Chennai renews its romance with 'Ponniyin Selvan'

Last Updated: Thu, Jun 19, 2014 14:53 hrs

Finally, Chennai came up with a play that created as much buzz as the city's famed kutchery season.

Running for one full week, starting June 8, tickets to the four-hour play Ponniyin Selvan were all been sold out.

SS International Live, producers of the play Ponniyin Selvan , adapted  by the theatre group Magic Lantern,  took on a tough job when they decided to deconstruct author Kalki's magnum opus (five-volume novel) into a four hour play.
After all Ponniyin Selvan is a legendary work that many claim as the go-to book, never mind if it is sorrow or joy that drives you.

Ponniyin Selvan  is probably the one novel that a physics  teacher in a small town in Tamil Nadu and a specialist surgeon or a B-school father in the USA would tell his child is a 'must-read'.

It is not a novel, but simply a Tamil way of life, and at least one member in every household would have read the novel that was completed 60 years ago.

For four years, between 1950-54 most people were addicted to a particular product of one man's imagination. If  they did not get their weekly fix of 'Ponniyin Selvan', a serialized novel by 'Kalki' Krishnamuthy in the magazine Kalki,  then all hell broke loose. Men were surly in office and outside of it , food was burnt in kitchens and tempers were hotter than pepper rasam  and siblings almost came to blows on who enjoyed the right to grab the magazine first.

It did not end there. Generations of scholarly as well as ordinary readers have had a fascinating tryst with 'Pooniyin Selvan' which narrates the tumultuous events in the Chola history. Although Ponniyin Selvan, who went down in history as King Raja Raja Chola I is a copy-book hero, Kalki's other characters such as the street smart impoverished 'chieftain' Vanthiyathevan, the clever Azhwarkadiyan, the Pandya loyalist Ravidasan, the brave and powerful Peria Pazhuvettaraiyar and his young and intriguing wife Nandini , the all powerful princess Kundavai, the bed-ridden King Sundara Chola, the clever chief minister Aniruddhar , and the luckless 'Maduranthakan' are no less endearing or fascinating.

Like all great fictional works Ponniyin Selvan  too has drama, palace intrigue, rights and wrongs of inheritance,  patriotism, temptation, the ordinary man?s fairy tale dream of marrying a princess, opportunism,  treachery and vaulting ambition. Where Kalki scored was in creating immortal characters  for such a narration.

"My mother would always tell me the story of Ponniyin Selvan whenever I was tense over exams or other issues," said 20 year old Sunita, who was watching the play with her entire family on day two of its opening. She has not read the original novel, because Tamil is not her strong suit, but she wants to hold on to a piece of that history that fascinated her mother's and grandparents' coming-of-age years.

Can there be a better reason to attend an iconic novel being staged?

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