Nandini: The multi-hued femme fatale in Ponniyin Selvan

Author: Janani Sampath

In a world we often paint in black and white, we are surprised by the grey characters. Nandini of Ponniyin Selvan is one such…

When the trailer of Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan, the screen adaption of Kalki’s period novel, was released, the Internet was abuzz with rave reviews for Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s looks. As Queen Nandini of Pazhuvur, she looks magically beautiful and mystic. And we are told that vengeance has a beautiful face

Beyond the beauty and gorgeousness of Nandini lies the tale of pain, plotting, and vendetta

Considered the nemesis of Kundavai, the Chola princess, who grew up resenting her beauty and marginalizing her, Nandini makes every move with just one thought in her mind—revenge.

The world metes out unfair treatment for women with remarkable looks. Either there is nothing to consider about them except looks, or everything they are good at is bracketed within the virtue of their looks. How else can we explain the term ‘beauty with brains’, as though the combination is an exception and can never be the norm? Ponniyin Selvan’s Nandini is no different. And, she is often amidst situations that are thrown at her and are as extraordinary as her beauty. Nandini is seen in multiple hues.

The assured royal: Though raised in a modest family devoted to Lord Vishnu singing his glory in a mellifluous voice, Nandini knows she is destined to be a queen. Self-assured and patient, she is aware that she is in the wrong household and would one day find her royal place inside the palace.

The charmer: Of course, this stands out the most. Everyone, who meets her, is smitten by her voice and unmatched beauty. Be it Karikalan or Vandiyadevan, Nandini casts a spell on all. Knowing that she exudes charm, she uses it to her advantage in crucial moments.

The power-wielder: She shows remarkable patience and resilience to the jibes of being a temptress and gets taunted by Kundavai often. Carrying the fire within her to be the Chola queen, she uses her intelligence to manipulate her much older husband, Pazhuvettariyar, as she knows he is the only one who will help her realize her ambition.

Wise and cautious: Nandini’s love for Karikalan results in an irresistible desire to elope with him to a faraway land and live happily ever after. Yet, she is no damsel in distress and rescues herself from the quandary. She knows it is impractical and would be a mistake similar to what her mother Mandakhini committed—being besotted by a royal.

Nandini, no doubt, is a complex character and can be seen as largely vile or deadly. It would also be easy to reduce her to a victim of circumstances, but what stands out is her unrelenting courage to fight hard.

After all, everyone is a hero for some and a villain for some. And in Kalki’s Ponniyin Selvan, she is her hero!