Mookuthi Amman movie review: Trite and meandering film that wastes its biggest boon in Urvashi
The best thing about Mookuthi Amman is the delicate understanding with which RJ Balaji writes a suffering family. The worst thing about Mookuthi Amman is that everything else is more like trite sketch comedy than a meaningful take on society that’s desperate enough to be voluntarily conned
Mild spoilers inside. But nothing you wouldn’t have guessed already.
A somewhat struggling family. A land grabbing godman. Corrupt government. Spineless media. A goddess with a gorgeous wardrobe. And some gullible public. RJ Balaji and NJ Saravanan’s Mookuthi Amman has what could have been an interesting, even if not an especially novel, premise. It takes off pretty well.
Engels Ramasamy, a local journalist, is burdened with the care taking responsibilities of his family of three sisters, a mother and a grandfather. Each sister has her own disappointments in life — one feels relegated to the kitchen, another is training to be an air hostess and can’t wait to leave home, the third may or may not be converting to Christianity in search of better shores. Their mother, played by the inimitable Urvashi, lives in denial. There is also a grandfather, a subdued and almost invisible Moulee, who cooks, makes coffee and stays indoors, partly in shame.
In RJ Balaji’s writing, the construction of this family is quite thoughtful. We see the plight of the mother, who spends every day simply working hard not to turn bitter. She knows nothing but to persevere. She makes up grand stories in her head, and saves money in pots labelled MI-1, MI-2 etc. to forget the miseries in her life.
She also seeks the blessings of any godman she can find to lift her out of that misery. Her life is the search for what we call “etha thinna pittam theliyum,” which can be roughly translated to mean “what can I swallow to clear my indigestions.” There is a chuckle-worthy scene where Engels tries to stop her from giving away clues to a cold-reading conman posing as god’s messenger.
Urvashi embodies the mother’s desperation. She brings her exceptional comic timing as well as her ability to enact a heart wrenching scene to great effect. Without Urvashi, the film would have amounted to absolutely nothing. With her in it, we are tempted to persevere some more.
In fact, Engels Ramasamy, the role RJ Balaji has written for himself is also layered and real. He is one-part loser, one-part hero, one-part rationalist, one-part desperate believer, one-part cornered family man and one-part idiot. But the actor RJ Balaji can hardly do justice to the role. After a point, he gets so repetitive that I wouldn’t judge you, if you were to fast-forward some of his scenes.
Apart from these two though, everyone else in the film is pretty one note, including Nayanthara who literally plays god. It is helpful that she is arrestingly gorgeous, but this is a film, not a silk sari commercial, after all. At some point, even gods gotta do their work.
It is here that Mookuthi Amman fails and how! Instead of telling a story, RJ Balaji writes a series of mad-ads type gags, ending them with a message. The goddess goes to various religious functions, each of which she uses to spout punch dialogue. Who should be believed, how one should practice their faith, why women should get leave from kitchen duties — it is almost as if men walk around with their eyes closed until a goddess shows up in their life.
From this point, the film gets miraculously pointless and meandering. It goes on and on even as nothing really happens. There is a stray joke somewhere in the middle of much lecturing. At one stage, Engels hosts a show on television, inviting callers to have their problems solved by the land grabbing conman, Bhagavathi Baba. But the Baba just sits around, while Engels lectures callers about rationalism. There are multiple episodes of this! Why does the Baba keep returning to this show? How are the producers allowing this? Why do people keep calling when they know they’ll get lectures by the host more than they’ll get to speak to the godman? Why are we still watching this film?
Because we hope that in the end, there will be some grand resolution. And there is! We see saatchaat Mookuthi Amman walk on stage and lecture a large gathering. She asks them exceptionally logical questions about faith, because in RJ Balaji’s imagination, faith is about scientific logic. So, immediately after, the citizens of Nagercoil realise the folly of their ways and become rationalists. They chase the godman and live happily ever after!
To hell with all the loose ends that hang from the story, like the tassels of Nayanthara’s silk saris.
The best thing about Mookuthi Amman is the delicate understanding with which RJ Balaji writes a suffering family. The worst thing about Mookuthi Amman is that everything else is more like trite sketch comedy than a meaningful take on society that’s desperate enough to be voluntarily conned. In retrospect, I think the credit goes more to Urvashi than to RJ Balaji, even for that.
Mookuthi Amman is now streaming on Disney+ Hotstar. Watch the trailer here —
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