This demands a post. And so here it is.
There cannot be a Tamil speaking family that hasn’t at one time or another read or at least heard of Ponniyin Selvan. Either as the umpteenth rerun of the series in Kalki or as roughly bound copies from the library, it has invaded homes since it first came out in 50s. It is so ubiquitous that even in the hospital bed recovering from surgery, I had a long conversation with the orderly about the rival merits of Vanthiya Thevan and Alwarkadiyan. R. Krishnamoothy wrote such life-like characters and let them indulge in the most intricate plot lines that it took me at least 2 readings (at varied times in my life) to get the whole plot straight. So realistic that they stand the best test of literature, translation. The English versions (by C.V. Karthik Narayanan) that I gave my non-tamil speaking friends had them raving about it as much as any of us who had read the original.
To take such a beloved novel and make it into a movie must be daunting. Not just because of the fact that it is long and takes place over the course of a year and a diverse geography (not only different parts of TN but also Sri Lanka!) and is a period piece and has about a gazillion characters, but also because most of us have a cherished image of the 10 or so main characters and dont take kindly to having our childhood memories tampered with. Which is all a round about way of saying Mani must be brave. Or absolutely desperate.
Neither of which makes me resigned to the news. Mani has a style. Not just a dialog or cinematography style but a storytelling style. His way of telling the story makes it uniquely his. Which is why I think this undertaking is going to be his toughest test. Any departures from Kalki’s Ponniyin selvan is not going to go down well and any curbing of Mani’s artistic expression is going to end up sounding artificial.
Perhaps he should just go the Bollywood way and call it Ratnamin Selvan-“Inspired” by RK’s Ponniyin Selvan. This is perhaps the only time when the word will be appropriate, even welcomed.