Ponniyin Selvan seems like a misfit among the current crop of films. It is a film that relies more on characters, relationships and emotions rather than stars, sentiments and special effects. It has a sweet story and delivers a nice message in the end. Its director Radhamohan last directed Azhagiya Theeye and though Ponniyin Selvan might be considered a small step backward, it is still a sweet little movie.
Venu(Ravikrishna)'s face was scalded by boiling water when he was a kid and since then, he has undergone a lot of humiliation because of his scarred face. When he learns that plastic surgery could make his face as good as new, he becomes determined to save up the money for the operation.But his mother Ponni(Revathi), his neighbor Kani(Gopika) and his friends are all both surprised and worried at the changes in him as he starts slaving away to save enough money.
Considering that Ravikrishna's scarred face is the basis of the entire movie, the scarring could've been a little more pronounced. I'm guessing that it was tough deciding on the amount of makeup that would make it scary enough but not so scary that it would repulse the moviegoers(remember Mugam)? But the relatively mild(atleast on screen) nature of the scarring makes some of the humiliation he undergoes tough to believe.
Ponniyin Selvan has depicts the relationship between mother and son very realistically. Barring a few exceptions, the relationship has so far been captured in one of two ways. On one hand is the overly-sentimental relationship portrayed by directors like P.Vasu. And on the other is the ultramodern, 'cool' relationship seen in movies like M.Kumaran S/O Mahalakshmi(for the record, I still prefer the latter). The relationship between Revathi and Ravikrishna here is neither of these extremes and is neither too sentimental nor too hip. When Revathi consoles him or worries about him, the feelings seem genuine. And their conversations are down-to-earth and realistic. Small actions(like the way he routinely dries his hands on her saree) and scenes(like the one where he asks Gopika to check in on his mom after fighting with her) help make them a very believable mother and son. It is possible to envision the two of them living next door to us.
The same is true of most relationships in the film. The conversations between Devadarshini(Ravikrishna's sister) and Revathi(like the one where she asks Revathi to ask Ravikrishna for money to buy an auto) have a distinct touch of realism that is very difficult to achieve in a movie.
Inspite of working with a bigger budget and more well-known stars than his previous film, Radhamohan has not lost the two abilities that made Azhagiya Theeye such a delight -the shrewd observation of everyday human behavior and the ability to showcase it with subtle humor. The scene where Ravikrishna and Gopika drink pepsis is the perfect example.They share a perfectly normal conversation but the way it ends makes us chuckle heartfully.This kind of unforced humor keeps us smiling for a large part of the movie and makes us laugh out loud in a few scenes. But there are times when Radhamohan appears to try for laughs a little too hard by having the characters narrate jokes or incorporate jokes into their conversation. Since most of these jokes are old(the Pillaiyaar joke was the only one I hadn't heard before) and the punchlines are known, they don't work too well.
The film is a marriage of a small-budget director with a big-budget producer(A.M.Rathnam, the man behind movies like Gilli). Thankfully, the director has won out for the most part but there are times when the dad and producer in A.M.Rathnam rear their heads and those end up being the most incongruous parts of the film. The song sequences, with the foreign locations and the fast dances, and the fight sequence at the pizza parlor stick out like sore thumbs in the otherwise low-scale movie. They are painfully obvious as opportunities for Ravikrishna to appear with a blemishless face, wear designer clothing and fight. In other words, act like a regular hero. Bad move in a film where its his non-heroic, realistic character is the most endearing aspect!
The film has a strong climax that works very well. It is actually quite predictable but the events are presented in a matter-of-fact manner without adding a layer of sentimentality that would have ruined the whole thing. And that makes them more emotional. There are some well-written dialogs and nicely picturised scenes(that correlate the past and the present). And inspite of the strong emotions, we walk out with a smile on our lips.
Ravikrishna gets another role where his acting and dialog delivery suit the character. I sure don't like his looks(especially his smile) and I'm still not sure if he can do any other kind of role. His lack of speed is evident during the dances and fights. Gopika looks homely and beautiful, the kind of girl you'd love to take home to your mother. Revathi is very good as Ponni. Her face expresses emotions without overdoing it and she is particularly good when worrying about Ravikrishna without being sure how to bring it up with him. Prakashraj is Ravikrishna's friend, philosopher and guide and makes a very believable factory worker. The girl working in the pizza parlor looks cute and is sincere.
The songs are fast and peppy but maybe because they don't gel with the rest of the film, I didn't find them to be very good. Thaachiko... is the only catchy one. It is a high-energy, fast song that is also very enthusiastically sung(considering its situation, the censors have done a good thing changing the Krishna to Chinna in its lyrics).