RJ Balaji and NJ Saravanan’s part-comedy, part-social drama and part-Amman film, is well-intentioned and has several LoL scenes, but doesn’t come together as a whole
Barring the traditional battle of Good versus Evil template, what gave an edge to the Amman subgenre of the ‘90s was the OTT entry of Amman (invariably played by Ramya Krishnan, Meena or Bhanupriya). The dramatic highpoint — with an additional effect of winds howling and bells tolling — was derived when Amman appeared on screen. She was almost given the treatment and celebration reserved for a “mass” hero, who, by his own means, is God among fans.
While retaining the genre’s components, Nayanthara’s Amman gets a softer introduction. It is not her entry that surprises but what happens next, does. When Mookuthi Amman (Nayanthara) appears before Engels Ramaswamy (RJ Balaji, whose first part of the name is taken from communist philosopher Friedrich Engels and the second part from, EV Ramasamy), he isn’t willing to suspend his disbelief. He rather opts to ‘test’ and asks her to guess the name of the song he has in mind. And what’s the song? The iconic ‘Ennakum Unnakum Thaan Porutham’ sung by K Bhagyaraj in Antha Ezhu Naatkal. I screamed. Perhaps that’s how a man would react if Amman, well, looks like Nayanthara. But you put those thoughts aside when Mookuthi Amman dismisses with a “Che” — not the Che from Soorarai Pottru.
But it’s nearly impossible to not think of Nayanthara, the actor, when she appears as Amman. Later on, when Engles’ family welcomes her into the house with an aarti, that’s when Nayanthara truly comes alive as Amman, not when she gets singer LR Eswari’s approval or in those colourful costumes.
- Cast: Nayanthara, Urvashi, Mouli, RJ Balaji and Ajay Ghosh
- Director: RJ Balaji and NJ Saravanan
- Storyline: Goddess Mookuthi Amman descends on Earth and uses a television reporter Engels Ramaswamy to take on communal politics, and to expose fake godmen.
The setting and the primary characters of Mookuthi Amman are reminiscent of a very ‘80s Rajinikanth movie. A runaway father, an ageing mother (played by Urvashi, who, well, is fantastic), two unmarried sisters, a late child, a grandfather, and the hero, Engels, a television reporter to a largely defunct channel, who is the sole breadwinner. Theirs is a family whose desires are ordinary; they want to break free. It’s the desire of a sister who just wants a day off from household chores; Smruthi Venkat is brilliant in that scene and I almost welled up. It’s the desire of a brother who wants his sisters married, before he thinks about himself. It’s the desire of a father who has lost a son, and a wife who lost a husband. Theirs is also a family that buries their sorrow in faith, and wishes that their prayers be answered — like the large part of the middle class.
By this time, you, as an audience, are subconsciously prepared for the Goddess’ arrival to save this family. That’s the central conflict. But the film takes a painfully longer course to reach this point — if I remember rightly, it’s the 40-minute when this happens — which results in a mishmash of scenes that are strung together without coherence. But each time you think about the screenplay’s incoherence, Balaji and friends iron out the wrinkles with Urvashi. Very few actors are as convincing as Amman as Nayanthara and have that regal presence, and very few actors are as entertaining in an amma’s role as Urvashi.
When a joke lands, it lands really well. Like the Baashsha gag that Urvashi gets early on. It’s literally a LoL scene for the way it’s imagined. My favourite scene was when Mookuthi Amman demanded an audience for herself, like Lord Tirupati. There’s gender politics among Gods themselves. In fact, Mookuthi Amman would have been a far better film, had the focus been on the personal story, which, I believe, was what most Amman films got right. But Balaji and friends aren’t satisfied in Engels’ story. They want to traverse the Samuthirakani route and make a larger statement on the politics of religion, and the role of middlemen. They want a head on collision between God (Nayanathara) and a Rami Reddy-like god man called Bhagavathi Baba (Ajay Ghosh).
When personal becomes the larger politics, that’s when the results are middling. The film tries to accommodate too many social issues, like LKG. There’s even a PK-styled climax stretch with Bhagavathi Baba and Engels (who, in fact, wears a helmet similar to Aamir Khan’s in PK).
Balaji operates within the limitations — both as an actor and writer — that may have worked in his favour to a certain extent in LKG and now, in Mookuthi Amman. His biggest strength, like CS Amudhan, is the ability to draw humour from instinct — the gag about Samuthirakani saamy is a scream. He seems to have hit the saturation this time.
Mookuthi Amman is currently streaming on Disney+Hotstar