MGR Magan Movie Review: A mirthless comedy that has its moments
Bad writing, unfleshed character arcs, and below-par humour spoils this festive release, which fails to utilise its own potential
MGR Magan begins with a history lesson on Theni. As the opening credits roll, we are shown the importance of Col John Pennycuick and the Mullaiperiyar dam he constructed, and how the British officer is still a demigod in many areas surrounding Theni. We even get an opening song that not just exalts our hero ‘Anbalippu’ Ravi (Sasikumar), but gives equal, if not more, importance to Pennycuick. Now, with the kind of debates in our neighbouring State regarding this dam, it was quite a surprise that this Ponram film hinted at tackling such a politically charged theme. Well… guess who didn't get the "don't read too much into a film" memo?
Cast: Sasikumar, Samuthirakani, Sathyaraj, Mirnalini Ravi
Streaming on: Disney + Hotstar
MGR Magan is about a strained father-son equation shared by MG Ramasamy (Sathyaraj) and Ravi. Saranya Ponvannan, who continues from where she left off in Em Magan, Kalavani, and Velayilla Pattadhari, plays the hapless mother torn between a duelling father and son. The other principal character in this dysfunctional family equation is Agni (Samuthirakani), who vows not to wear a particular piece of apparel till his nephew Ravi makes a name for himself in society. There is a neat little gag about Ravi trying his best to feature himself on the front page of a newspaper (a wasted potential). There is one other little gag about Samuthirakani’s marriage (shockingly unfunny). There is a tiny fun gag involving different kinds of omelettes. Also, there is another side gag that features Anupriya (Mirnalini Ravi). The makers would call it the leading lady angle, but it is the most dispensable heroine track in all of Ponram’s films. She is allowed to do nothing, except to be part of song sequences, give conflicting stares, smile, and do some unnecessary things to unite the estranged father-son duo only to get rightfully shut down by both father and son for poking her nose into the family affairs. There are hints in a couple of scenes that there is something more to Anupriya, but the writing doesn’t give answers to these suggestions, and, in fact, these arcs are just forgotten and overlooked. If the makers don’t really care about how a role comes across, why should we even bother making sense of it?
Another character that suffers from uneven writing is Samuthirakani’s Agni. It is interesting to see a Sasikumar-Samuthirakani duo not saving anyone’s love life, or changing the parents’ mindset about the definition of their children’s successes. Here, they let their hair down and have too much fun in each other’s company. Samuthirakani is a hoot in this role that features him as the primary comedian. I half-expected his role to be something like Vadivelu from Em Magan. However, it is anything but, and it just becomes another wasted opportunity. There are long periods of nothingness that weighs down the film. As we tread along with the randomness of it all, there is no doubt that we are gradually staved off any form of humour. Of course, there is a laugh and a half in a couple of scenes featuring the likes of Singampuli and Samuthirakani, but the gap between the two laughs is exasperating.
This is not what we’d expect from a filmmaker who made films like Varuthapadaadha Vaalibar Sangam and Rajini Murugan. Even in those films, there were stretches of nothingness, but the humour clicked long enough for us to overlook the glaring issues. But MGR Magan is a dreary watch that gets pulled down further by the lack of an engaging central conflict. The stakes are never really high, and it is best embodied in the scene where Sathyaraj gets hurt, and while waiting for the ambulance Saranya decides to lecture Sasikumar on the sacrifices of a father. Just behind her, everyone is trying to revive MGR’s life, and here we have his wife just rambling on about “appa-na yaaru theriyuma”. Come on! That man is dying. Lectures can wait.
It isn’t to say that the film didn’t have potential. There is an interesting angle about deforestation destroying medicinal plants. But it doesn't really go anywhere despite an outlandish ending with a semblance of ingenuity. And there is an unintentionally funny scene where the makers suddenly bring in foreign powers, corporate criminals etc… who are out to rob India of its traditional medicinal practices. See, these could have been something. Ponram has taken us on really fun rides with a lot less. But this time, despite earnestness, all that MGR Magan manages to be is a rickety ride in a defunct carnival that had clearly seen better days.