Even before the much-anticipated release of the Mani Ratnam-directed, Ponniyin Selvan is released, it has landed in controversy for hurting Hindu religious sentiments and distorting history. The movie teaser of around one and half minutes displayed some glaring historical inconsistencies and religious misrepresentations. Although Mani Ratnam, clarifies that his new venture is based on the historical fiction written by Kalki Krishnamurthy in Tamil and that it is partly historical and largely fictional, the reality is that the historical characters, events, and Tamil Hindu traditions mentioned in Ponniyin Selvan are regarded as the actual history by most.
Hindu groups and connoisseurs of Indic traditions have taken objection to the way the religiosity of the Chola dynasty was portrayed or disregarded and overwhelming importance was given to the military conquests and territorial expansions of these great kings. Even to the laymen, it is pretty evident that religious symbols such as the Tripundra on the forehead and rudraksha are missing on the bodies of those great Shaivaite kings.
Therefore accusation of Mani Ratnam is also that he does not stay true to the tone and tenor of the original book of Kalki Krishnamurthy. While the book takes great pains to bring out the religious glory of the Chola dynasty and the Tamil Hindu traditions of those times, the teaser and possibly the movie does away with Hinduism and portrays the characters as some sort of warmongers.
Another point of contention is whether ‘Arun’mozhi or ‘Arul’mozhi is the correct name for Raja Raja. In the movie, he is named Arunmozhi but Kalki’s novel calls him Arulmozhi. Here Mani Ratnam resorts to ancient inscriptions rather than the novel to explain the alteration of the name.
The left liberals, on the other hand, are seeing this movie as part of a larger Hindutva, nationalistic agenda. ‘Public historian’ Anirudh Kanisetti has written an article on The Print lamenting that it is an attempt to “reclaim the medieval Chola dynasty as icons of muscular nationalism”.
Mani Ratnam is not only facing an ideological battle here but also a legal one. A petition was filed in Madras High Court against the wrong depiction of the Chola dynasty based on the viral videos pointing out the misrepresentations on social media.
Ponniyin Selvan: Part One is set to release in a little over a month, on the 30th of September. The viewers and the critics will get a better picture of the content therein.