Before getting down to review the film, there is something that has to be said- it has been a long time since an opulent historical film like Ponnar Shankar was seen on the Tamil screens. Though Jodha Akbar dubbed to Tamil had us fascinated, Ponnar Shankar boasts of being a historical drama that is set in our very own Tamil Nadu. Made with a huge budget, produced and directed by Thiagarajan with his son Prashanth in the lead, Ponnar Shankar is a good and a successful attempt at historic cinema.
The story penned by M. Karunanidhi, is about two brave warriors Ponnar and Shankar (Prashanth) who become the rulers of Ponni Valanadu and serve abundantly for the society. The story traces their birth, the difficulties and disgraces their mother Thamarai (Kushboo) and father Kundrudayan (Jayaram) face, family feuds and how goodness and bravery triumph over cowardice and evil minds.
Ably directed by Thiagarajan, Ponnar Shankar draws you into its drama and grandeur right from the word go. The first half is engaging and grapples the audience’s attention. Post-interval, the film seems to lose steam, but ten minutes into it, it picks up the pace again.
Kudos to director Thiagarajan who has done an impressive job of adapting a historic story onto big screen. He has given equal importance to all the characters in the film and brought the best out of them. Be it the song involving 2000 dancers or the war sequences or the romantic scenes, the director shines in his work.
Despite the visual splendor and good story, the soul of this film lies in the performances. Prashanth playing dual roles has done the needful and he looks apt for the part too. Well-built and suitably dressed, Prashanth excels in the action scenes. Nasser as Mayavar is easily the best among this ensemble cast. His character has shades of Lord Krishna from Mahabaratha and he grips us with his speech and histrionics. Right from his introduction scene where he drinks ‘kanji’ given to him by an old lady (Sukumari) and calls it ‘deva amurtham’, Nasser is a delight in every scene.
Almost neck to neck with Nasser are Napolean and Raj Kiran. Napolean as Kali Mannan brings out the shades of grey convincingly and is especially good in the climax scene where he regrets having had his life spared. Raj Kiran as Rakki Annan, oozes style when he twists the two sides of his mustache and says, ‘Ponnar-Shankar’. Jayaram as the innocent Kundrudayan performs very well. Prakash Raj as Manthiappan is a hard hearted villain whom we love to hate and he does that with ease. Vijaykumar and Ponvannan as Periyamalai Goundar and Chinnamalai Goundar respectively look majestic and slide into their roles with consummate ease.
Kushboo as the bold Thamarai who challenges her brother and father, comes up with an unmitigated performance. Sneha as Arukkani, the daughter of Thamarai looks beautiful and valiant. She is best in the scene where she seethes with anger and insults the army commander for kidnapping her.
Prashanth’s lady loves played by Pooja Chopra and Divya Parameshwaran have nothing much to do but look pretty and dance. The biggest drawback with them is their North Indian looks that do not go along with the story. The director could have cast Tamil faces in these roles as the movie is set in the heart of Tamil Nadu.
Art Direction by T. Muthuraj needs a special mention as he transports us to the past era and Shaji Kumar’s cinematography does justice to the lavish sets. Stunt direction by Kanal Kannan and Ravidevan (Bombay) contribute majorly to the film’s positives. The stunts are fresh, slick and eye catchy. Music by Ilaiyaraja does not reach his usual standards, but the song Malar Villilae remains fresh in our minds even after the film. Shreya Ghoshal’s voice stands out in all the three songs that she has sung and largely helps in making the songs sound good. Graphics directed by Prashanth is another positive aspect.
Having taken so much care in every domain, the director could have researched more about the costumes worn in those days. The heroines Divya and Pooja are clad in ‘barely there’ chiffon cholis and gagras that do not look authentic or South Indian. The dialogues are commendable but at times it is a mix of ancient and modern Tamil words which sound obtrusive. This could have been a deliberate decision from the director to keep his audience engaged. but he could have fine tuned it more.
Though the movie is engaging and engulfs you into its proceedings, it does not leave an impact after it is over as there is no ‘stand out’ factor. On the whole, Ponnar Shankar throws a big surprise of being a well made historic film that runs for just a little more than two hours. It is a sincere and successful attempt by the team.
Verdict: A treat for movie buffs who enjoy historicals!