Ponniyin Selvan: Part II movie review (2023)

In “Part I,” Vallavairyan embodies the Byzantine, freely-associated story-telling traditions that clearly inspired both Ratnam and his two Tamil-speaking co-writers. What arguably puts “Ponniyin Selvan: Part 2” over the top, as an overburdened sequel to a long-gestating adaptation, is Ratnam’s characteristic visual acuity, his co-writers’ careful attention to detail, and his mega-watt ensemble cast’s performances. Nandini, in particular, seems more like an emotionally complex character in “Ponniyin Selvan: Part II” than she did in the last movie. And both Arunmozhi and Aditha smolder more often, though only Vikram gets to show off with equally angsty dialogue like, “Happiness and peace elude those who hate themselves.”

All of the low-key craftsmanship that went into the otherwise high-toned “Ponniyin Selvan: Part I” is still present in “Ponniyin Selvan: Part II,” which was shot concurrently with the last installment over 150 days from 2019 through 2021, and then split in two a la “Baahubali.” Ratnam’s characters have less time indulge in romantic sighing and unrequited romance, though he does make the most of those scenes. I won’t spoil your enjoyment by telling who gazes longingly at whom, since being led around by the nose is a good part of the fun in both “Ponniyin Selvan” movies. That also makes judging “Ponniyin Selvan: Part II” a little difficult right now, since it, like “Ponniyin Selvan: Part I,” will likely appreciate with time.

There’s probably nothing in this sequel that could not have also been done by the makers of the many other recent “Baahubali”-inspired mytho-historic epics, so there’s not much that essentially distinguishes “Ponniyin Selvan: Part II” as “A Mani Ratnam Film,” as an opening credit says. Then again, it’s a relief to see that “Ponniyin Selvan: Part II” looks and moves as well as it does, even if one suspects that it will also hold up when it inevitably surfaces on streaming services like Prime Video, where you can still catch up with “Ponniyin Selvan: Part I.” Ratnam and his collaborators stick the landing on their gargantuan pot-boiler, and while Krishnamurthy’s world may not look as grand as it seemed, either in the moviemakers’ heads or on the page, it is big enough to get lost in.

In limited theatrical release now.