ற, வலிய வேலையுடைய சாத்தன் இறந்த பிறகு, ஒல்லையூர் நாட்டில் பூத்தாயோ? இனி, இளைய ஆடவர்கள் உன் பூக்களைச் சூடிக்கொள்ள மாட்டார்கள்; வளையல் அணிந்த மகளிரும் உன் பூக்களைப் பறிக்க மாட்டார்கள்; நல்ல யாழின் தண்டால் மெதுவாக வளைத்துப் பறித்து உன் பூக்களைப் பாணனும் சூடமாட்டன்; பாடினியும் சூடமாட்டாள்.

I thought this would feature when Aditha Karikalan dies  - but I was wrong. Watch the movie to find out where it is put to use. It is even better. 

That wraps the sound track. 

I watched the movie second day of release at Satyam's Santham screen. I am writing from the point of view of someone who has read the books twice and knows the story in detail. Clearly, the reader and non-reader have very different movie experiences, so let my views not taint your experiences. There are heavy spoilers ahead so stop reading here if you need to watch first. 

The movie is exquisitely shot and framed - you have to give it to the makers for visual , musical spectacle that is Ponniyin Selvan 1,2.  There are so many storylines and plot points going on . Juggling all this in a two-part movie, is super tough and the screenplay takes a lot of liberty skipping tracks, changing narratives from the original . As a reader of the books, I could not accept those liberties easily. I am just too invested with the characters and their developmental arc. However,  I understand the point of the makers - there is no way this could have been done otherwise. The Ponniyin Selvan books are material for a 5 season historical TV series.  Contrary to what i might seem like, Ponniyin Selvan is not a historic Game of Thrones story. It is a drama on love and power . There are no clashing battle sequences or dramatic flourishes befitting a movie. Kalki's genius is making a historic drama gripping, while fleshing out each character so well . No reader will have one favourite character in the book. Readers are usually in love with about half a dozen characters and want to know more about their life before and after the book. Such is Kalki's magic. 

The movies come under enormous pressure - to finish the story, to make it gripping for the majority non-reader audience and for the film to achieve commercial success and be a hit. Ultimately, commerce comes first. It is plain logic. So I brushed things aside and decided to focus on the movie makers version of the story.

 The movie starts with a dive into young Aditha-Nandini's story and her banishment. This portion is done beautifully with songs to prop the tenderness of young love and the pain of separation. 

Kundavai-Vandhiyathevan story is as subtle as it gets. Aga Naga features like for just a minute. But the chemistry Karthi and Trisha build is off the charts. I wished we had more of them on screen. I wished Kundavai spoke her legendary lines from the book "உமது கரத்தைப் பற்றிய இந்த என் கரம் இன்னொரு ஆடவனுடைய கையை ஒரு நாளும் பற்றாது" . 
But this is a Mani Ratnam movie  and it would be stupid to expect the dialogues to be over the top. PS would have set a record for the only historic movie that relies on close up shots. The story rests literally on the faces and expressions of Nandini , Aditha Karikalan, Arunmozhi , Kundavai and the other main characters. In the first movie, my favourite scene was the interval block slaying of Veera Pandiyan . Vikram slams open the hut like a mad man to an operatic BGM, Nandini begs for mercy, but Karikalan slays him anyway, blood splashing the white curtains while Nandini looks on , in shocked disbelief. Here too, there are many beautifully staged scenes - young Nandini being sent away, Arunmozhi moving away from the Buddhist Vihara on an elephant,  Karikalan making a scene in Kadamboor on his horse, Arunmozhi fighting off Pandiya spies while "Ilayor Soodar" plays in the background, to name a few. However, the meeting of Karikalan and Nandini takes it up several notches. The play of colour and lighting and acting is exquisite, in this sequence . Vikram delivers one of his career best performances as the self-loathing ruffian prince Aditha Karikalan. In the scene where he first meets Nandini , she is looking at him with a mix of hate and regret, while he is all excited and the love shows in his eyes. In their face-off, he takes the upper hand, puts her before all else. You feel his pain. I initially doubted the casting of Nandini and Karikalan - Imagine two 50 something actors playing young prince and princess? But Aishwarya and Vikram prove us all wrong. Aishwarya is spectacular . You want Nandini to find the happiness that has eluded her all her life. Jayam Ravi has more meat in this movie too - with lots of fight sequences, most of which don't feature in the book.  The climax is made up - Mani and writers take the creative liberties to  give the movie a dramatic end with a war. However, they manage to tie most of the knots left hanging and give the movie a logical conclusion. Overall, the movie is must watch. I would watch it again. Just for the making, staging, music, set pieces and to watch the actors at their best. 

Moving on, here are portions of the book I wish were brought to life on the big screen. I hope this gets made as a TV series some day. 

One of my favourite pieces in the book is the way Sendhan Amudhan asks Poonguzhali to marry him. He says" I know you like the prince. But I know you - you will not be happy in the palace. It is a golden cage.  Marry me. Stay in my home. We can string flowers and offer prayers in the temple together.  I will sing you Tamil songs sweeter than honey.  You have always been free . You can be yourself with me" .   The movie has no time for their story of course, Poonguzhali has very little screen time.  One of my favourite characters in the books is Manimekalai - the sister of Kandamaaran, the Kadamboor prince. Totally delightful, kind and gentle, Manimekalai makes the ultimate sacrifice for Vandhiyathevan. She has no space in the movie at all. Also, Madhurandhaka devar has a totally different story line , which does not feature in the movie. Sendhan Amudhan becomes the next king as Sembiyan Maadevi's biological son, as the original Madhuranthakar.  The plot twists that lead to this revelation are a highlight in the book. Periya Pazhuvetarayar learns the truth about Nandini from the Pandyas, confesses to his mistakes to the king, helps Vandhiyathevan prove he did not kill Karikalan, takes his own life for having failed his duties. In the movie, he lives on. There is no Rashtrakuta battle in the books at the end. Nandini does not kill herself - she flees away on a horse , leaving the country. Kalki finishes by saying " let us hope we will meet Nandini sometime" .  I can go on about the numerous storylines that the movie does not touch upon for lack of time.  For even those who have watched the movie, I highly recommend reading the Tamil original or listening to the elaborate english translations on Spotify. Its worth it. 

For now, watch the movie. I hope someone makes Sivakamiyin Sabadham next. As a TV series. We all need more Kalki in our lives. 


  1. Next கடல் புறா to let people explore ancient Tamil sea faring lineage, just like how PS ushered new audiences to Tamil literature?

    1. Totally:) i thought Kadal Pura too. Have to finish reading it
      . Books lying on the shelf for too long . Have you finished them ?


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