Telugu cinema Reviews

Om Namo Venkatesaya: Aesthetic devotional

Saurabh Jain, Anushka Shetty and Nagarjuna in the film

Saurabh Jain, Anushka Shetty and Nagarjuna in the film  

Nagarjuna and Anushka impress in this cinematic account of devotee Hathiram Bhava

Rama (Nagarjuna) and Lord Venkateswara or Balaji (Saurabh Jain) as his devotee Rama calls him, are seated overlooking a precipice, playing a game of dice (pachikalu). The lord has lost to his devotee a few times earlier and this time, has arrived with his own dice and with Garuda (a brief role by Ajay) who monitors the game. The result is no different. The lord loses all his jewellery which he stakes. Eventually, the temple priests notice the lord’s idol bereft of jewellery.

Soon, Rama finds himself cornered. No one buys his argument that he played pachikalu with the lord himself and won those jewels. How Rama proves he’s no ordinary devotee and earns the name Hathiram is a story one hears in Tirumala.

Director K. Raghavendra Rao narrates this story with the help of writer J.K Bharavi, taking cinematic liberties.

Rama, as legend has it, was a reformist devotee who had to clean up the functioning of the temple. In the cinematic version, this allows for Rao Ramesh to play Govindarajulu, a corrupt and powerful temple dharmadhikari. The clash between Rama and Govindarajulu, Rama setting up an ashram and with persuasion setting things right in the temple premises is well narrated.

Nagarjuna has been on this devotional path before, in Annamayya, Sri Ramadasu and Shirdi Sai. He doesn’t falter in his portrayal of Rama. His journey is aided by Krishnamma, a Goda Devi or Andal-inspired fictional character played by Anushka Shetty. She’s a treat to watch. She wants Rama to convey the essence of Sri Venkateswara Mahatyam to devotees. This part of the film feels like reading Amar Chitra Katha, with nuggets explaining the reason behind certain practices diligently followed in Tirumala. Through brief anecdotes explained through a song, you get the history of Varaha Swamy, Venkateswara Swamy Kalyanam, what the lord’s debt to Kubera signifies and much more.

The story unfolds in an aesthetic setting with Gopal Reddy’s cinematography, Kiran Kumar Manne’s art direction and visual effects coming together beautifully. M.M. Keeravani’s background score and songs like Akhilanda Koti are the perfect foil for this devotional.

However, a few niggles crop up now and then. The romantic songs seem so out of place that you want to wish them away. So is the case with the comic interlude involving Brahmanandam and Prudhvi. Vennela Kishore’s part thankfully blends with the narrative.

Pragya Jaiswal makes a brief appearance as Rama’s fiancée. She has prayed for years for Rama’s return and tells him about all the rituals she’s been following. Soon after, in the scene where she lets Rama follow his heart, it all happens in a few seconds. Pragya plays it well, but somehow, this scene seems rushed through.

Saurabh Jain who has played Krishna on television plays his part with ease.

Watch the film for Nagarjuna who comes up with another memorable performance. As you watch the story of a devotee who puts his love for the lord above everything, it might make you go a little deeper and understand faith beyond rituals.

Om Namo Venkatesaya

Cast: Nagarjuna, Anushka Shetty, Saurabh Jain

Direction: K. Raghavendra Rao

Music: M.M. Keeravani

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 7:46:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/reviews/Om-Namo-Venkatesaya-Aesthetic-devotional/article17283058.ece

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