Mookuthi Amman on Disney+ Hotstar: Nayanthara and RJ Balaji Star In A Misfire About Our Relationship with Religion, Film Companion
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Directors: RJ Balaji and NJ Saravanan

Cast: Nayanthara, Urvashi, RJ Balaji

Mookuthi Amman begins with an unexpected bit of lyricism, in a voiceover about how we know if God is happy with us, or how we know if God is angry with us. The lines involve pongal and cashew nuts, rain and schooldays – I thought RJ Balaji, who has directed this film with NJ Saravanan, was venturing into a direction very different from where he went with his last outing, the blockbuster satire LKG. A card at the beginning quotes a number of inspirations: “Bruce Almighty, Bedazzled, Groundhog Day, Wild Wild Country, The Story of God with Morgan Freeman, The Invention of Lying, Dogma, Oh My God, The Brand New Testament, and the filmography of directors Shankar and Rajkumar Hirani.” Maybe Balaji has put all these movies in a mixie and come up with a brand new formula!

Then again, maybe not. Balaji plays a Nagercoil-based TV reporter who’s been after a fake-god-man story for years. But we get to this person (played by Ajay Ghosh) only after an hour. In the meantime, we spend a lot of time with Engels Ramasamy (that’s the Balaji character), his three sisters, and his mother (Urvashi). There are trademark phrases that made me laugh: “paran mela costly jewels?”, or “I’m your neighbour Shiva from Belgium!” But the story decides to get serious. The lyrical lines about God that opened the film are now heavily literalised with super-obvious scenes about how greedy we are, or how we take women who do housework for granted. Slowly, the lightness in the film leaks away.

This is not, technically, a “fault”. If Balaji wants to write a serious film about us and God, then that’s his prerogative. But the tonal shifts are all over the place, and Mookuthi Amman (said goddess is played by a magnificent-looking Nayanthara, in an extended cameo) never finds its footing. The villain is such a cliché that not a single joke around him works, and he’s too much of a cartoon to take seriously. There are some terrific ideas, like the amman (whose temple is small and hardly visited) being jealous of Tirupathi in the way we might envy a neighbour’s bigger house and car. I loved the idea of the goddess as a “mass” hero(ine), fighting a “mass” fight. But there’s far too much “well-meaning” advice in the script. Indeed, look at that “inspired by” card again, and you realise this is what it would be like if Shankar and Rajkumar Hirani co-directed a film. Balaji promised us a “saami padam“. He’s given us a Samuthirakani padam.

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