Now, you’ll have to dig deep for memories since trauma is often repressed… But do you remember those devotional, goddess-driven films we grew up watching on KTV?
As a kid, this was one of my favourite genres. It had everything—supernatural forces, an epic battle between good and evil, copious bloodshed—to keep a ten-year old entertained. So when Annai Kaligambal came up on my YouTube feed, I figured, “Why not? For old times’ sake.”
2 hours and 22 minutes later
I knew it was bound to fall short in adulthood, but I hadn’t expected such a drastic difference in the experience. It’s kind of amazing that we, as a society, just collectively accepted these bizarre movies as normal. After sitting through half a dozen more, I’ve gathered my remaining brain cells to deconstruct the formula behind this genre:
- Insane twists
Take, for instance, Palayathu Amman (2000). A mother accidentally drops her baby into a kovil undiyal and the Amman decides this is a solid reason to claim ownership of the child. She comes all the way down to earth, just to stalk the little girl and attempt a kidnapping.
Imagine being vetti enough to be this petty
Another ridiculous example is Raja Kali Amman (2000) where the villain’s primary mode of murder is through enchanted ribbons that wrap around the victims, spinning them around, before flushing them down a toilet. I’m still processing this one too.
- First-draft scripts
Since all these films seem to amicably plagiarise each other, they suffer from the same pitfalls. Padai Veetu Amman’s (2001) dialogues are obnoxiously preachy and filled with clumsy wordplay. Meanwhile, Kottai Mariamman (2001) had me hitting pause multiple times to recover from the second-hand embarrassment.
When the other characters react like something profound has been said
These movies always end with a deus ex machina save executed by the omnipotent Amman who senses wrongdoing in every nook and cranny, brings people back to life with the snap of a finger, and can probably renew your Netflix subscription indefinitely.
- Exceptionally stupid heroines
I guess you could argue that the Amman is the lead, but I find her more of a supporting character whose purpose is to save the overly virginal protagonists from falling prey to wicked schemes, mostly due to their own naïveté.
No wonder they won’t give us 33% of Parliament
In the imaginatively-titled Amman (1995), a man looking for a human sacrifice convinces a young woman to meet him in the forest at midnight. She sits two feet away as he digs the grave—the thought that any of this might be suspicious, never crossing her mind.
- Caricatured villains
There are really only three types of antagonists here, with abusive husbands and nasty in-laws being the most common group. The second involves horny guys who are determined to deflower our kanni, and in the grand tradition of Tamil cinema, cannot take no for an answer.
Just your garden-variety scumbags
Category three is very specific to this genre—sorcerers seeking to increase their nefarious abilities through black magic and devotion to some sort of demonic entity (which seems like a vague metaphor for atheism, now that I think about it).
- Gory climaxes
The culmination of all this torture is the Amman avenging her devotee’s mistreatment. Some of the culprits are decapitated, others get burnt alive. The most cathartic kind, of course, is when she runs them through with her soolam, like in Kannaathal (1998).
How did these flicks get certified ‘U’?
This is the only part of my re-watching marathon that I still enjoyed. There’s something immensely satisfying about sadistic jackasses getting a taste of their own medicine. Or maybe I just like to see people dying in creative ways, whatever.
- Overacting 101
Considering that crying scenes and creepy laughter make up 90% of these films, it’s easy to see why the cast hams up their performance. They were probably told to exaggerate every little emotion for maximum effect. But instead, it just looks comical.
Kudutha kaasuku nadinga pa
What makes it even better (or worse?) is the illustrious line-up of actors like Meena, Devayani, Roja, Vadivelu and Vivek. Hell, Ramya Krishnan has been in seven of these. She probably suffers from nightmares to this day.
- Gaudy aesthetics
Yes, I know comparing animation from over a decade ago to today’s standards is unfair. But it’s so hideous that it would be a criminal offence to omit this point. Snakes and monsters, halos and green-screened backgrounds—they’re all a visual atrocity.
Who needs sight, amirite?
The colour palette always looks like it was chosen for lurid brightness rather than symbolic rationale. Adikra yellow, alarra red and agoramana green dominate the Amman’s wardrobe. Nothing says powerful like an attack on your retinas, I guess.
All said and done, I have no shame in admitting that these movies were a huge part of my childhood. But the next time I complain about growing up too soon, this is one aspect I’ll be more than happy to leave behind.