Coincidence or not, Yaathisai, the latest Tamil period film with an all-new cast, will draw comparisons with Mani Ratnam’s magnum opus Ponniyin Selvan - 2 since the latter is gearing up for release just a week after the former’s; they are both period dramas, with a fictional twist on history, on famed Tamil kingdoms. But the similarities between these two stop there, and Yaathisai, directed by Dharani Rasendran, is a film with enough gravitas and distinction to stand tall on its own. On one hand, it does sometimes lack the finesse of a Mani Ratnam film, but it’s also much more grounded, brutal, and raw in its form, and, in that sense, can be likened more to an Indian version of Zack Snyder’s 300 than anything else — you read that right!

From the word go, there are quite a few surficial errors that Yaathisai wants you to look beyond, like the distracting CGI blood, theatrical dialogue delivery from a few actors, and the straightforward staging of a few scenes. And, although commendable for the attempt, it does take a few minutes to get used to some characters talking in 7th-century Tamil (adding the subtitles here is a win). But beyond these initial halts, what awaits a patient viewer is truly impressive.

Throughout its runtime, Yaathisai takes itself very seriously and the writer means business right from the way he begins to narrate his story. An old man from the Einar clan begins to tell the tale of how 15 years prior, Kodhi (Seyon), a young hot-blooded man from their clan, took on the mighty Pandiyan king Ranadheeran (Shakti Mithran), who defeated the massive coalition army of the Cheras and Cholas. And he tells this to the son of Ranadheeran who they’ve held captive. Note that it’s not the story told to a son about his father — which is usually the case — and it’s not a story about a king taking on another. Fearing death during the Great Chera-Pandiya war, several surviving Chola clans took refuge in the dense forests, helplessly living as ‘hunting nomads,’ as one puts it. Yaathisai is the story of an underdog soldier from a lower-rung Chola clan, comprising mere hundreds in number, aspiring to defeat a Pandiyan monarch ruling from the castle of the defeated Cholas. The world of Yaathisai, as the old man goes on to narrate, then grows and grows.