Mookuthi Amman Movie Review: Nayanthara blesses this fairly enjoyable RJ Balaji comedy
The film isn’t a satire, but a comedy that attempts to prod your brain, in much the same way as Balaji’s debut film LKG did
As an ardent KTV fan, Amman films hold a lot of personal nostalgic value for me. As a child, I remember those afternoons spent watching the glorious Amman step down from the heavens to save the struggling heroine from the villain. Growing up, my equation with faith transformed, but there still seems to be something comforting about Amman films. It is the ultimate escapist entertainment, right? The world is black and white here, and you know there’s a saviour. Thus, when RJ Balaji announced Mookuthi Amman, I was quite excited. But the big question is, can you sell all those tropes without the cushion of nostalgia?
For Mookuthi Amman, humour steps in as a substitute. As RJ Balaji clarified earlier, this isn’t a satire, but a comedy that attempts to prod your brain, in much the same way as Balaji’s debut film LKG did. There is much enjoyable humour in Mookuthi Amman with liberal doses of pop-culture influences. Take the sequence where Urvashi takes out hidden money from different spots of the house for a trip to Tirupathi. Baasha's theme plays in the background and every member of the family comes and kisses her hand. It sounds silly but it works! (If Mookuthi Amman had been made later, Baasha’s BGM might have been substituted with Anirudh’s composition for Vikram). The film’s strongest, most flavoursome writing manifests in the smaller moments. The actors really sell these moments. Urvashi takes the lead here, giving a thoroughly entertaining performance. It is a testament to her ability that she is able to sell us even cliches with conviction. She is ably supported by RJ Balaji, who is growing as an actor, evolving beyond being the funny man. Also, I was pleasantly surprised by Smruthi Venkat’s non-fussy, effective performance.
Directors: RJ Balaji, NJ Saravanan
Cast: Nayanthara, Urvashi, RJ Balaji, Smruthi Venkat, Moulee
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
Mookuthi Amman also deals with the smaller arcs well, especially with its women. When Deva (Smruthi Venkat) is asked what she always wanted, she says ‘a day’s leave’. It is hard not to feel that emotion. Or take the moment when Urvashi breaks down. There is sensitivity in the writing. The film also touches upon the economics around religion, and the fear now around it. But it is the larger, political arcs that the film struggles with. Bagavathy Baba makes for a weak villain despite the hype, and the methods used to ‘confront’ him are too juvenile. Needles, smelly paste? Even as humour, these don’t land well. And it doesn’t get very deep into the divisive politics that people play using religion. Maybe these self-appointed godmen are fronts, but what about the forces behind them?
But all this aside, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Nayanthara as Mookuthi Amman. She looks glorious (even with the changing hair colours) and her stately presence adds huge value to the film. Cuteness, dignity, anger… Nayanthara brings everything to the table in perfectly measured proportions. And it is even more enjoyable that Amman has been treated as a mass hero here—closeups, punchlines, fights et all. (Girishh Gopalakrishnan's music is a huge boost to the film) Faith aside, the treatment makes a lot of sense. After all, isn’t this how we see our heroes? For a woman protagonist to get the same treatment though, she apparently needs to be a divine figure. It says something about our films.
I couldn’t help but wonder what this material could have become in terms of cinema potential, had it been in the hands of a better director. Mookuthi Amman is bogged with long voice-overs placed over establishment shots, dubbing discrepancies... And the constant spotlight for Nayanthara, the ‘olivattam’ around her, seems dated. Mookuthi Amman is well-intentioned but relies on contrivances and long voiceovers to spoon-feed its points. Perhaps if the system were more supportive and rewarding for writers, this could change. The boom of OTT has hopefully sown the seeds for this transformation.
There’s, of course, the biggest question of all. Kadavul irukara ilaya, nambalama koodatha? The film does try to cater to atheists: “Ungala uruvaakina kadavula, illa neengalam sendhu uruvaakina kadavul-a?” asks Mookuthi Amman. It’s not necessary that you go with this premise to enjoy this film though. I quite liked the note the film ended on, wanting us to look for God within us. It is a thought that Kamal Haasan has famously presented to us. I am not sure about an eternal saviour, but if we all are truly our best versions, then the world sure could be a better place. That’s a good enough thought from Mookuthi Amman to kickstart festivities with.