November 15, 1996
Director K. S. Ravikumar and story and dialogue writer
``Crazy'' Mohan make a heady combination in offering
sparkling fun. Kamal Hassan plays the much talked about
role of a matronly nanny-cum- adviser in a rich
household where he is trying to win back his divorced
wife and his daughter. Sri Mahalakshmi Combines' ``Avvai
Shanmughi'' turns out to be entertainer, mirthful from
start to finish.
The nucleus of the plot is based on ``Mrs. Doubtfire''
and Michael Westmore, the Hollywood make-up specialist,
who made Kamal look like Leslie Nielsson of ``Hard Spy''
in ``Indian'', comes up trumps in shaping a new womanly
face for Kamal to suit his stocky frame. The result, a
buxom, winsome, married `maami' with the husband `away',
which situation comes in handy for the director to
fashion some scenes for the oldies around the `lady' to
make passes and dream of a union with her. One of the
two vying for such an attention is Viswanatha Iyer
(Gemini Ganesh), running a lucrative leather trade whose
daughter Janaki (Meena) has loved, married and divorced
Pandiyan (Kamal Hassan), an upcoming dance artiste,
belonging to another caste. The union breaks up after
some six years, the couple being the parents of a lovely
girl (Baby Annie is a gem of a choice) and Janaki
returning to her father's house. The other old man is
Mudaliar (Manivannan), Kamal's house owner, bumping into
the `lady' often and asking probing questions regarding
her to Pandiyan. The latter makes frantic efforts to
keep his dual identity safe.
When Pandiyan loses the right to keep his daughter even
for a day by the court, he turns Avvai Shanmughi, thanks
to his bottle addicted, make-up man Joseph (Nagesh) and
enters Janaki's place as housekeeper and nanny. His
daughter is able to spot him at first sight _ ``I know
you by your familiar body smell'' says the little one
hugging her dad _ but the wife who had many occasions to
be near the `maami', must have been suffering from a
nose block right through not to notice the body `odour'.
From here the director makes a departure from the
original version setting in motion delightful
situations. It includes the `maami' tactfully clearing
the hurdles posed in the house by wicked Sethuraman
(Delhi Ganesh), some kind of a PA to the Iyer, who is
siphoning the properties through the cook (Rani); the
cook getting the sack thanks to `maami', the `lady'
stalling the unexpected forays of Rathna (Heera); a
dance partner who pines for Pandiyan, `maami' employing
the out-of-job butcher, Basha (Nasser); a bosom friend
who once provided him the bail money, as a Hindu cook in
the house _ easy solutions for communal harmony can be
had from Tamil movies. The eve teasing goondas get a
taste of `maami' power when Janaki goes to the market
place foiling Iyer's `oil trap' conceived by Basha.
Janaki instead of the `maami', barging in, falls into
the hands of the `lady husband'. A TV interview
announcing the promotion of Pandiyan as a dance master
and some searching questions of `maami' make Janaki
realise the true love.
There are a few peers to Kamal Hassan who can do the
female role with such perfection, avoiding the usual hip
swinging walk. He also displays the male feelings in him
with variations in his eyes _ the only outlet available
to him because of the plastic make-up when he had
occasions to touch Janaki in the lady's attire. The
diplomacy employed by the `maami' to tackle the ogling
oldies is effected without vulgarity by the director.
Gemini Ganesh parades glimpses of his old charm while
making a money deal with Nagesh, supposed to be the
husband, to retain `maami' for himself. Meena has not
been given much chance to romance with the hero and
completes her angry mother role competently. As the two
tongued Sethuraman (why the dangling flower in his ear
right through?) Delhi Ganesh asserts himself, the
pitiable position he finds himself when following
`maami' will be remembered for long. Mohan's dialogues
create chaotic fun over the identity of `maami's'
husband who has `returned' despite his forays in the
double meaning zones at times. S. P. Balasubramaniam,
playing the doctor makes brief breezy entry. `Rukku
rukku' (Kamal and Sujatha) and `Velai velai' (SPB and
chorus) make the grade under Deva's baton.