A plot to murder the king and the two princes of the Chola dynasty on the same day is underfoot. Can the Cholas survive the wrath of the Pandiya rebels, who are being led by the vengeful Nandhini?

Ponniyin Selvan: Part 2 Movie Review: Having set the plot in motion in the first part, with Ponniyin Selvan: Part 2, Mani Ratnam dives right into the heart of the novel - the ill-fated romance between crown prince Aaditha Karikalan (Vikram) and Nandhini (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan). PS2 begins with a prelude that captures the romance between these two characters when they were young, and without saying too much in the form of dialogues, the director shows us the blossoming of love between a prince and an orphan girl, and the heartache it leaves in the wake of them being separated by forces beyond their control.

In fact, right until the climax, this doomed romance is what sustains the tension in this tale and drives the characters to make decisions that have far-reaching impact. Even when he realises that an acceptance of an invitation to the Kadambur palace - a place where his own chieftains plotted against him - could be a folly, Karikalan is unable to turn it down. For his sister, Princess Kundhavai (Trisha), the mystery around Nandhini's lineage drives her actions. And the young prince Arulmozhi Varman (Jayam Ravi) ends up fending off the Pandiya rebels, who have sworn an oath to kill Karikalan, whose romance led to the murder of their king.

Up until the intermission, the film continues with the brisk narration that we got in the latter half of the first film, proceeding more like a swashbuckler. We witness the daring attempts to murder Arulmozhi, who is recovering from an illness at a monastery, and Vandhiyathevan's (Karthi) efforts to foil them. We get a sizzling romantic scene between Vandhiyathevan and Kundhavai, a truly heartwarming moment in a reunion of the siblings, and a thrilling pre-interval action sequence (with a rousing AR Rahman background score) that's a masterclass in shooting chaos while retaining spatial clarity.

The latter half is more concerned with the fate of Karikalan, and Mani Ratnam fills the much-anticipated moment between Karikalan and Nandhini with so much dread and pain that we even forget the rest of the characters for a brief while. Vikram and Aishwarya are terrific in these portions, delivering performances that are so naked and deeply heartfelt, filmed largely in close-ups by cinematographer Ravi Varman, and adding to the vulnerability of their characters.

In fairness, the climactic portions are hugely impacted by this emotional high, as the events that follow a major character's death cannot match the suspense and the drama the narrative held until then. And given the serious nature of the proceedings, they have a rather sombre tone — something we don't associate with period epics, especially in this post-Baahubali era. Unlike those films, which were about larger-than-life, imaginary heroes, Mani Ratnam hews closer to the spirit of Kalki's novels, a fictionalised account of historical personalities, largely focused on the interpersonal drama. The action might happen in a palace, but the grandeur comes mainly from the emotions of characters within its walls. Mani Ratnam seems to realise this too, and decides to have a war scene in the end to give viewers an instant adrenaline rush, but this portion lacks strong emotional grounding (and stunning visual effects) to truly leave us with a high.