Women of Ponniyin Selvan I: While critics constantly debate and advocate changing narrative of women in Indian cinema, little is echoed on the screen. Especially in the regional tentpoles which are largely dominated by 'Rebels' 'Stylish' and 'Icon Staars'. In such a system, when a historical drama about the thalassocratic empire of Southern India, the Chola dynasty, is announced with an ensemble cast, little is expected of women. The films are for sure anticipated for their magnificence and adding to their immenseness are beautiful women adorned in gold jewellery. But beyond that, discern characterization is limited. However, give Mani Ratnam the job and the setting differs.
The filmmaker is known for making women in his films drive the narrative. The departure from the standard portrayal of women in Mani Ratnam films like Mouna Raagam, Bombay and Roja among many others left the audience spellbound. And in Ponniyin Selvan he brought them to the centre stage yet again and lets them play politics, not in hindsight but at the forefront.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Trisha Krishnan and Sobhita Dhulipala, the leading ladies of Ponniyin Selvan I have closely scrutinised their characters as they exuberate women with agencies on the screen. Trisha was amazed by the thought that Kalki Krishnamurthy who wrote the novels in 1955 (on which the film is based) could envision women with such strongholds back then. The actress finds it delightful that the women of Ponniyin Selvan are not just standing as princesses and queens but they use their intelligence in the kingdom. “She (Kundavai, The Chola Princess) seemed very contemporary in thought. There are times in the film where I felt the women overpowered and challenged the men," she said while addressing the media in Delhi.
Aishwarya, on the hand, was glad that the story recognises these women of substance in full power. "Women have always been strong. It's just that they have been given opportunities differently down the ages," said the actress who plays Nandini, The Queen Of Pazhuvoor. She also credited Ratnam for providing women with the latitude to strive in this period drama.
“It’s wonderful how in this narrative women have or find a way of expressing their power. Mani Ratnam is a creator who has brought these women to life. Having worked with him in several films, he asks us (actors) to go beyond the dialogue and script and bring to life the thought of the character. He always attributes intelligence to his female protagonists and that’s true for all my character’s in his films,” she shared. Aishwarya has previously collaborated with the filmmaker in movies namely Iruvar (1997), Guru (2007 ) and Ravan (2010).
For Sobhita things were more intense. With Ponniyin Selvan, as she steps into the shoes of Vaanathi, the love interest of the young emperor, she seeks to steer away from her previous characters which were marinated in the whims of real modern women.
Trisha Krishnan opens up working on Ponniyin Selvan I: 'Impactful character rather than screen time'
Delving deep into the mindset of Vaanathi, Sobhita echoed similar sentiments to her co-actors. "This was an opportunity for me to play someone who is nibble footed, light-hearted and uncorrupted by politics," she quipped, adding, "With Mani Sir, I discovered that innocence, something that Vanathi embodies doesn't necessarily have to be coy. He has shown that innocence has its truthfulness, how she speaks her mind and her naivety was exciting to represent."
The thoughts and the premise of Ponniyin Selvan built by the actresses are not limited to blueprints and press conferences but we see them translate on celluloid too. Despite the splendour Nandini, Kundavai and Vannathi are subjected to, Aishwarya, Trisha and Sobhita equate and on many occasions outplay the mighty kings and warriors played by Vikram, Karthi and Jayam Ravi. They are minds of the kingdom who play politics behind the veils of the courtroom, sometimes even at the centre of it.
If their brain power and elegance don't make an impression, probably they are being underestimated as most have down the ages.