Onamalu has all the qualifications of a well-meaning film. However, it is a drama sans the emotional crests and highs of a typical nostalgic film. In Aa Naluguru (which has of late been a benchmark for sensible entertainment laced with a moving message), preaching was so neatly churned into the proceedings that it did not sound like moralizing. For all the supple discoursing in Onamalu, the film does come across more as a string of creative advertisements/short programmes sponsored in public interest by the Ministry of Rural Development in the good old era of Doordarshan. That doesn't mean that it is minus some markings of a quality Telugu film, but there is artistic naivety on display in good proportion. Take out the evergreen Rajendra, Kranthi Madhav's earnest attempt is nothing more than a fest flick.
Narayana Rao's (Rajendra Prasad) village is self-sufficient, inhabited by good-hearted Samaritans, who all have great respect for the Master. Scene after scene, there is ample sermonizing on the value of education (that may well be used for the promotion for Sarva Siskha Abhiyan), on communal amity, and the greatness of one's own language. The film is a showcase of the unmistakable co-operative living in the village, of the interdependence of people, of how a middle-class school teacher educates the children and adults, and how he builds the character of his school children.
His loving wife (Kalyani) draws applause with her homely appearance for the brief time she is seen on the screen. For all the purity in their romance (watch out for the poetry of Arudaina..) and the good filming, it is vintage Rajendra who emerges victorious in these portions. Quite surprisingly, Kranthi's directorial touch is mellow in these episodes rather than in the film's avowed intentions.
On his return from the US, Narayana Rao is aghast to watch the complete deterioration of the village, the murder of a way of life, the degeneracy, the invasion of English language, the loss of family functions, etc. His experiences are mixed. He crosses paths with a wounded ex-student (this guy who was brilliant in mathematics as a child is working in an eatery). He meets the brave journalist Khadeer, who has stood up against the corrupt regime, and who owes his idealism to the value system imbibed by his guru.
The film presented a chunk of cliches. Despite the heavy-dose lecturing and Khadeer Babu's pithy lines, the film lacked soul-stirring moments. The climax was an Anna Hazare moment, where Rajendra declares from the dais (not covered by a single tv crew, despite one journalist among the audience) that all politicians, including the Chief Ministers and the Prime Minister, should visit their villages on October 2. The speech of a floozy-turned-moral girl was way too unrealistic, while Rajendra's call from the pulpit lacked force.
If cliches abound, there is also sentimental and one-sided view too. The film is partial to the demerits of yesterday's villages and turns a blind eye to the gifts of GDP growth in Neo-liberal India. However, it rightly rejects the cultural invasion (a negative fall-out of globalisation) and plumps for the traditional genius of India.
Rajendra's class act in the many scenes is reminiscent of the maturity of an ANR or a Jaggaiah. Chalapathi Rao, Giri Babu, Shiva Parvathi were good in their cameos. Gowtham Raju's editing and Hari Anumolu's cinematography add to the film's minimalist technical beauty.