Ponniyin Selvan 2 aka PS2 (2023) Ending, Explained: Does Aditha Karikalan Meet a Grim Fate?

Ponniyin Selvan 2 (PS2)

Ponniyin Selvan 2, aka PS2 (2023) Ending, Explained: Kalki’s historical fiction Ponniyin Selvan is a fine exercise in mythmaking. The revered author perceived real-life historical figures and events, from the 10th-century Chola Empire, through a dramatic yet somewhat grounded lens. Perhaps, the most ingenious aspect of Kalki’s novel was how he explored the conflicts and character dynamics through his entirely fictitious protagonist – the suave, flirtatious, and yet laser-focused protagonist Vanthiyathevan. The intrepid outsider’s adventuresome journey through the Chola Empire and into the Chola power corridors made Ponniyn Selvan an engrossing page-turner.

It is the kind of epic tale that suits a filmmaker of Mani Ratnam’s temperament. The veteran director is skillful at gracefully dramatizing conflicts between on-screen characters, although his detailing of contemporary social and political backdrops can be strictly cinematic (or flat). In fact, Ponniyin Selvan doesn’t demand much from a filmmaker in terms of painstakingly establishing the era’s sociopolitical and sociocultural perception.

Yet, apart from the logistics of making such a large-scale film, condensing a 2000+ page novel into a two-part movie adaptation felt like a big ask, even for a Mani Ratnam. Whether you have read the novel or not, Ponniyin Selvan I (PS1) felt too rushed and a bit convoluted, as the characters and the emerging conflicts weren’t given enough breathing space for the viewer to process. Kalki’s original story retained the intrigue in the proceedings. Furthermore, the distinct Mani Ratnam signature was missing. It felt like his style was rather subservient to the inherent substance.

Ponniyin Selvan 2, aka PS2, thankfully flows more smoothly and coherently. Most importantly, it offers Mani Ratnam an opportunity beautifully realize his emotional and theatrical set pieces. Now let me briefly recap PS1 before taking a little detailed look into the second and final part of the Ponniyin Selvan saga. Of course, a spoiler alert before wading into the Chola territory.

Ponniyin Selvan Part-I (PS1) Recap:

Jayam Ravi as Arunmozhi Varman in Ponniyin Selvan II (PS 2)
Jayam Ravi as Arunmozhi Varman in Ponniyin Selvan II (PS 2)

Part I of Ponniyin Selvan opened with the captivating voice-over of Kamal Haasan, chronicling the internal and external threats plaguing the mid-10th Chola Emperor. The conflicts ensue as the reigning Chola King, Sundara Chozhar (Prakash Raj), is sick and might not hold on to the throne for long. The succession, however, didn’t seem to present a problem for the kingdom. The Crown Prince is the King’s elder son, Aditha Karikalan (Vikram), an erratic, battle-field loving warrior.

The ailing King Sundara Chozhar lives in the Chola Empire Capital, Thanjavur (aka Tanjore). The king and his fort are protected by a powerful warrior clan spearheaded by the Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar (Sarathkumar), who is also the Empire’s treasurer. The old warrior is entangled in a conspiracy driven by his young wife, Nandini (Aishwarya Rai). Under the guise of making Pazhuvettaraiyar more powerful, Nandini asks her husband to support Maduranthaka Chozhar’s – King Sundara Chozhar’s younger brother – right to inherit the throne. Pazhuvettaraiyar and Nandini bring together all the small kings of the Chola Kingdom, alongside Maduranthakan, to gain their complicity in this conspiracy.

Crown Prince Karikalan is in the distant lands on the northern side of his kingdom, waging wars and winning them. Whereas Sundara Chozhar’s second son, Arulmozhi Varman (Jayam Ravi), is engaged in a battle in Sri Lanka. Hence, it seems like the right moment to usurp the throne. This is where Karikalan’s friend and easygoing warrior of the Vaanar Clan, Vanthiyathevan (Karthi), comes into play. He journeys across the Chola Empire, later to Sri Lanka, falls in love with the King’s only daughter, Princess Kundavai (Trisha), and tries his best to break the conspiracy and protect the three offspring of the Chola King.

Of course, one more intriguing layer to this conspiracy involves Nandini’s vengeful quest. On the one hand, she stokes the internecine conflicts in the Chola Empire through her husband. On the other hand, she is loyal to a wandering tribe of the Pandya Kingdom, who are the archenemies of the Chola Empire. Nandini’s past is a mystery. As an adolescent girl, she was wooed by Aditha Karikalan. But Nandini was soon sent away, citing that she wasn’t a right match for the Chola Prince. Years later, in the battle against Pandyas, Karikalan sees Nandini on the deathbed of Veerapandian (Nasser) – Nandini’s adoptive father. Enraged at finding his former lover tending to the wounds of his enemy, Karikalan takes the man’s head and satiates his blood lust.

Nandini’s grudge against the Cholas, particularly against Karikalan, grows stronger after the incident. She marries Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar to try to dismantle the empire from within. Part I of Ponniyin Selvan ends with the death news of Arulmozhi Varman in the Sri Lankan seas. However, it’s hinted that he is saved by a mute elderly woman who resembles Nandini.

Ponniyin Selvan 2, aka PS2 (2023) Plot Explained:

Ponniyin Selvan 2 opens with a prologue that provides more details about the budding romance between young Karikalan and Nandini. Kundavai – Karikalan’s younger sister – is wary of her brother’s association with Nandini. The young girl is sent away when he declares she will be his future wife and Queen. The painful separation has pushed Karikalan away from palace life to find solace on the battlefields. Nandini has had her share of bitter experiences after falling in love with Karikalan. Now she is determined to slay the man she once loved.

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as Nandini, Queen of Pazhuvoor in Ponniyin Selvan II (PS 2)(2023)
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as
Nandini, Queen of Pazhuvoor in Ponniyin Selvan II (PS 2)(2023)

As anticipated, Arulmozhi Varman, aka Ponniyin Selvan, is safe and secure. He is down with a poisonous fever and secretly moved to a Buddhist Monastery in the Tamil coastal town of Nagapattinam. Vanthiyathevan, however, is caught by the Pandya conspirators. A sacrificial ritual of Pandyas unfolds under the presence of Nandini, who unveils her plan to kill the Chola King and his two sons simultaneously. She swears that Karikalan will die at her hands, as she has already invited him to the palace in Kadambur. He is invited under the pretense of solving the crisis within the Empire through dialogue.

The captive Vanthiyathevan overhears Nandini’s assassination plans. But just when he is about to be killed, he reveals to Nandini about seeing a mysterious woman in Sri Lanka, who might be her mother. He says that her name is Mandakini, but she is called ‘Mute Queen.’ Nandini sheds tears hearing about her mother and spares his life. The Pandya men leave him tied up, and he is saved by his friend and sidekick, Nambi (Jayaram). Naturally, Vanthiythevan passes off the information he overheard to the recuperating Arulmozhi Varman and later to Kundavai at Pazhayarai – in an extended sequence that overflows with romantic interplay.

Meanwhile, at Pazhayarai, Maduranthakan – the throne-hungry younger brother of Sundara Chozhar – declares his plans to take control of the Empire without much bloodshed. He enters into a secret agreement with the King of Rashtrkuta Nadu – Chola’s enemies. Karikalan spared the life of that same King after the opening warfare scene in Ponniyin Selvan Part-I. The idea is to make Maduranthakan take the throne from his brother in Tanjore and give a few parts of the Kingdom to Karikalan and Arulmozhi Varman if they swear allegiance to him. He will also marry the daughter of the Rashtrakuta Nadu King’s daughter to expand the Chola Kingdom. However, from Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar to the enemies outside Chola Empire perceive Maduranthakan as a puppet who can be easily controlled, unlike the cunning and assertive sons of King Sundara Chozhar.

An elaborate scheme to kill Arulmozhi Varman at the Buddhist Monastery unfolds. But before that, the three children of the Chola King secretly meet each other in the monastery. Kundavai asks Karikalan not to visit Kadambur, and Arulmozhi Varman speaks of his encounter with the Mute Queen, Mandakini. Soon, the news of Arulmozhi Varman’s survival reaches the people, and crowds surround the premises. The Pandyas spread the rumor that the Buddhists hold him captive. As a result, Arulmozhi Varman is forced to appear in front of the masses and later participate in their festivities. This leads to a riveting set piece where Arulmozhi Varman and Vanthiyathevan effortlessly dispatch the assassins, who are mixed within the crowd.

Upon hearing about Mandakini, Kundavai confronts her father and King Sundara Chozhar. She enquires if Nandini is his illegitimate child. Kundavai recalls how, years back, she sent away Nandini on his insistence and also how he reacted upon seeing Nandini years later at the palace. While the King accepts that he fell in love with Mandakini before taking the throne, he assures Kundavai that Mandikini died long before he married and became the King. Sundara Cholar’s confession or recollection of the past is shot in a manner (an overhead shot) that refers to a scene in the director’s 1997 movie Iruvar.

Subsequently, Kundavai asks the same question to Sembiyan Mahadevi (Jeyachitra) – the devout and just mother of Maduranthakan (who stands against her son’s actions). The old woman swears that Nandini isn’t the King’s illegitimate daughter. But she agrees that the identity of Nandini’s father is a mystery.

Trisha and Jayam Ravi in Ponniyin Selvan 2 (PS2)

Karikalan isn’t shocked upon hearing that there are plans to assassinate him at the Kadambur Palace. He bears the guilt of ruthlessly killing the wounded Pandya King, despite Nandini’s pleas to spare his life. Moreover, he is still unable to forget her. The fearless prince feels it’s only right to confront his enemies and accept the fate that’s dealt to him. Just as Karikalan sets off to Kadambur to meet Nandini, Pandya assassins enter Tanjore Fort through the secret pathway of Nandini and Pazhuvettaraiyar’s quarters. The old yet agile Mandakini with free-flowing white hair appears out of nowhere and follows the assassins into their secret lair.

Arulmozhi Varman reaches in time at Tanjore to meet his father and King. It’s not only Mandakini who identifies the assassins; the fisherwoman Poonguzhali (Aishwarya Lekshmi) also sees the suspicious group and alerts the men protecting the Fort. And just as arrows fly past the King’s quarter to kill him, Mandakini sacrifices herself to save the King. Arulmozhi Varman goes berserk and slashes his way through the intruders.

Ponniyin Selvan 2, aka PS2 (2023) Ending Explained:

Does Karikalan Meet a Grim Fate?

At Kadambur, Karikalan engages in talks with Pazuvettaraiyar and the small kings. He is enraged at their idea to divide the Kingdom. He offers to give up the throne, but only if they give him assurance to assume power over the lands he conquers from now on. At the same time, Karikalan knows that his fate will become apparent only with his later meeting with Nandini. Vanthiyathevan usually finds ways to thwart the conspiracies and tries to do the same to save Karikalan. Alas, the Crown Prince, with a smile on his face, yearningly gazes at Nandini and has come prepared to die at her hands.

The face-off between the former lovers is too intense. Karikalan’s conviction to die shakes up Nandini’s resolve to kill him. If Nandini fails to do the deed, the Pandya men are prowling in the shadows to have their vengeance. Karikalan snuffs out the lights and awaits his death and liberation in the darkness.

What’s the Shocking Truth Behind Nandini’s Birth?

Nandini has eventually succeeded in keeping up her promise to the Pandyas. She has reaped her share of Chola blood. But she is broken after looking at the corpse of Karikalan. Vanthiyathevan is deeply hurt for failing to protect his Prince and initially stands accused as the murderer. Later, before the King, Vanthiyathevan states that while he didn’t wield the knife that killed Karikalan, he is responsible for his death. Nandini escapes on a ship with her co-conspirators and unexpectedly learns the shocking truth about her biological father.

Veerapandian – the father figure who protected her throughout her youth – is her birth father. Nandini also learns that she was born out of rape. The Pandya assassin, Ravi Dasan (Kishore), discloses that it’s why Veerapandian atoned for his sins on his deathbed and why the remaining Pandya men followed her without any questions.

What Happened to Nandini in the End of Ponniyin Selvan 2 aka PS2?

The truth pushes Nandini to despair, and she drowns herself. Since the Pandyas’ plan to kill the King failed, and the Kingdom remains strong despite Karikalan’s death, they will only be hunted down. Moreover, Nandini’s identity and schemings are now known to everyone, including Pazhuvettaraiyar. The imagery of her death in the water hints at the full circle of the bleak love story between Karikalan and Nandini.

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as Nandini, Queen of Pazhuvoor in Ponniyin Selvan II (PS 2)(2023)
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as Nandini, Queen of Pazhuvoor in Ponniyin Selvan II (PS 2)(2023)

Ponniyin Selvan, however, doesn’t end on a grim note. The Chola Empire’s old enemy, the Kingdom of Rashtrakuta Nadu, invades their lands, hoping that the Kingdom is divided. Fortunately, Maduranthakan finally comes to his senses, and the Cholas stand united on the battlefield. While it’s not a thoroughly captivating or inventive warfare sequence, it’s adequate enough and an improvement over the action set pieces in Part I.

Like Kalki, Mani Ratnam ends Ponniyin Selvan on a high note and gives into the mythmaking of Arulmozhi Varman, later known as Raja Raja Cholan, who reigned the Chola Kingdom between 985-1014 CE. He was the most powerful Tamil King, whose military conquests, administrative mechanisms, and naval expeditions are well-documented.

Final Thoughts:

Ponniyin Selvan 2, aka PS2 (2023), is a slow-burn period drama, which is a little tough to sell in the current high-octane blockbuster format of Indian cinema. Yet the film largely works due to the beautiful staging techniques of Mani Ratnam and his cinematographer Ravi Varman. While the faithful followers of the novel might be disappointed by Ponniyin Selvan on the whole, PS2, in particular, I felt takes up a suitable dramatic canvas to bring alive the crux of Kalki’s sprawling story. Only time will tell if Ponniyin Selvan 1 & 2 remains one of Mani Ratnam’s best works. Despite numerous criticisms we have about his films and themes, it’s inspiring to see the man embarking on such adventurous movie projects and delivering them in style in his fortieth year of filmmaking.

Related Read: Ponniyin Selvan: Part I (2022) Movie Ending, Explained – Who is the woman with white hair?

Ponniyin Selvan 2 (PS2) (2023) Links: IMDb, Letterboxd
Ponniyin Selvan 2 (PS2) (2023) Cast: Vikram, Aishwarya Rai, Karthi, Trisha, Jayam Ravi, Prakash Raj, Sarathkumar, Sobhita Dhulipala, Aishwarya Lekshmi, Parthiban, and Prabhu.