‘Mookuthi Amman’ review: Resplendent Nayanthara shines in this story of contradictions

‘Mookuthi Amman’ offers some food for thought, a handful of jokes that land and two hours of, to put it colloquially, 'time-pass'.
A scene from Mookuthi Amman
A scene from Mookuthi Amman

From the get-go, Mookuthi Amman, written by RJ Balaji, is a story of contradictions. Directed by Balaji and NJ Saravanan, the movie stars actor Nayanthara as a deity from a non-descript temple from Nagercoil, breaking stereotypes for the 'Lady Superstar' who is largely seen as a glamorous heroine. The protagonist, played by Balaji, is named Engels Ramasamy after two prolific communist leaders, but here he was, a staunch believer in God whose faith is unwavering despite his family's financial and social status.

And finally, there is Bhagavathi Baba (Ajay Ghosh), a self-proclaimed godman, who is attempting to take over 11,000 acres of land that residents of Nagercoil, where the film is based, are dependent on for their daily life. He goes about cheating people, for the most part of the film, facing no consequences from the God who is a permanent fixture in this world created by Balaji. The film itself highlights Balaji and his god-fearing family's efforts to uncover the Baba's plot with the help of Mookuthi Amman.

But while these intricacies and contradictions make for an interesting premise, the movie fails to dive deeper and create real meaning for the journey of these characters. And this is solely due to one reason - the film just doesn't let you take it seriously. Don't get me wrong, the movie was of course always positioned as a comedy, with Amman as the star presence. But like WC Fields said, 'Comedy is a serious business.'

Bhagavathi Baba, for instance, is largely caricature-ish and fails to draw any real ire from an audience that has grown up on a staple of Amman films, where the very presence of the villain is enough to make your blood boil. His actions are clearly drawn from the multiple self-proclaimed godmen that have started their own businesses and become a brand, but makes for a weak villain. He exasperates with his eye-rolling and hand waving, making you wish the Amman would just zap him off the screen.

Nayanthara, however, is resplendent as Amman, regal in her presence and petty when the script calls for it. The actor's styling department has knocked it out of the park, helping her attain the aura of a God, without a trident permanently affixed in her hand. When 'Mookuthi Amman' appears, even the music is trendy, making it clear that is a new age Amman movie. Her anger when Urvashi (who play RJ Balaji's mother) praises Tirupathi's Lord Venkateswara over her, is palpable on-screen and you are almost afraid that she will turn the matriarch into a rodent.

And when it comes to performances, Urvashi was predictably a firecracker on screen, bringing humour and denial to her role of a single mother, abandoned by her husband. Most jokes in the film land when she is on screen, leaving you in splits. Balaji, too, delivers a convincing performance but the inconsistencies in the plot and inability to lend seriousness to scenes that demanded a certain amount of gravitas, prove to be a letdown.

Moreover, character arcs that would have lent depth to the film, were largely left unfinished.

For example, Engels' youngest sister Vendamirtham is seen at the start of the movie, seemingly having converted to Christianity (the name 'Vendam' displays a common practice amongst rural families that do not want more daughters but in the film, this is never condemned). Her brother even confronts a nun at her Christian school, who calls her 'Sofie' and says she is God's chosen child. But later, after having seen Amman in her residence itself, what does the child think? We are never told.

Engels' grandfather is portrayed as a communist in the movie and is never really seen in the presence of Mookuthi Amman. But when she plans a mission, he is the first to leave the door. So is he a believer now? We are never told.

Balaji, as a writer and director, seems to still be grappling with his own ideas of God, religion and politics in this film as well. In one scene, he is seated with Nayanthara in what seems to be a rationalist gathering. A man says that he would eat and drink what is given at other religious institutions but not in a temple. While the man seems to be hinting at the deep-rooted caste system in Hinduism, Nayanathara claims you shouldn't trust people who claim to believe in one God and not another.

Such a simplistic view of religion, while acceptable in a traditional Amman film, is grating in a movie that is clearly attempting to make you question people's views on religion, godmen and faith. The movie, however, does discuss the economics of religion and philosophy of faith and to its credit, makes a few valid points.

Mookuthi Amman’s cinematography, I must add, was difficult on the eyes. Most of the story was told in mid-shots, with too much information on screen for the eye to process. The only relief came through long shots for Mookuthi Amman and close-ups in a high voltage emotion scene with Urvashi and Balaji.

Overall, Mookuthi Amman offers some food for thought, a handful of jokes that land and two hours of, to put it colloquially, 'total time-pass.' 

The movie is currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.

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