Saturday, June 14

Review of Ponniyin Selvan the Play by Magic Lantern

First of all kudos to the attempt. Making a multi-book epic into a play needs courage, as there is always going to be disappointment for leaving out some of the scenes. Imagine Peter Jackson making Lord of the Rings into one single movie rather than a trilogy. But Magic Lantern did a great job,
as surprisingly everyone left the hall satisfied. My observations on a play based on a novel that matters a great deal to me.

The hero: This is just brilliant. Making Vanthiyadevan the coolest dude is the best piece of characterization and it makes it more enjoyable in the current scenario. The actor (Srikanth Dayal) who played the role was amazing. He carried the first half of the play completely on his shoulders and he did it with style. Why aren't you in any movies yet?? A thoroughly enjoyable performance.

The Comedian: Not sure how else to describe Mr. Thirumalaiappan a.k.a Azhvaarkadiyaan Nambi. The first character to walk into the stage with a roaring applause from the crowd. Need I say more? Although we know his impact in the novel (novelo naval... he he... inside joke), its not that great in the play ,especially in the second half. The only reason for that is to focus on other important characters who had just been introduced at that time. Otherwise a good one to enjoy.

The Nattaamai brothers: Of course pazhuvettarayars who else. Although chinna pazhuvettarayar's role is not much emphasized in the play, the credit goes to the senior brother. The actor who essayed the role (The white bearded-thatha who appears in movies like Nandha) did it to utter perfection. His last scene in the play is one of the best acting displays on stage. Needless to say it was followed by a thunderous applause. Phenomenal stage presence.

Kingmaker: The woman of the kingdom. I believe she is the kingmaker without a doubt. Kundhavai's character doesn't light up that much till our hero comes along. Although Kundhavai, as i mentioned, is more or less the brilliant woman in the novel, her brilliance is underplayed (or was it even played??) in the play. But without her the romantic portion would've been abrupt, (as the other romances bitterly failed), and it is her romantic "Hey jingli" scenes with vanthiyadevan that lights up the stage. Heard even a couple of whistles from the audience. Not so much justice to the character but hey we live in a world where this is how the woman are shown in cinemas so you can't blame anyone for it. Of course kalki would have been a lil upset though.

King thatha: It's Mr. Sundar only. The king who is supposedly very ill and in distress, doesn't look like that though :P. In my personal opinion one of the boring characters in the novel and hence in the play too. I never had any expectations about Sundara choza maharaja before seeing the play, so no disappointments. His scenes (except for the memorable "ghost from the past" scene) doesn't make any great impact (at least to me) and is kind of dragging the story a bit. No complaints about the actor though as he essayed it with great perfection, supposedly from his experience i believe, but tough job to make such a boring character interesting.

Ravidasan and the Goons: Villain gang (adiyaals and edupudis), like in movies, with "gym-body", big hair, beard, and excessive shouting. Apparently they were asked to jump around the stage quite often I believe. After one point of time it gets tedious to watch that. Ravidasan's motive and inclination towards the nandhini is not clear in the play as it was in the novel as one important scene was missed relating the coronation. For people who haven't read the novel, they couldn't care less about these characters but the writer, chithappa, could have made Ravidasan a bit more realistic than being a bit one dimensional.

Ponniyin Selvan: What?? Shouldn't I save the titular character for description at last?? Well in my personal opinion not my favourite character in the book (too diplomatic and too nice ... duh ...) but well crafted into the play. He gets a typical hero introduction kinda thing although this was overplayed in the novel in other scenes. The actor who played Arulmozhivarman was, I can say, one of the perfect castings in the play. He looks good, his dialogue delivery is good, he acts bloody damn good and most important of all he has that "gethu" of the king. This actor, like Vanthiyadevan should be in movies without a doubt. Well done boss, whoever you are.

And to my favourite characters from the book (in increasing order as you go down),

Anirudha brahmarayar: The Prime minister of the entire dynasty. Guy with impossible political brilliance with eyes everywhere. People who need analogy - Tywin Lannister from Game of Thrones. I adored the character mainly in the scene where he meets Kundhavai and nonchalantly "kalaichifies" her with his knowledge. If you read the book you would know it. However in the play, the actor who played the role didn't do much justice. In other words=not gethu.
He could have swapped the position with the guy who played Sundara chozhar so it would have been a win-win for both. I started clapping for the entry of Anirudha brahmaraayar involuntarily on his intro scene but then realised no one else is clapping. Felt like Goundar for a bit (Sooper appu).

Poonkuzhali: She is bloody well important isn't she. There is so much happening when she is there. She is the embodiment of the free spirit, care-free, happy-go-lucky girl wandering in the woods for fun. You would remember all her scenes in the novel cos it was that amazing. There are a few surprises in this for sure as I went with a preconceived notion that some of the scenes will not be shown at all. I also dreaded that Poonkuzhali might not even be in the play (Oh the horror!!) thankfully that did not happen. The lady who played the role was good enough to carry it on stage as people (me) were enjoying the scenes that they (I) thought would never appear on stage rather than focusing on the actress completely. Thanks chithappa for doing that.

Manimekalai: Everyone hates her in the novel (I guess??). My mom, who read the entire set of novel at least 5 times and introduced me to the same, could not even remember who she is. For me, she was the innocence in the last book. The character who introduced the "haiyo paavam" factor. Kalki utilised her for the melodrama quotient in the novel and it's the emotional ending of her life at the hands of Ponniyin selvan (OOps!!! spoiler) that did it for me. I did love that ending so very much as it was very much similar (but of course second to) Sivagaamiyin Sabatham's ending. And in the play - THIS CHARACTER IS NOT THERE (SPOILER!!!!!!!!!!!). Rational decision as most of them seemed to even forget about her presence.

Aaditha Karikaalan: The most multi-dimensional character in the ponniyin selvan universe. He was a brilliant character in the novel. His motifs, guts, choosing victory & war over title or crown, emotional dilemmas, fearlessness, intelligence in placing trust on ppl, I do not think I will ever stop. So I was expecting sure disappointment in the play. Of course it's always your favourite character that gets ruined rite. But ... But ... I f i say that "this was one of the biggest surprises of all time" it would be a sheer understatement. I don't have anything to say other thanks thanks and loads of gratitude for doing a perfect characterisation and perfect casting. For people who didn't see the play, You missed something wonderful. Once again thank you chithappa.

Nandhini: The seductive devil. The femme fatale. She is the reason why I was hooked to Ponniyin selvan. She is the reason why I loved everything about the Novel. She trumps Aaditha karikaalan because of the sheer characterization done by Kalki. Masterpiece. I loved her and I hated her simultaneously. Her scene with Aaditha karikaalan is the most memorable by any standards. In play, slightly disappointing. Not sure why almost all the female characters (except sembiyan maadhevi paati) seem a little blunt. I could have had it with anybody but you cannot do that to Nandhini. Why did you do that?? Making Nandhini a one-dimensional villain (spoiler??? Naahh) is the last thing that they should have done. And there is one scene where-in you actually sympathize with nandhini (Coronation of pandiyan's successor) which throws light on her motives and how polarized her opinions and thoughts are. She is the reason why Ponniyin selvan is what it is. But in the play she is sidelined significantly. I feel sorry for her (Weird!!!).

And other minor characters,

center-fruit guy (Guy who auditions for the waiter job) who plays parthibendran is quite good and was memorable

Sendhan amudhan - An okay character who is back story is more impressive than him. same in the play and novel. The actor who played looked like Ponniyin selvan's little brother than his uncle (chezhh).

Kadambur gang: An okay gang who moves the story as they are in the most important scenes in the novel doing nothing very interesting. Good acting by the actors though.

Senapathy and Vanathy - Not so great characters and decent acting by both. Vanathi has good sense of humour in the play. That's a nice touch.

Maduraanthagan and Sembian Maadhevei: Probably the best of the minor characters, their characterisation as well as acting is just great and they were literally too good to be just minor characters. However sembi paati mind change in the last scene is too unnatural isn't it??

Over all i really enjoyed the play. Kalakkitta chithappa ...

Like to read more reviews?

  1. My review of an Indie movie called "Goodnight Good Morning" by Sudhish Kamath.
  2. A review of Na. Pichamurthy's short story - Puratchigaramana Oviyam in tamil


Help: 
  1.  Ponniyin Selvan -  (meaning) Son of Ponni / Cauvery river. Name of the novel by Kalki and nickname of Raja Raja Chola.
  2. Peter Jackson making Lord of the Rings - See here.
  3. Magic Lantern - A theater group from Chennai, India. See here.
  4. White bearded-thatha who appears in movies like Nandha - See here.
  5. Hey Jingli - See here.
  6. Tywin Lannister from Game of Thrones -  See here.
  7. Felt like Goundar for a bit (Sooper appu) - See here.
  8. center-fruit guy - See here.
  9. chithappa - Character played by the playwright Kumaravel in the tamil movie Azhagiya Theeye.
  10. gethu - See here.