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                             [THE HINDU]

                         November 15, 1996
                       SECTION: Entertainment

               `Avvai Shanmughi'

               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.

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