What Is Ponniyin Selvan Story? All About The Kalki Novel, A Historical Fiction Maniratnam Film Is Based On

Ponniyin Selvan has been a household name in Tamil Nadu since the 1950s, all due to the popularity of a series by the same name written by ‘Kalki’ Krishnamurthy in Tamil magazine ‘Kalki’. But while the name had so far remained in the imagination of the readers and the generations who heard the story later, it is now set to become a part of pop culture with the big screen release of Ponniyin Selvan: I.

The story of Ponniyin Selvan, the character from a historical fiction, has always had cult followers, and the novel had remained a dream magnum opus for many actors and directors to bring it on screen. 

Over half a century ago, actor MG Ramachandran, who also served as the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, had expressed his desire to create magic on the big screen with the magnificent story of a warrior, according to reports. However, it proved to be difficult to pull it off at that time. Later, several actors including Kamal Haasan made attempts but did not succeed. 

Finally, the magnum opus fell into the hands of acclaimed director Maniratnam, who has successfully completed the first part of the film, apparently in his second attempt, as reported in some sections of the media. He is also said to have completed the shoot for the second part. Ponniyin Selvan has well-known actors playing different roles in the two-part film. They include Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Vikram, Jayaram, Trisha, Karthi, Jayam Ravi, Prakash Raj and Nasser.

The original novel spans five parts and runs into over 2,000 pages. 

With just a couple of days left for its release, PS:1 has piqued a lot of curiosity about its plot and characters. 

The Story Of Ponniyin Selvan 

Ponniyin Selvan can be simply put as a Game of Thrones in the Chola kingdom during the period of Sundara Chola between 900 AD and 950 AD. However, the success of the novel lies in the fact that it just does not end there. The novel is history and imagination bound together to give the best reader experience. 

What Is Ponniyin Selvan Story? All About The Kalki Novel, A Historical Fiction Maniratnam Film Is Based On

Ponniyin Selvan can also be described as a novel where a woman aims to bring an end to the Chola dynasty while another aims to bring stability to the era with the crowning of her own capable younger brother. Whether they succeed or how the events turn out becomes the story. 

The story also has a sub-plot where the Pandyas try to kill a bedridden Sundara Chola and his two sons to bring a king of their choice to the throne. 

Yet, to make it more clear and comprehensive, Ponniyin Selvan is a battle of succession in the Chola Kingdom. There are multiple opponents with different plans to dethrone the Cholas and rule the region. 

It all begins on one fine day when a comet appears in the sky and brings a message that someone in the royal family is likely to die soon. It is interpreted that it is going to be Sundara Chola, who has been ill for days. And thus begins the fight for the throne.

Emperor Sundara Chola (Prakash Raj) and Queen Vanavan Mahadevi (Vidya Subramanian) have three children — Aditha Karikalan (Vikram), who’s next in line to the crown, princess Kundavai (Trisha) and prince Arulmozhi Varman (Jayam Ravi). 

Though Aditha is to become the next king, he is not liked by all. His brother Arulmozhi Varman enjoys more love and acceptance from the people. Kundavai also wants Arulmozhi Varman to be the next emperor of Chola kingdom. 

It is Arulmozhi who is Ponniyin Selvan. Also known as Rajaraja Cholan, Arulmozhi is called Ponniyin Selvan because he once fell into the Cauvery river, also called Ponni Nadhi, and was apparently “saved” by the river goddess. So, he became Ponniyin Selvan, meaning “son of river Ponni”. 

The story has four different entities working separately and in tandem to bring the king of their choice to the throne or to bring down the Chola dynasty due to previous enmity. 

They are Madurantakan (Rahman), nephew of Sundara Chola; a group led by Pazhuvettaraiyar (the clan that has earlier extended its loyalty to Cholas during the time of war); the Pandyas; and Nandhini, the prime antagonist played by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. 

Madurantakan is in the race because Sundara Chola’s father took the throne after his father and not passing it on to him since he was an adopted child. He is helped by his wife’s father Chinna Pazhuvettaraiyar (Parthiban), whose clan hopes that Madurantakan’s coronation will give them political mileage. 

The Pandyas are after the Cholas since Aditha Karikalan, who is known for his valour, killed their hero Veerapandiyan during a battle. The Pandyas now want to kill Aditha Karikalan for revenge and bring down the Chola dynasty.

Meanwhile, Nandhini attempts to destroy the Cholas for two reasons. Like Pandyas, she wants to kill Aditha Karikalan, who was once in love with her, since he killed Veerapandiyan with whom she seemed to have developed a relationship. Nandhini also wants to end the Cholas since she is believed to be the daughter of a Chola who had an illicit affair with her deaf and mute mother. The novel unravels her truth only in the end.

Nandhini marries Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar (Prabhu) even though he is much older than her, only to make her task to dethrone the Cholas easier. She works in tandem with the Pandyas to achieve her goal.

Other Characters In The Novel 

Vandhiyathevan (Karthi): Apart from the prominent Cholas fighting for the clan, there is another character in the novel who is loved by many, especially women. The man is Vandhiyathevan (Karthi), a prince with no kingdom. In the later part, Vandhiyathevan falls in love with Kundhavai and they develop a relationship. Vandhiyathevan is also one of the heroes of the novel. It is this character who guides readers through the story from Chapter One. 

Azhwarkadiyan Nambi (Jeyaram): Another important character, Azhwarkadiyan works as a spy for the Chola kingdom’s administrative chief Anirudhha Brahmarayar. He is a Vaishnavite and frequently engages in a war of words with the Shaivites. Nandhini is Azhwarkadiyan’s foster sister.

Poonkuzhali (Aishwarya Lekshmi): The boatwoman takes Vandhiyathevan to Sri Lanka and also helps him while he falls sick along with Arulmozhi Varman.

The Movie Adaptation

Maniratnam wrote the script of Ponniyin Selvan along with Elango Kumaravel and B. Jeyamohan.

While the novel follows a certain storyline, Maniratnam’s vision of Ponniyin Selvan may not have all the aspects or even the same story as that of ‘Kalki’ Krishnamurthy, according to reports.  

Actors including Karthi and Trisha have said in interviews that this Ponniyin Selvan is an adaptation but not the exact story of the novel. During a promotional event, the actors said though they started shooting after reading parts of the novel, they completely went with the script given by Maniratnam to avoid confusion due to the changes. 

Ponniyin Selvan: I is set to hit the cinemas on September 30.

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