Readers Write In #575:  PS-2 comes out with the soul intact

Posted on April 30, 2023


By ​Raghu Narayanan

Well, it worked for me…big time! Compared movie to movie, I will say PS-2 is better than PS-1. But then, saying that will be somewhat merciless because the unravelling of the plot and the untying of knots in PS-2 was always going to make it more interesting and more conclusive than PS-1. As BR had suggested, if we were to view both parts as one whole movie, then we might probably appreciate PS-1 even more and give it more due than what it has received so far.

I watched PS-2 on the 2nd day of its release, something that I had not planned to at the outset. What was turning out to be a lazy afternoon siesta on a Saturday was thrown out of gear when a friend called to say that he had some extra tickets, and would I be interested in picking it up? Well, I was interested in, for sure! Only one problem was that I had less than an hour for the show to start and I had to really hurry. So, a loud shout out of apologies to all on the road yesterday for my bad overtakes and indecent honking in trying to get there on time. And after all the traffic and parking lot anxiety at the mall, I was able to take my seat just as the Lyca logo was shaping up on screen. And now, am done with it! I guess the hype and hysteria was building up for me, what with BR coming up with his review and an RWI already in. Comments were pouring in, and I could not keep myself away from all that as well. So better that through a stroke of luck, I got to watch it yesterday. Now I can talk about it in peace.

Ok, so what worked for me. The acting performances worked big time. I loved every nuance that was brought out by everyone and somehow MR, the genius filmmaker, has contrived to project even the side cast into main frames, even if for a few dialogues. Example, the ‘dadhipenn’ of Nandhini in the first part who we knew to be a Pandya sympathiser even then, now has a very powerful interaction with Nandhini while going in a bullock-cart. Another example is, the projection of Parthibendran – though not exactly a side cast but in the sense that he did not get much screen time in PS-1, through his interaction with Nandini and his interaction with Aditta Karikalan – especially loved Vikram’s nuanced interaction / interrogation and how unconvincing Vikram Prabhu looked. However, the highlight of the movie, to me, was the scene of the death of Karikalan. I felt it was enacted to perfection in the movie and could turn out as the winning moment of the end-to-end picture.

Then the songs and the BGM worked well too. While the songs were weaved in quite beautifully into the screenplay – in true MR style, the BGM served to elevate the scene at times and stay in the background at other times, without intruding on the consciousness of the audience.The screenplay was quite taut throughout too. Even though the anticipated final fight sequence was a bit abrupt, it did not disrupt. While I had mixed feelings about the casting when I had watched the first part, after the rousing and outstanding performances in this part, I am now a complete supporter. I do agree that there is still space for argument about the casting for the female characters in the movie, and that some of them could have been replaced by others. However, I do feel that this would yet remain a hypothetical argument because those who were cast did bring out excellent performances as well. I am not sure if we lost much there.

However, it is in the male casting part that I am now convinced that this is the best we have got. I mean, who else in the entire Tamil movie scene today could have played out Karikalan’s range of emotions better than Vikram? On the flip side, it reflects the sad state of affairs that the top two commercially successful male stars of today are total misfits for any role in the entire movie! For sure, we did not miss out on any male talent out there who could have been better utilized in any of the roles. I guess this obviates the question on the ages of the characters too, as compared to the book. While earlier I had the thought that, maybe even someone like a Dhruv Vikram could have enacted the angry Aditta Karikalan (somewhat based on his psycho-cop role in Mahaan), I am now sure that he would have been utterly incapable of bringing out the range of emotions that needed to be expressed in the second part. And further, if we cast someone like Dhruv in the role of Karikalan, it will have its downstream effect on the casting for the other characters – Arulmozhi, VanthiyaThevan, etc. So simply put, this is the best we got but happily for me, at least, the best we got was quite good enough. I do not have any complaints at all.

Well, yes, there are many changes when compared with the book and as I had mentioned in my first RWI after the first part got released, I choose to refrain from commenting by comparing the book with the movie. I always expected some cuts and bleeds and some additional appendages when the movie was made. So, if we are to create a tabulated comparison of the book vs the movie, we will find many, many changes. Some of those changes, a fanboy of the book (like me) will never be able to accept. So, I consciously try to avoid the comparisons. But then the comparisons happen unconsciously too. And while I have kept the output of most of such unconscious comparisons at bay, there are two changes which I feel are significant and would like to talk about those two. So mild spoiler territory ahead.

First is the scene depicting the death of Aditta Karikalan. In this scene, I feel that MR has been very much faithful to the book in scripting the scene and then through his direction and the performances of the lead duo, the scene has been taken to another level. However, the important change between the book and the movie is the hesitancy shown by Nandini when it comes to killing Karikalan. This was a masterstroke by MR. If we try to think about it, while someone can plan and plan and plan all that he/she will do to exact revenge on someone who was once close to his/her heart and later betrayed him/her, when the opportunity and moment really comes it is extremely difficult to perform the ‘kill’. This is a humane side of an otherwise smart and scheming Nandini that MR has brought out. And it is not just an abrupt switch as well. What with Karikalan expressing his regret in not sparing the life of Veerapandiyan, expressing his love for Nandini, telling her that he was aware that she had called him to Kadambur with the intention of killing him and so on, the scene was quite well set up for the switch in her attitude to happen. And when Karikalan dies, the pain at knowing that what she had been planning to do all along, has indeed happened – which can sometimes be a real life paradox, comes bursting out. A fantastic increment to what we get to experience through the book.

The second major change that I would like to talk about is Madhuranthakar’s role. I feel it was scripted quite interestingly, and to me, that was the weakest link in an otherwise taut screenplay. MR has deviated from the book in sketching this role and in part I will agree with the deviation. So Sendhan Amudhan does not turn out to be the ‘real’ Uthama Thevar. The one who is introduced as Mathuranthakar in the first part continues to be so. This might have avoided a plot land-mine by way of swapping of the children at birth, which secret only a few knew. As we speak today, this theme has been beaten to death in movies over the past decades. Given the saturation level this theme has attained in our minds, it was indeed a sagacious film-making strategy by MR to drop this line and keep it less ‘dramatic’ and therefore, more ‘realistic’. It might even appear that, in one stroke, MR has scored one over Kalki in making this change. But we should be careful in comparing the book with the movie in this regard and passing a judgement. As we know of the time value of money, we should also recognize the time value of opinion. The book was written well nigh about seventy years ago, and I am willing to debate that at that time, the theme of child-swap and the suspense effect it brings in fiction will not nearly be as ‘fantasized’ or as ‘outlandish’ as we feel about it today (after seeing it so many times in the subsequent decades). So given that, I feel it is better to just stay with lauding MR for his savvy in filmmaking and not extend the comparison back to the book – which I realize is irresistible, but, again, one that I consciously try to avoid as much as possible.

What I do not agree with the scripting of Mathuranhakar’s role is that, while avoiding a land-mine, MR has driven it into a pit. MR perhaps should have stopped with Mathuranthakar garnering the support of the Kalamuka Saivars and along with the support of other smaller kings, staked his claim to the throne. But to show that he goes on to accept the support of the Rashtrakuatas, knowing that Karikalan defeated Ghotti earlier, and still believing that they can deliver the throne to him without shedding blood or taking revenge, and then later doing a massive U-turn when they are planning an attack, does make him look a very naïve character who might not be a fit for a king. As MR had chosen to stay with the one and only Mathuranthakar, he might as well have shown him as rejecting the initial Rashtrakuta’s offer and thereby showing some spine. This whole sequence of events, to me, brought down the movie by a few notches, and could have been totally avoided.

But such mild misgivings apart, I am very happy with the movie and apart from what I have stated earlier, the true reason for the movie having worked for me was that despite the many changes, MR, by his sheer genius, has managed to keep the soul of the story intact. Perhaps MR had heard what Pacino had said, that there was no prostheticfor an amputated soul, and had taken as much care as possible to not let the cuts and changes touch the soul of the story, butkeep it glowing and intact. And it comes shining through in the movie – both parts, severally and jointly.

And now, my moment of truth. I had never read a book in Tamizh before, excepting for my schoolbooks of course, and the thought of reading PS had never crossed my mind ever. However, I decided to take the plunge and read the book before Part 1 released last year. And I will maintain that it was the best fiction that I have read till today. And then, I watched the first part and one day soon after, Google just happened to recommend BR’s blog, and my first RWI happened! Now, after watching PS-2, am compelled to write about it again. All the while, I was firmly under the belief that it was Kalki’s sway over me that was making me write and comment about PS. Now, after watching the second part, I am no longer sure. Perhaps it could yet be that it was all the time the fact that Mani Ratnam was coming up with Ponniyin Selvan – the movie, that really made me pick up Ponniyin Selvan – the book in the first place. And it could again be that Mani Ratnam, with what he came up with in the first part made me write up about the book and the movie. And now again, it very much seems like it is Mani Ratnam who has invaded my conscious and making me write about it again. This is what happens to mere mortals like me when two extra-ordinary, immortal creators – Kalki and Mani Ratnam, come together.