Director: Mani Ratnam
Cast: Vikram, Karthi, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Trisha, Jayam Ravi, Prabhu, Vikram Prabhu, Jayaram, Prakash Raj, Sarathkumar, Parthiban and others
Music: A R Rahman
Cinematography: Ravi Varman
Rating: **** (4 stars)
Making a film based on a classic novel is no mean feat and ace filmmaker Mani Ratnam needs to be appreciated wholeheartedly for even attempting such a Herculean challenge.
To be fair to the filmmaker, he has done an outstanding job of presenting a concise version of the literary masterpiece, considered to be one of eminent writer Kalki’s best works.
The story begins at a time when the Cholas are fast emerging a superpower. Aditha Karikalan( Vikram), the crown prince and the eldest son of emperor Sundara Chozhar (Prakash Raj), is on a winning spree.
After having killed the Pandya king Veera Pandiyan in battle and defeating his forces, he is now heading to fight the Rashtrakutas. Riding with him into battle is his close friend and trusted aide Vallavarayan Vanthiyathevan.
Aditha vanquishes the Rashtrakutas and then celebrates his victory before deciding to move on to Kalinga next.
It is at this point that Aditha gets to know that a conspiracy is being hatched back at Kadambur fort to usurp the throne. He immediately assigns the task of finding out what is being planned at Kadambur to Vanthiyathevan and asks him to head back home.
He tells Vanthiyathevan to report whatever he finds to his dad, emperor Sundara Chozhar, and his younger sister Kundavai (Trisha).
Vanthiyathevan arrives at Kadambur fort and is promptly not permitted in. But the quick-witted warrior slips in and learns that a conspiracy is being hatched to pronounce Madhurantakan (Rahman) as the next crown prince by the finance minister Periya Pazhuvettarayar(Sarath Kumar), with the support of the smaller kings in the kingdom.
Little does Peri Pazhuvettarayar, who has fought in over 24 battles and who has as many as 64 scars, know that his wife Nandini (Aishwarya Rai) has her own agenda.
When Vanthiyathevan tells the emperor and his smart daughter Kundavai of the impending danger, Kundavai asks Vanthiyathevan to travel to Sri Lanka, where her younger brother Arun Mozhi Varman is fighting the lankans, and deliver her message that he must urgently return home.
Vanthiyathevan arrives in Lanka but by then, there is more danger enveloping the Chola kingdom. A group of Pandyas, who were defeated by the Chola prince take an oath that they will wipe out the Chola Royal family…
To those who are madly in love with the book and Kalki’s writing, Mani Ratnam’s presentation of the characters and the narration of the plot might appear a little simplistic and superficial.
However, for those who understand filmmaking and who have also read the book, the film will come across as a masterpiece, crafted with clarity and precision.
The film has stunning performances coming in from almost all its lead actors.
The most spectacular performance of the lot comes from Vikram who plays Aditha Karikalan. He comes across as being majestic, brave, fierce and battle hardened.
The next best performance goes to Jayam Ravi, who shows class, decency and dignity in every act and gesture of his as Arun Mozhi Varman. Tough, loyal, dignified, he comes across as a just and distinguished gentleman.
Karthi as Vanthiyathevan steals your heart as the romantic flirt who drools over every girl he comes across — from the scheming Nandini to the shrewd Kundavai to the bold boatwoman Kuzhali.
Jayaram as Alwarkkadiyan Nambi is equally impressive. His humour mostly works, especially those sequences in which he appears with Vanthiyathevan.
Aishwarya as Nandini is all class and she effortlessly steals the limelight with her measured performance.
Trisha as the artful Kundavai, who has a fine understanding of statecraft, is impressive.
Parthiban as Chinna Pazhuvettaraya and Sarath Kumar as Periya Pazhuvettarayar do an outstanding job as well.
A R Rahman’s music and Ravi Varman’s visuals are both out of this world and make this a world class film.
To cut a long story short, almost everybody delivers a sterling performance, making the film a riveting watch.