Om Namo Venkatesaya Review
'Om Namo Venkatesaya' hits the screens today. Here is our review of this devotional:
The film traces the story of Ram, who comes down to Tirumala all the way from North India, in search of God. At the abode of Lord Venkateswara, he contemplates for years on end on the advice of a Gnani (Sai Kumar impresses). The 'tapas' is interrupted by the God Himself who impersonates as a kid, whom Ram shoos away out of ignorance.
Ram once again receives God's call in his dream and this time, he has the guidance of both his Guru and Krishnamma (played by Anushka).
He soon becomes famous among the holy place's residents and pilgrims as he enlightens them with his Puranic talks. Under his aegis, the Tirumala rituals attain their true glory even as his childhood mission of having a 'darshan' of Lord Balaji (Saurabh Jain) and playing the game of dice with him remains unfulfilled.
What happens when the Lord sits down to play 'pachikalu' with Ram? What is His idea behind choosing him to convey a message to the seekers? What travails and tribulations does Ram Baba face in the process? Answers to these questions are found in the second half.
Teaming up with writer JK Bharavi once again after 'Annamayya' and 'Sri Ramadasu', K Raghavendra Rao delivers a pack full of expected elements. The writer supposedly had no much material to draw from, not only because Hathi Ram Baba (whose tryst with Lord Balaji the film is about) has not left a body of literary work, but also because his claim to (whatever little) fame owes to him playing a game of dice with his favourite God and about which nothing much is said to be known.
At one level, thus, a script developed from such an anecdote can only be as good (or as bland), as imaginative (or as predictable), as novel (or as hackneyed) as the writer/director. To a large extent, this film ('ONV') doesn't throw up unheard-of philosophizing or never-seen-before Godly behaviour. You get a list of do's and dont's when you are to Tirumala, delivered sans much cinematic drama.
The Lord's wives (Sridevi and Bhoodevi, ably played by Vimala Raman and Asmitha, respectively) are depicted in the same way as they were in old-time movies: they argue with their Husband, they smile like kids when He changes over into something else, they question His indifference and more. Then there is a Jagapathi Babu-Anushka duet, completely out of place, when they don't share the kind of relationship that Mohan Babu and Roja did in 'Annamayya'.
Nagarjuna as Ram Baba exudes 'bhakthi rasa' as if it was his second nature. A stunning performance generally, it reaches a crescendo in the scenes involving the Lord (Saurabh Jain is tall, handsome, emotes well with his sinless face, is confident, child-like).
There was a lot of hyping up about the dice-playing scenes involving the two characters, but the conversations are just about OK. Even after the 'pachikalu' is said to be analogous to our 'karmas', the philosophy is left untouched later. Instead, we get a passing reference in the form of a proverb to what God intends to teach through his perennial debt servicing.
If there is one actress in this generation who can get into the skin of any character she plays, it has to be Anushka (as Krishnamma, she is remarkable). When she is saying 'muddu ga' about God, she turns into girl-like. When she is singing hymns of God, she turns into a detached 'bhaktin'. But it's a disappointment that, in a throwback to yesteryear cinema, she is made to dance with angst in the climax, much like those jaded heroines of the past.
Bharavi's sense of humour comes to the fore in the scene where Garuda (Ajay comes with a pointed, animated nose) speaks of how the Lord's weight goes up after he services the debt to Kubera!
The Rao Ramesh-Sampath Raj sub-plot is too folkish. It might have been unavoidable, but it's nevertheless insipid. Pragya Jaiswal as his 'maradalu' Bhawani is beautiful and expressive. Sai Kumar, Ajay, 'Kalakeya' Prabhakar, Vennela Kishore, Brahmanandam and others fit the bill.
MM Keeravani's music is top-notch, especially 'Kamaneeyam' and 'Akhilanda Koti Brahmanda Nayaka'. The RR is A-rated. S Gopal Reddy's cinematography is beautiful.
A proper Tirumala devotional. Artistically, it's much better than 'Shirdi Sai'. Nagarjuna is a super-mature actor who emotes with his eyes. Saurabh and Anushka complement him. Fairly engaging writing from Bharavi, although some stock elements could have been given a miss for good.