The Royal Roundtable
The Ponniyin Sevlan trio Trisha, Jayam Ravi and Karthi open up about getting into royal shoes, responses for their sojourn into the Cholan era, and what it is to be 'Mani Ratnam's actors'
Despite having over 60+years of collective experience in cinema, and essaying some of the most memorable characters in Indian cinema, it will be tough for Trisha, Jayam Ravi, and Karthi to move past the now-iconic roles of Kundhavai, Arunmozhi Varman, and Vandhiyathevan, respectively.
“Considering Ponniyin Selvan was a long time in the making, it is but a case of luck that I got to play Kundhavai. I will always be known as Mr Mani Ratnam’s Kundhavai, and I must thank the scores of well-wishers and fans for embracing the film, and making it a grand success,” said Trisha, as she was joined by Jayam Ravi and Karthi in the whirlwind promotional drive ahead of the release of Ponniyin Selvan 2 on April 28.
As opposed to the screentime of Karthi or Trisha, you had limited screentime in PS 1…
Ravi (R): In Ponniyin Selvan 2, I’d be the prince as opposed to the prince-in-exile in the first part. I think I will be there a lot in Ponniyin Selvan 2. It is a rebirth of sorts, and it will come through Veera Raja Veera, his return to Thanjai, etc… That will be one of the highlights of PS 2.
It has been a long journey with the film and its characters. Are there similarities between your real self, and the PS roles?
R: In fact, Mani sir asked me something similar, and I realised I too have a close relationship with my sister and brother. Across generations, sentiments remain the same, right? The human emotions, and its impact will be the same. What matters eventually is how these emotions are presented.
Karthi (K): Suriya anna always asks me how I talk with everyone so freely. On that front, I suppose I am like Vandhiyathevan. You can see that facet of him in the Ponni Nadhi song where he will mingle with everyone. I think I have that quality in me.
The gargantuan success of a film can alter career plans. How has the success of Ponniyin Selvan affected your script choices?
Trisha (T): Of course, there is a huge pressure. Will we get a big film like this? It is a motivation, for sure, but it also makes you super careful. It is a lot of pressure, but in a good way.
K: I have constantly tried to break the routine with every film. After Paruthiveeran, I consciously took a different route. I don’t want to take the burden of a success. With Ponniyin Selvan, I understand that my audience has widened, so I’d choose stronger characters and stories.
Talking about pressure, how was it to become the face of the Cholas for entire generations of people?
T: From babies to adults, people were dressing up as Kundhavai, and sending me reels and photos. That was a special feeling because not only was the film successful, but the role became era-defining. As actors, we will never know the reach of a role or a film. To see, people still embracing Kundhavai is such a beautiful experience.
K: Appa always says every frame decides who should be in it. I did my best in the opportunity that came my way. I was very confident about the output and my acting. But what really surprised me was people saying they couldn’t think of a replacement for me. To see them embracing my Vanthiyathevan was heartening, and most importantly… peaceful.
What were the most memorable compliments that came your way after PS1?
K: I fondly remember Prakash Raj and Silambarasan calling me and talking in lengths about Vanthiyathevan and Ponniyin Selvan.
R: Rajini sir’s call was unforgettable, In fact, he called everyone of us. I think except Mani sir everybody in the industry complimented me.
K: Rajini sir actually does it very frequently for a lot of films. I received long messages about what Vanthiyathevan meant to them, and I have saved everything.
T: Same here, I have kept a lot of such compliments in the archive. And Ravi, Mani sir spoke to me after the film. (Everyone burst into spontaneous laughter as Ravi staged a fake walkout)
There is no doubt that the legacy of PS is large enough for Tamil audiences to come in droves. The ensemble also ensures a solid response in the other Southern states. But how was it in the North?
K: Honestly, the Hindi audience did find it difficult to understand the film. The names were unfamiliar for them, and PS 1 had a lot of character setup. But after the OTT release, they are actually well-prepared for the sequel. They loved the aesthetic quality of the film, especially because we shot the film across many terrains. It wasn’t your usual period film only set around forests and palaces. The visuals and the song found a massive reach too. I come across people from the North, who express their anticipation about PS and Vanthiyathevan. The OTT ensured this changeover was possible.
Well, talking about OTT, theatre owners were expressing their elation about the footfalls for Ponniyin Selvan…
R: The most fascinating aspect of the success was how people who haven’t seen films in theatres for over two decades and returned to watch PS1. People walked in with walking sticks, and some even with oxygen cylinders.
K: The theatre audience has minimalised, and yet things changed with Ponniyin Selvan. People who probably only saw films of MGR sir or Sivaji sir came to see us. Kalki sir’s fans were such a big part of our audience. They have seen these stories in their head, and narrated it to their grandchildren.
R: Some theatre owners said people came with tiffin boxes without knowing things have changed now. I had new-found respect for Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan, and Mani sir’s vision.
Well... finally, Arunmozhi’s heart beats fonder for which woman? Poonguzhali or Vanathi?
Both. Why not? I respect who I love but I also respect who loves me. (Ravi drops the mic… stages a fake walkout once again, much to rapturous laughter from the cast…who follow suit)