Nayanthara will be Ramya Krishnan of this generation, says RJ Balaji on Mookuthi Amman

RJ Balaji, in an exclusive conversation with IndiaToday.in, spoke about doing an Amman film 2020, the process behind Mookuthi Amman and choosing Nayanthara to play a Goddess.

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RJ Balaji talks about Mookuthi Amman and how Nayanthara is Ramya Krishnan of this generation.
RJ Balaji talks about Mookuthi Amman and how Nayanthara is Ramya Krishnan of this generation.

From being a radio jockey to becoming a director with Mookuthi Amman, RJ Balaji has come a long way. His humorous antics and comedy laced with social commentary is something that the audience have loved time and again. With Nayanthara-starrer Mookuthi Amman, RJ Balaji has donned a new hat.

In an exclusive conversation with IndiaToday.in, RJ Balaji talks about the genesis of Mookuthi Amman, getting Nayanthara on board, dealing with religious politics in the film and writing strong women characters.

Excerpts from the conversation:

Mookuthi Amman is a film about God who created us and the God we created. What is your relationship with God?

My relationship with God is very personal and we cannot generalise it. We didn’t write this as a preachy film. It’s a journey of a family who has a God in front of them and how their life changes after that. Personally, I believe in God. I say only one thing when I pray, which is “thank you for everything and sorry for the mistakes.” There’s a church in Chennai which I used to visit in school days. I failed in 12th standard. One day, I started crying. That feeling was nice and I prayed I go to college. And it eventually happened when I cleared 12th in my second attempt. When I turned 24, I stopped asking for things and started being thankful for what I have.

The Amman genre used to be popular in the 90s and 2000s and later fizzled out. What was the reason for bringing the genre back in 2020?

Imagine you don’t have a film of the same genre for 20 years. Families today go and watch ghost films in theatres. We have ghosts dancing, item numbers and double entendre dialogues. Still, these films are given a U certificate. It has been quite a while since we saw an enjoyable God film. And I felt this is the right time to bring it back.

You said bringing Nayanthara was easy. What kind of a Goddess (Amman) does she play in the film?

Nayanthara has a majestic and divine presence with her look and attitude. The idea is to bring real Nayanthara, who is very sweet, and merge it with her majestic presence. We will witness a relatable and enjoyable Amman. Earlier, when Ramya Krishnan ma’am used to play Amman, she used to look at children with kindness-filled eyes. And when she talks to a villain, she’s angry. We wanted an Amman who is relatable, sweet and menacing and Nayanthara fit the bill perfectly.

This generation of kids hasn’t seen Amman films for 20 years. For them, Nayanthara will be the Ramya Krishnan of this generation.

You said you loved Aamir Khan’s PK. Mookuthi Amman deals with the God vs godmen angle. Did PK inspire your film?

I didn’t want Mookuthi Amman to just be a family film. Also, any film needs a good story, which is why we brought in God vs Godmen angle. The second half is how Amman, along with a family, defeats the godmen. The essence of PK is what inspired me. Apart from that, Mookuthi Amman is a simple and neat film that doesn’t have many layers.

You seem to be a hands-on learner. Did this trait of yours push you to become a director?

I learn pretty fast and the difficult thing is to unlearn. After doing LKG, I was confident that I could direct a film. With a co-director like NJ Saravanan, who has several years of experience, the job was easy. I’ve observed directors like Mani Ratnam, AR Murugadoss, Vignesh Shivan and several others. So, I thought, I can incorporate whatever I’ve learnt from them. It wasn’t difficult and I had a great time.

Mookuthi Amman also deals with religious politics. At any point, did you think that this would cause an issue?

We were very cautious when we were writing. We did not want to say anything that’s untrue and things that could hurt people’s sentiments. Regarding fringe groups, they’re always there. Whatever you do, they’re there. People speak about stuff that doesn’t concern them or affect the common people anyway. The trailer of Mookuthi Amman has garnered over 20 million views and all of them enjoyed the trailer. I feel you need to ignore the fringe groups and move on.

Mookuthi Amman must have applause-worthy moments. Does it hurt you that you wouldn’t be witnessing it in theatres?

Yes, it does. All of us in my team are going to miss the theatrical experience. It’s not the kind of film that youngsters would bunk colleges to catch a show of. It’s a family entertainer and we wanted the entire family to visit the theatres. If that’s not happening in today’s scenario, the best thing is to get the film to the families. I’ve been associated with Disney+Hotstar for a while and getting a Diwali release is a huge deal.

Nayanthara is a powerhouse performer. Apart from your and NJ Saravanan’s inputs, what did she bring to the table?

She’s very professional. Before we began the film, she sent me probable looks to finalise. This happened about one and a half months before the shoot. Nayanthara and her stylist Anu Parthasarathy conceptualised the looks perfectly. From Day 1, she got her look right. And that made our job easy.

You said Mookuthi Amman also speaks about women who suffer in silence. Can you elaborate?

To be a man is easy. To be a woman in a man’s world is difficult. I was brought up by a single parent, my mom. My grandfather supported us. For a long time, I was angry with my mom and sisters for several reasons. When I grew up, I understood the struggle they were going through as women. With LKG, I couldn’t say all these as it was a political film.

As a team, we are very proud that we have written strong women characters. In Tamil cinema, a sister is just treated as a sidekick for her brother, who is the hero. Here we have a solid sister character and well-written mother character. NJ Saravanan sir brought in some nice emotional connect with life and work experience.

Now that you’ve become a director, what's next for RJ Balaji?

I don’t plan anything. Becoming a writer and director happened by chance. I didn’t know I could be a commentator. So, I haven’t planned my career. I did a standup comedy show called Ice House to White House and performed in foreign countries. I did that and felt tired. If I am bored, I’d probably pick this up. I want to do everything really well.

Are you looking at playing some solid roles in films featuring other heros?

The solid roles with someone else as the hero never happened to me in my 25 films. It’s not written. When people didn't write such characters, I decided to write for myself. I have no idea how to play the roles my friends or bigger names in the industry do. Other filmmakers have started writing films for me as a hero. These stories, which are under development, have a strong core concept. I can do maximum one film at a film. If I do all these films, I’d be occupied for the next two to three years.

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