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Mookuthi Amman Review: Unfunny to a Fault

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Director: RJ Balaji, NJ Saravanan

Cast: Nayanthara, RJ Balaji, Urvashi, Ajay Ghosh

 

Let’s get one thing out of the way. RJ Balaji‘s (co-directed with NJ Saravanan and written with “friends”) Mookuthi Amman is nothing to write home about in terms of filmmaking. If you are looking for shots, framing or anything to do with form and technique, you are in the wrong zip code. And this is not unexpected. What’s expected though are laughs, at the expense of many – hopefully not offensive – and some comedy that punches up in the form of biting satire. In LKG, RJ Balaji’s earlier film in the same genre, he rode on the political climate of that period in Tamil Nadu. The situation was presented to him on a platter and Balaji ran with it, his hand held by the existence of memes and political comedy that was daily news then.

In Mookuthi Amman, he’s after self-styled godmen, the allusion to land grabbing in fertile parts of Nagercoil, suggesting someone like Jaggi Vasudev, and religion and belief as something that divides rather than unites. For what it is worth, Kamal Haasan’s lines on the same subject across any number of films make for a better stand-up routine than this film from RJ Balaji.

RJ Balaji and his friends don’t have anything imaginative up their sleeve, which is again expected considering how LKG turned out. He plays Engels Ramasamy and claims that he was named after Friedrich Engels and EV Ramasamy. For someone named after Engels and Periyar, our Engels is god-fearing to a fault. He’s so staunch in his belief and religion that he suspects his youngest sister is getting converted by the convent school she attends. She rubs off the ashes her mother (Urvashi in a role that doesn’t deserve her) applies on her forehead and crosses self before going to sleep. He is bewildered by his own assumption that his sister is converting and asks the school authorities about it. So much for Engels and Periyar. The first half is a set of disjointed, unfunny gags that could be found in the dust bins of a writers’ room of any late-night sketch comedy show.

In predictable turn of events, he is granted the vision of their family goddess, Mookuthi Amman (Nayanthara in an extended cameo that doesn’t deserve her), who elaborates to him that people aren’t devout towards god, they only fear it. There is a brief moment where Amman slips into what we call Madras Tamil, but it lasts just a line. Now how great it’d have been to have Amman speak like that in a spoof of the genre? Nothing fresh about this new iteration of Tamil cinema’s Amman.

There is a random insert of a few black shirts holding forth on a stage and Amman tells Ramasamy, “One who says there is no god is good. But the one who says one god is better than the other? He is danger.” Your guess is as good as mine as to whom this is directed at. In the attempt to take potshots at everybody and be an equal opportunity satirist, RJ Balaji loses any form of coherence in his story. This scene that lasts a few seconds and appears out of nowhere is also ironic considering Mookuthi Amman herself is initially cross with Ramasamy’s family, because they keep harping on about going to Tirupathi, having ignored their family goddess for decades. But I guess consistency in writing is another thing that’s not to be expected.

From here, Mookuthi Amman only gets worse. The godman Bhagavathi Baba (Ajay Ghosh), his cult and their antics are too cartoon crazy to be taken seriously as antagonists. It’s clear why Balaji got away with LKG. The events in LKG seemed like something serious is being satirised, something that looked like a lived reality that didn’t require any form of exaggeration to be laughed at.

Here, Balaji and Saravanan have no meat in their material. Balaji and Urvashi seemed to have had a wager during filming as to who can yell louder. There is a nice joke on Samuthirakani and his films but there is also preaching directly at the camera. Clearly, Mookuthi Amman doesn’t care for irony. There is an offensive joke though about security guards and Nepalis. And another one about mistreated blue collar workers looking like characters out of a Bala film. Again, nothing unexpected from RJ Balaji.

*****

Mookuthi Amman is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar. 

*****

The Mookuthi Amman review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreenindia.com and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

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