Decoding Mani Ratnam’s Layered Storytelling in Ponniyin Selvan

Mani Ratnam’s films are known for their layered storytelling. Ponniyin Selvan is no different, packed with scenes that become more meaningful with an understanding of Tamil history. Here I will share my interpretations and observations, which may help explain Ponniyin Selvan better.

The Entrance of the Enigma: Aditya Karikalan

Aditya Karikalan (Chiyaan Vikram), the character, is introduced in an intriguing manner, with his first appearance shrouded in fog. The moment he steps onto the battlefield, the fog clears, revealing a warrior prince carrying a heavy heart.

The misty backdrop is Mani Ratnam’s creative method to hint at Aditya’s obscure past. With this single shot, Maniratnam establishes that he is coming from a shady past, and we are not clear about his past.

Aditya Karikalan introduction

We are hearing about his past through his conversations with Parthibendran and Kundavai in multiple instances.

As per the historical narratives and the novel, Aditya is stubborn, sticking to his decisions regardless of the circumstances. But no one really knows, who he really was, or what he was going through.

Shadowed Past and Victorious Present

Now, let’s pick another scene. After winning the Nolamba dynasty, Aditya explains his past and agony to Parthibendran.
It’s all dark, and Aditya’s face is not clear; we are getting only one half, and if you look at the background, it’s misty again. I believe it’s symbolic of the shady past of Aditya Karikalan.

Aditya- Parthibendran

The deliberate symbolism points towards Aditya’s murky past. When the painful past is shared, and Aditya waves the flag, the frame transitions into sunlight.

This change implies the flag wave as a metaphorical act to ward off the clouded past. War, Rage, and Victory are his ways to clear off the painful and obscure past around him.

The choice of costumes for Aditya is noteworthy. He is always seen in black and red, contrasting with Arulmozhi, who wears pristine white. This difference in colour choices signifies the differing characters and histories of the two.

Ponniyin selvan

Parallels with Karnan from Mahabharatha

This is actually a wild theory. Thanks to Sandeep (Nanban 🙂 )

Aditya Karikalan’s portrayal has parallels with Karnan from Mahabharatha.

Sunlight glare behind Aditya

During Aditya’s triumphant moments, a sun glare can be seen in the backdrop. Ravi Varman (the cinematographer) brilliantly incorporated the sun glare as an aura around Aditya. Contrarily, when Aditya is depicted in a state of sadness, the sky appears cloudy, or he is shown in darkness. Even his death happened at night.

Nandini - Aditya Karikalan climax scene

Aditya asks Nandini if it is hard for her to look at him. Then he waves off all the lamps and dies in the darkness.

In the Mahabharata, even Lord Krishna wept at Karna’s death because Karna was kind, loyal, and understood his dharma. However, he was cursed by Bhumi Devi for disrespecting her. It was just his luck or curse spoiled him. He was unlucky as much as Aditya.

Aditya was also cursed. Nandini asked him only one thing, to spare Pandiya’s life, but he ignored her plea. He disrespected her and hurt her. That was the sin he was carrying (metaphorically, Aditya says, “I consumed poison that day”).

A dying Karna asked Krishna to inform his mother Kunti of his death. He could have asked Krishna to give victory to Duryodhana and bring his armies back to life. However, he didn’t. He wanted his mother to proclaim publicly that he was her son and that he was not of low caste. He was looking for acceptance.

Aditya’s last words were a request for Nandhini to tell him that he still lives in her heart. He was looking for acceptance.

Climax scene Ponniyin Selvan

The epic beauty of the scene is the way Vanthiya Thevan carries Aditya’s dead body. The background is filled with smoke, just like when Aditya was first introduced in PS-1. It is a shady mystery, and we could never really understand Aditya, even his death remains a mystery.

The Dance of Victory: Devarattam

Devarattam, a traditional dance form, was performed by kings and warriors to celebrate victory, particularly in the Pandyan and Chola dynasties. During Vanthiyathevan’s visit to Kadambur in the movie, however, the dance depicted appears to align more with “Kecak” than Devarattam.

Actual Devarattam, image credits: twitter/@devarattam

Some argue that Devarattam took inspiration from Kecak, but this theory doesn’t holds historical back. The Chola’s naval invasions in Southeast Asia, a possible channel for cultural exchange, started only in 1025, while Aditya Karikala and the Pandyas were active before 1000 CE. Additionally, Southeast Asian rulers like those from Srivijaya, who had close relations with the Pala Empire in Bengal, did not seem to have left any influence on the dance form.

The real Keckak from Bali

The dance is based on the story of the Ramayana and is traditionally performed in temples and villages across Bali (Indonesia).

The Clash of Titans: Kundavai-Nandini Confrontation Scene

The Kundavai-Nandini faceoff scene is one of the most epic scenes in Ponniyin Selvan part -1. The rivalry between two women is on full display in this scene.

But I feel, many might have misread it. Here is my interpretation.

Background: Nandini has deep resentment towards Kundavai, blaming her for all her miseries. Nandini believes that it was Kundavai who got her expelled from the palace and constantly made her feel inferior due to her lineage. In a bid to gain power, Nandini manipulates Periya Pazhuvettayar and considers Madurantakan’s claim to the throne. She keeps Sundara Chola, Kundavai’s father, under house arrest, cutting him off from others for easy manipulation.

Learning about Nandini’s scheme from Vandiyathevan, Kundavai decides to confront her at the Tanjore palace. As the dramatic background music “Saayam Sanchare” (Evening- where Day and Night meets) fills the air, their coded conversation unfolds:

Nandini: “Upon your visit, Tanjore palace itself has become beautiful.”

Kundavai: “But I heard all the beauty in the world has been kept in the Tanjore palace.” (hinting at Nandini’s beauty)

Nandini: “Yes, beauty is held captive here indeed.” (referring to Sundara Chola being under house arrest, Sundara means ‘beautiful’)

Kundavai: “Captive? Does the golden beauty [Sundara Chola] not adorn the throne?

Nandini: “Yes, it’s gold, old gold.” (referring to the king as old)

Kundavai: “Faded gold is the most precious.”

Nandini: “Even golden shackles are still shackles.” (indicating Sundara Chola is under her control, regardless of his position)

Kundavai: “The key to the shackles are in our hand anyway.” (asserting her ability to free Sundara Chola)

Nandini: “No one can defeat the princess (Kundavai) in an argument.”

Kundavi - Nandini fce off

Following this heated exchange, Kundavai smiles as the background score saayam sanchare intensifies. The combined genius of AR Rahman, Ravi Varman, and Mani Ratnam in this scene is simply beyond words.

Kundavi is envious of Nandini’s beauty; Nandini is jealous of Kundavi’s power; and throughout her life, Nandini feels inferior to Kundavi because of the power she holds. You will get all this from this scene, if you read it well.

Nandini: The Ever’green’ Queen

Instagram post_ I_Filmiholic

Pandiya’s Fish Eyed(Meenakshi) diety is green. Crafted from a single large emerald stone, the goddess is believed to be Vishnu’s sister, just as Nambi(Jayaram), a vaishnavite, is Nandini’s brother.

Echoes from the Past and Authentic Settings

There’s a scene where Vandhiyathevan ingeniously escapes from the Pazhuvettarayar guards, reminiscent of chase sequences from the movie ‘Thiruda Thiruda’. The elements that Vandhiyathevan disturbs in the crowd — from buttermilk to puffed rice — align perfectly with the setting of 10th century Thanjavur, enhancing the authenticity of the scene.

Mani Ratnam also adeptly portrays the flourishing trade relations of the time. The period from 900 to 1300 CE, termed the Early Age of Commerce in Southeast Asian history, saw burgeoning trade ties between China and South India.

Chinese charioteer

In the film, the charioteer is usually depicted as a Chinese man when the scene is set in Lanka. The character’s inability to understand Tamil allows Arulmozhi to converse freely with his companions without worrying about eavesdropping. This detail cleverly illustrates the language and cultural barriers present in the historical trade relations.

Accupuncture chola period

Another historically accurate detail is Sundara Cholan’s acupuncture treatment, highlighting the influence of Chinese medical practices in the region during the time.

Unnoticed Moments: Sembiyan Mahadevi & Sendhan Amudhan

One of the most poignant scenes, overlooked by many in the first viewing, happens in Pazhayaarai. As Sendhan Amudhan reaches Trisha to deliver news about Vandhiya Thevan, he nods at Sembiyan Mahadevi, who responds in acknowledgment. This loaded interaction may go unnoticed if you’re unfamiliar with the book.

Sendhan Amudhan is actually Sembiyan Mahadevi’s son, while Madhurantakan is the son of Oomai Rani. Will explain in detail soon.

Sembiyan Mahadevi’s Pioneering Influence

What’s striking in the movie is Sembiyan Mahadevi sporting a pottu (bindi). A surprising element, considering the times depicted, this choice moves away from the traditional depiction of widows.

Sembiyan Mahadevi

Sembiyan Mahadevi was the queen consort of the Chola Empire from 949 CE – 957 CE, wife of Gandaraditya Chola.

Following Gandaraditya’s death, Sembiyan Mahadevi, rather than committing sati or withdrawing to the Andapuram (the palace’s female quarters), chose a different path. She devoted herself to religious and social activism, becoming not only a revered dowager queen but also the matriarch of the Chola family for the next 50 years.

A 1,000-year-old idol of the Queen was traced recently by the TN Idol Wing.
A 1,000-year-old idol of the Queen was traced recently by the TN Idol Wing.

A pioneer in Kalpani (literally ‘stone-work’), Sembiyan Mahadevi initiated projects that transformed ancient brick and mortar temples into enduring granite structures. Her historical foresight led her to order the copying of ancient inscriptions before the reconstruction work. The temples and icons commissioned under her oversight bore a unique mark, and she donated jewels and bronzes to many temples, some built by her and others by her son, Uttama Chola( Madhurantakan).

Symbolism of Victory and Omen: The Red Lion Flag and the Comet

A symbolic scene depicts the triumph of Chola king Arul Mozhi Varman over Mahindan, the Sri Lankan king, as the waves on the coast of Lanka wash ashore the Lankan King’s red lion flag.

Lankan king's flag

A powerful visual metaphor that conveys the complete and utter defeat of the Sri Lankan forces. The foamy waves that touch the Lankan shore symbolize the Chola army’s arrival on Sri Lankan soil, and their presence is a reminder that the Chola Empire is now the dominant power in the region.

Comet scene
Comet in the background When Nandini order to take captive of Arulmozi

In another instance, the scene where Nandhini and Pazhuvettayir order a convoy to capture Arulmozhi, you can spot a comet in the background. This comet reappears when the Pandiya’s are shown. The comet is a symbol of foreboding, hinting at a threat to the throne or signalling the imminent death of Aditya.

Nandhini and Pazhuvettayir

The Comet Scene in Ponniyin Selvan: A Symbol of Impending Doom

Scientifically, the comet seen in Ponniyin Selvan can’t be Halley’s comet as it passed by in 989 CE, by which time Rajaraja had already ascended the throne and Aditya was dead.

Comet in the background while showing Pandiyan Prince
Comet in the background while showing Pandiyan Prince

Historically, the appearance of a comet has often been interpreted as a sign of the impending death of a great person, usually a king. Notable examples include the comets associated with the deaths of Julius Caesar and King Harold. In 1910, when Halley’s Comet streaked across the sky, King Edward VII passed away. Around this time, Kalki (1899-1954) would have been around 11 years old and may have heard about the event.

In the context of the movie, the comet symbolizes the impending death of Aditya Karikalan. However, given Sundara Chola’s frail health, everyone interprets the comet as a prediction of his demise.

Sangam Poetry and Cinematic Genius: The Tale of Mandakini in Ponniyin Selvan

The meeting of Mandakini (Uma Rani), and Sundara Chola has a song playing in the background, it’s another example of Mani Ratnam’s brilliance. 

It was so painful for me considering Mandakini’s fate. She doesn’t know she has children (will explain more on this soon); she considered Arulmozhi her son (considering it’s from her beloved one), and After years, she meets Sundara Chola again and lays down her life to save his.

Now if you try to understand more about that song, you will realise how painful it is to listen by watching Mandakini’s (Uma Rani’s) death.

This song is ‘Puranaanuru 242,’ one of the 400 songs from the ancient Tamil anthology (Sangam Poetry). AR Rahman adapted this song for the heartbreaking scene of Mandakini’s demise.

The original song was penned by Gudavai Keerathanar (was one of the poets of the Sangam period). Although he belonged to Gudavail, he visited many towns and made many friends. Perunjathan was one such friend from Ollaiyur. He was a chief Satthan (Chieftain) who was famous for his valorous deeds in battlefield. 

The poet comes to the town of Ollaiyur and realises that his friend is no more. The whole town is mourning. There he composed this song out of great sadness. 

In the poem, the poet questions the jasmine flower, asking why it still blooms after his death in Ollaiyur.

The lyrics go like this: “Young men don’t wear them. Women with bangles don’t pluck them. The whole town is sad because Satthan, the warrior, died. So, Jasmine, who are you blooming for? Why are you still blooming in vain?”

Mandakini's death (Uma rani)

Nothing could better represent the tragic love and death of Mandakini. For what she lived for. It’s a painful question.

Love, Loss, and Forgotten Memories: Nandini’s Birth Secret

Sundara Chola and Mandakini were in a romantic relationship, but they were forced apart before Sundara Chola’s coronation. Overcome with heartbreak, Mandakini jumped off a lighthouse. However, Anirudha Bramarayan (was a leading minister in the court of the Sundara Chola) rescued her and sent her to Sri Lanka, while telling Sundara Chola that she had died. Meanwhile, Sundara Chola moved on, got married, and had children. His eldest son, Aditya Karikalan, was older than Nandini.

In Sri Lanka, Mandakini and Veera Pandian, both rescued by the boatman(Karuthiramaran) and with Mandakini having lost all her memories, spent a significant amount of time together. She got pregnant and decided to leave Sri Lanka, while Veera Pandian stayed back and lived with the Sri Lankan king.

On her return to Tanjore, Mandakini and her mute sister Vani encountered Sembian Mahadevi, who was also pregnant. They started living with her in the palace. Both women gave birth around the same time. Sembian Mahadevi’s son was stillborn, while Mandakini gave birth to twins and left them. Sembian Mahadevi adopted the male twin, Madhurantakan, and handed over the female twin, Nandini, to Azhwarkaddiyan’s (Nambi) parents. Vani was instructed to bury the supposedly dead infant, who, in reality, survived. She took the child, Sendhan Amudhan, and left.

Meanwhile, Veerapandiyan sent Karuthiruman (boatman played by Yog Japee) to relay a message to Mandakini, who was back in Kodi Karai under her father’s care. However, upon arrival, he found that Mandakini had suffered another accident, which had restored her memory. 

She could not recognise Karuthiruman, which meant she had no recollection of what had transpired between her fall from the lighthouse and her recent accident.

Was Nandini ever in love with Aditya Karikalan?

Nandini, a creation of Kalki, is one of the most multifaceted characters you will encounter in “Ponniyin Selvan.” She is like a diamond. Not only is she stunningly beautiful, but she’s also incredibly intelligent. Her willpower and ingenuity make her a unique femme fatale in literature.

Nandhini and Pazhuvettayir

She has been described as treacherous, vicious, venomous, lethal, and dangerous. These aren’t misjudgments, as Nandini is truly the most formidable character in the novel.

Understanding Nandini takes some time because, much like a finely cut diamond, she has numerous aspects to her persona. The novel introduces us to her character well before we meet her. Kandan Maran speaks of Periya Pazhuvetarayar’s marriage to a younger woman, and teases him about his obsession with her. Later, Azhwarkadiyan shares a censored version of her life story, painting her as a sisterly figure and stoking our sympathy for her as a young woman forced to marry an older man.

Nandini's introduction

We first meet Nandini through the eyes of Vandiya Devan, entranced by her beauty, as she peeks out from the curtains of a veiled palanquin to investigate the disturbance in her path.

Aditya Karikalan’s frank confession to Parthibendran uncovers more about Nandini’s history. It seems that Nandini mastered her unique brand of seduction with Aditya Karikalan. But was it love, or was it a longing for the power she would gain if she were to marry the Crown Prince? It’s hard to say for sure.

Nandini's childhood

What we do know is that the deep-seated jealousy between Kundavai and Nandini originated from their childhood. Nandini coveted Kundavai’s status and influence as the Princess, while Kundavai envied Nandini’s beauty.

The scene where Nandini imagines her childhood as a queen

Nandini’s obsession with power drove her, I believe, and her confession to Aditya in the end holds some truth, in my opinion

Nandini - Aditya Karikalan climax scene

Nandini v/s Kalpana

Do you remember the first movie that Mani Ratnam made with Aishwarya Rai?
It’s Iruvar (1997).

In Iruvar, Aishwarya played a character similar to Jayalalitha. There are striking similarities in their ruthlessness.

It’s as if Mani Ratnam saw reflections of Nandini in Jayalalitha and vice versa. Like Nandhini in Jayalalitha or a Jayalalitha in Nandhini. But both are versions of Lady Macbeth considering their character shades.

That can be a reason why he picked Aishwarya for this role.

A scene in “Iruvar” where Kalpana (Aishwarya Rai) sows seeds of doubt in Anandan’s (Mohan Lal) mind is particularly reminiscent of Nandini’s manipulations.

She asked Anandan, “Who is bigger? An actor or a CM? Don’t you to wish to be the CM?

Anandan thought about her question. He had never considered himself to be a competent to his friend Tamizhselvan. But Kalpana’s words made him wonder if he could be.

Fast forward 25 years, and the same Aishwarya Rai masterfully brings Nandini to life on screen with the same shades of Kalpana.
Kalpana’s words were similar to what Nandhini had said to Pazhuvettarayar. Nandhini had charmed the elderly Pazhuvettarayar and planted the seeds of desire in him.

Nandhini and Pazhuvettayir  emotional
Nandhini and Pazhuvettayir  emotional

She had told him that Madurantakan should claim the throne, by that the power will always lies in Pazhuvettarayar.

But Nandhini had failed in her attempts unlike Kalpana.

This realisation & the guilt made her commit suicide.

Please share your thoughts in comments.

Read more film analysis here.

Michael Mann’s Thief(1981): A Detailed Script Analysis

Have you ever wondered how scriptwriters create characters? Do they start from scratch? What lenses do scriptwriters use when they watch movies? Here, we will do a mini-script analysis to understand this better. To do this, we will look at the theme (events), characters, and the plot. I will focus on the characters and events more.

A Scene from Thief (1981)

For the purpose, we are choosing Thief, a 1981 American neo-noir heist action thriller film directed and written by Michael Mann. The film is loosely based on The Home Invaders by Frank Hohimer.

Thief (1981) A Brief Summary

In this 1981 film, Thief, Frank is a jewel thief of unparalleled skill. He manages to keep his past hidden behind the façade of a successful businessman. He has two thriving businesses and a seemingly peaceful life, but is it all as serene as it appears?

A scene from Thief (1981)
A scene from Thief (1981)

Frank thinks he has everything figured out. But there is one thing missing from his life: a family. When he starts dating Jessie, a cashier, the missing piece seems to be falling into place.

But then, everything changes. Frank is double-crossed during one last job, a diamond heist. His fencer, Joe Gags, is brutally killed, and his share of the loot is stolen. He is betrayed by Leo, a mob boss who has been watching his every move.

From a thrilling diamond heist gone wrong, to a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with vengeance, and an unexpected twist in his personal life, Frank’s world spirals into chaos. His trusted friend is murdered, his family is threatened, and everything he’s worked for is on the brink of ruin.

But Frank is not going down without a fight. A man with nothing to lose is the most dangerous kind. Armed with determination, a burning desire for revenge, and a whole lot of explosives, Frank is ready to burn his past to the ground and settle the score. He’s done playing by the rules. It’s time for the master thief to step out of the shadows.

A Perfect Script & A Well Written Character

Let’s analyse the script and try to understand how the screenwriter Michael Mann might have developed it. What might have been his thought process when he started developing the script about Frank?

Character Sketch

Frank is a complex character. He is a skilled thief with a hardened exterior, but he also has a desire for a simple, “normal” life. This desire for normalcy comes from his need for stability, which is likely a reaction to his tumultuous past and ongoing criminal activities.

A scene from Thief (1981)
A scene from Thief (1981)

He shows signs of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to his past experiences in prison. He is hyper-vigilant, has recurring bouts of anger, and struggles with emotional intimacy. These experiences have also made him resilient and resourceful, but they have also made it difficult for him to trust others and let go of control.

Frank is an introverted individual who has adapted to survive in a world that demands extroversion. He is guarded, self-reliant, and meticulous in his work. He prefers solitude or the company of a select few. This could be a coping mechanism to manage his PTSD symptoms and control his environment.

Throughout the story, Frank goes on a journey of self-discovery and self-reconciliation. He is forced to confront his “shadow” (the hidden, darker aspects of his personality) and integrate it with his “persona” (the mask he presents to the world). This is a key part of his character arc.

Three Acts & Three Psychological Approaches

ACT ONE: Dissonance and Identity Crisis

In the first act, Frank aspires to live a normal life, indicating a clear cognitive dissonance between his personal identity and his occupational identity as a thief. This internal conflict plays a crucial role in driving the narrative and establishing the emotional tension in the film. This dissonance is a key driving force for the narrative and sets up the emotional tension.

Tuesday Weld as Jessie & James Caan as Frank from Thief (1981)
Tuesday Weld as Jessie & James Caan as Frank from Thief (1981)

ACT TWO: Confrontation and Growth

In the second act of Thief, Frank’s inner conflict becomes too much to bear. After Leo betrays him, Frank’s dreams of a normal life are shattered. He is forced to face the reality of his criminal lifestyle.

A scene from Thief (1981)
A scene from Thief (1981)

Frank realises that he can’t have both. He can’t be a thief and have a normal life. This realisation is a turning point for Frank. It leads him to change his behaviour and attitude.

This confrontation can be related to the psychoanalytic concept of ‘insight’. Frank’s confrontation with reality is a powerful moment of self-awareness. It propels him into the third act of the story.

Act Three: Resolution and Reconciliation

In the third act, Frank undergoes a transformation. He wants to escape his criminal past, so he embraces his “shadow” – the part of his personality that he had previously tried to suppress or deny. In Jungian psychology, confronting and accepting one’s shadow is a crucial step in achieving self-integration. Frank’s decision to quit his life of crime marks his journey towards reconciling his conflicting identities.

Frank’s narrative, from conflict through confrontation to resolution, mirrors a psychological journey that many individuals undertake when they confront uncomfortable truths about themselves.

Title Card of the movie Thief
Title Card

In Thief, this journey is not only an exploration of Frank’s character but also a wider commentary on identity, morality, and the potential for personal change.

Why A Must Watch?

Thief is one of the best “One Last Job” or “Double Life Rom-Com” movies I have ever seen. The scriptwriter did an excellent job of developing the characters, and I highly recommend this movie to anyone who loves to write.

For more film analysis & studies, click here.

A Cycle of Hallucinations in ‘Ninaivo Oru Paravai’ Explained

“Ninaivo Oru Paravai,” directed by Thiagarajan Kumararaja as part of Amazon’s Modern Love: Chennai, will share a similar aesthetic experience with films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love.

In these films, characters are often framed by the rectangle of the film frame, as well as by smaller internal shapes. This create a sense of separation and isolation or a sense of mystery and intrigue.

Frames from 'In The Mood For Love" & "Ninaivo oru Paravai"
Frames from ‘In The Mood For Love” & “Ninaivo oru Paravai”

As suggested by the title, “Ninaivo Oru Paravai” (Memory is just a bird), memories are ephemeral, free-spirited, and mutable.

I hope you might have seen, 2000’s Memento or if you are a film enthusiast, you might have seen 1975 “The Mirror”.

Just as Nolan manipulates our perception in “Memento,” Kumaraja crafts an immersive experience, challenging the viewer to distinguish the boundary between hallucination, film inside the film, and reality.

Like a complex maze with a thousand doors, each revealing a new riddle, “Ninaivo Oru Paravai” presents an intricate puzzle.

Let’s Open The Door: Ninaivo Oru Paravai Explained

Here is one possible interpretation from my side:

Our main character, K, scripts a story about a couple going through three breakups, one patch-up, and three intimate moments, filled with scenes that connect these elements into a coherent narrative.

Sam, who read K’s script, starts experiencing hallucinations about incidents mentioned in the script after their breakup.

Let’s see what’s in K‘s film.

The story begins with an intimate moment between Hero and Heroine, the only elements of their identity that we know is that hero is an aspiring film maker. The leftover dialogues suggest they’ve chosen to separate, marking their first breakup.

Ninaivo oru Paravai openinng scene
Ninaivo oru Paravai opening scene

What led to this?

They met on a film set in July, when they were both junior actors. They fell in love fast and became intimate.

Notes by K & Messages from Sam's mobile
Notes by K & Messages from Sam’s mobile

Six months later, they made the decision to live together. We see them enjoying their time together.

Six Months reference: Ninaivo Oru Paravai
Six Months reference: Ninaivo Oru Paravai

One rainy night, an astrologer warns them about an upcoming separation.

Jyosya Scene from Ninaivo Oru Paravai
Jyosya Scene from Ninaivo Oru Paravai

This makes the heroine worry and feel insecure, and she becomes possessive.

Sam's Possessiveness from Ninaivo Oru Paravai
Sam’s Possessiveness from Ninaivo Oru Paravai

This might have caused a rift between them.

We then see their second (or maybe first) break-up, which is tougher to bear. After this, the hero leaves the house, and the heroine watches him from the balcony. This time, she moves from right to left on the screen, with an infinity loop in the background.

After this, the hero might have had an accident, causing him to lose his memory.

The hero’s sister asks the heroine to help him recover his memory. He still remembers the heroine’s name. The heroine visits the hero, writes down their beautiful memories, and shares them with him. The hero reads each note, embedding these memories in his mind.

There is a rain scene, it’s a beautiful memory that heroine written in the note for hero.

If you look closely, you will get some hints from those frames.

Sign Board & the notice on the tea-stall which says "2000 Cats are missing in Chennai" : Ninaivo Oru Paravai
Sign Board & the notice on the tea-stall which says “2000 Cats are missing in Chennai”

A Hidden Revenge Story

At this point, you might see it as a revenge story, where the heroine tells him to believe everything she says, whether it’s true or false. He lives with the uncertainty of his memories, unsure if they’re lies or the truth. It’s like a Thursdayism philosophy that K used to talk about in the past.

There is no Tatto visible, and it;s part of the script written by K: Ninaivo oru Paravai
There is no Tatto visible, and it;s part of the script written by K: Ninaivo oru Paravai

I see it as a form of revenge because the heroine was dealing with the same feelings after their break-up. She couldn’t tell what was real and what was an illusion.

Now, she’s passing the same feelings on to the hero, telling him,

Anything you remember won’t be the truth but a figment of your imagination. I’m the only one who can tell you if it’s real or just your imagination.

But she promises him that she never cheated and that they’ll never see each other again. She gives him back the script that he wrote.

Wamiqa Gabbi in Ninaivo oru Paravai
Wamiqa Gabbi in Ninaivo oru Paravai

As she leaves, she repeats the hero’s words from their first break-up, “Avvulo thaana (That’s it?)” “I guess so.”

You can see this as the third break-up in the script.

A Happy Ending

The heroine then comes home in the rain, with the hero following her. She closes the door on him when he begs for her love.

She asks why she should love him.

He replies that even though he’s lost all his memories, he still remembers her. This shows his love for her.

Sam opens the door, and they get back together. She says they’re going to live happily ever after, just like the characters in the movie.

Climax scene written by K : Ninaivo Oru Paravai
Climax scene written by K : Ninaivo Oru Paravai

She then comes back in, possibly after making love, closes the door, and the title card “A film by K” appears.

This is K’s film.

Let’s Now Explore, What is Reality?

After her breakup, Sam seeks help from a psychiatrist to cope with her emotional distress, and she starts improving with treatment.

During her visit to the doctor, bird tattoos are visible on her neck (in the present or real). These bird tattoos might serve as symbolic keys, resembling a love bite, possibly representing the painful remnants of love and memory.

This tattoo plays a pivotal role in this film. It helps us distinguish between the real and imaginary worlds (or events from K’s scripts) in the film.

Let’s Pick Some More Hints

On reaching home and starting to clean, the tattoo on Sam’s neck is visible.

When she picks up the ashtray, it reminds her of the couple’s habit of smoking together after making love.

Sam holding Ash Tray: Ninanivo Oru Paravai
Sam holding Ash Tray: Ninanivo Oru Paravai

While Sam is holding the ash tray, you can see that cactus in the background is dry. But, when she see K’s sister, cactus is green. Sam’s hallucinations are vivid and colourful.

Cactus in the background (One is dry, but the very next moment it's green)
Cactus in the background (One is dry, but the very next moment it’s green)

She begins to hallucinate again. K’s sister’s arrival and the entire hospital sequence seem copied from the script. While Sam converses with K’s sister or during her time at the hospital, her tattoos are not visible.

While searching for toilet paper, we see tablets on the shelf, but she doesn’t use them. Sam starts to hallucinate the entire script (written by K) as her own memories or present experiences.

In the climax, when they meet for the last time at the bar, Sam’s tattoo is initially not visible, which suggests it’s a hallucination influenced by the script.

And this scene is there in the script or K already discussed this with Sam (So first part of the meeting is a hallucination).

From Hallucination to Painful Reality(In the Climax)

But when she says, “We won’t meet again; I came to give you back the script,her tattoo becomes visible, suggesting that the event actually occurred in their real lives. So, this is her real memory. This might have been there last meet and after this K might have met with an accident.

or else, That painful breakup scene in the script was their last meet and here nobody is there opposite to Sam, and she is hallucinating K is there oposite to her and leaving the script saying “This was one last thing I had kept in your memory”.

To make it more concrete, she is raising glass and leaving the table by keeping 500 rupees( can be going Dutch as well). There are no dialogues from K, once the tattoo appears. It’s a hallucination, she is leaving the script on empty table.

Even those orange lights are some hint, you can see the shades of orange in all her hallucinations.

K is Dead!!

Following that painful break-up, K might have met with an accident and slipped into a coma or might have died. Why?

In the subsequent scene, Sam’s tattoo is visible, and she is walking back home with a clear sky. The doctor calls her and warns her about hallucinations. She mentions a journal written by Sam (which contains what we’ve seen as hallucinations, which she might have written in reality as well).

When Sam mentions meeting K, the doctor reacts with surprise, uttering “K?” in a tone indicating impossibility. Hence, K might be dead or incapable of meeting Sam. The doctor shows shock when Sam mentions rain, suggesting there is actually no rain.

In the next scene, Sam is shown talking to K at their home, and it’s raining. It’s a hallucination.

There’s a dialogue from Sam: “We are going to be like those characters in the movie, we are going to live happily ever after from here.

However, after this, Sam comes and closes the door. Her tattoos are visible; it’s actually real. She hallucinates that K is with her and sleeping inside. She returns to her loop which ends happily. The door closes. She is going to live like that.

Now doctor (In the film) is the only one who knows K is dead or what happened to him other than Sam. If you look closely, you can see that Doctor and Josya are same.

Doctor Character & Josya Character

Ninaivo Oru Paravai: Ending Explained

I’ve another theory about the break-up scenes in the film.

I think Sam has been through a similar experience before, and the Psychiatrist helped her escape this cycle.

In the first break-up scene, Sam walks from the left to the right of the screen. But in the second break-up, which is more painful, she walks from right to left, with an infinity loop showing in the background.

It’s possible that Sam might have experienced the entire events again and again as hallucinations, undergoing the same series of pain and happiness.

Even the song’s lyrics playing in the background highlight this: “Will time stagnate at anyone’s behest?” and “Fish that swims in the mirage.” (song after their second break-up scene)

Like a pendulum, Sam oscillates from left to right and right to left through her memories (her real memories might be).

After her appointment with the psychiatrist, we observe her returning home and revisiting the pain while gathering objects linked to her memories of K.

A Redemption

And when she picks up the ash tray, she starts hallucinating again. At this point, she is disrupting the cycle, striving to create a happier ending.

Cigarette packet name is Cancer: Ninaivo Oru Paravai
Cigarette packet name is Cancer: Ninaivo Oru Paravai

She hallucinates about K’s sister and her meetings with K.
She finds a solution, just like in the movie; she hallucinates and reunites with K on that rainy night.

A song plays in the background while she stores the memories (notes) in the jar: “Till the summer skies burst, and rain pours forth, will your eternal suffering persist.

In that rainy night, she is seeding a happy ending for that eternal suffering.

One Last Theory

Let’s shift our perspective by 180 degrees and consider that the actual director or writer could be Sam, not K.

In real, Sam is the one who wrote the script, drawing from her own memories. She wrote the script and in the end she left is at the bar assuming K is there and it’s his script (Like in her movie script, in the present she is living like the chaarcter in the movie, so she believes, K wrote the script).

The doctor has been working to erase K from her mind. It’s no coincidence that Josya in her script ( who predict the break-up or being a reason for a rift in their relation) and the doctor bear a striking resemblance. There’s even a scene where the doctor discusses Sam’s journal, reinforcing the idea that Sam is the writer.

If you observe closely, the notes written by Sam and the notes on the script have the same handwriting. Look at the ‘S’ written on notes and script. But the notes on the toilet paper, which were written by K, are in a different handwriting.The notes written by K on the toilet paper display a distinct handwriting style


This all reminds me of Kim Ki Duk’s movie ‘3 Iron.’ In the end, the hero returns to the heroine’s house and lives there unnoticed by the heroine’s husband. It implies that three people are living in the house, but the husband is unaware. This raises the question: “Is the world we live in reality or a dream?

3 - Iron Movie climax: Directed by Kim Ki Duk
3 – Iron Movie climax: Directed by Kim Ki Duk

In a similar situation, K might be living with Sam, but no one else knows. It’s hard to discern the reality.

Thiagaraja Kumaraja made this movie as a distorted jigsaw puzzle, by watching it multiple times, you will be able to fix it in order. But he removed one piece from the jigsaw: “Why They Broke Up?” this is the trigger to ACT 2 of the movie ( or even K’s script).

Maybe there might be more clues to reveal that #WhatHappened moment. Please share as a comment if you find any.

Now let’s decode Ponniyin Selvan, How Mani Ratnam brillinatly used metaphors in storytelling.

-Written by Akhil Pillai