It’s never easy making a devotional film. The filmmaker knows his target audience and what he needs to make it click. But when it comes to mythology, it’s extremely difficult to narrate a story that’s not already known, that too in an entertaining manner. You need a bit more than just a story; you need a bit of an emotional connect. Annamayya (1997) had it and it was a defining film in Nagarjuna’s career. Now, two decades later, Raghavendra Rao and Nagarjuna have yet again decided to make a devotional film – Om Namo Venkatesaya. The grandeur on display is unquestionable and the film is certainly a visual treat. But the actors, in their fine splendour, seem to dully run through the motions and the film fails to strike a chord overall.
Om Namo Venkatesaya tells the story of Hathiram Bhavaji (Akkineni Nagarjuna), a devotee of Lord Venkateshwara, who from a very young age has a desire to see God. His guru (Sai Kumar) tells him that he needs no education to see God but does need to study to be able to recognise God. And thus, Hathiram successfully studies all the ancient scriptures and meditates for days in an attempt to reach God. The Lord answers his prayers and appears in front of him in the form of a child, but Hathiram mistakes him for a mischievous kid and drives him away. When he later realizes his mistake, Hathiram vows to go in front of God (in the temple) to seek penance. Hathiram’s journey to reach God and how he changes the entire landscape of Tirumala, freeing it from the corrupt (Rao Ramesh and his cronies) makes for the rest of the film.
To Raghavendra Rao’s credit, he knows exactly what his audience is and delivers what is required to be successful. The locales, costumes and deities are truly magnificent. Music by Keeravani is melodious, and exactly what you expect from a devotional film. Om Namo Venkatesaya is more about Hathiram Bhavaji’s journey than about Lord Venkateswara (played by Saurabh Raaj Jain), and that works since it’s a story many aren’t aware of.
But scratch beyond the surface and there’s not much on offer. If you aren’t a fan of the genre, Om Namo Venkatesaya is not the film for you. The constant interruptions by songs are a deterrent, since it often breaks the narrative. Visually wonderful it may be, but the film does get monotonous after a point.
Nagarjuna, though, is in his element as the loyal devotee. Having flourished in devotional flicks right through his career, the superstar portrays his character with effortless ease. Saurabh Raj Jaain is a surprise package and does a wonderful job. Anushka Shetty as Krishnamma doesn’t have much scope to shine, despite having sizeable screen time. Pragya Jaiswal is in the film only for the famous Raghavendra Rao song, dancing with flowers and fruits (it makes you squirm in your seat).
Om Namo Venkatesaya is a niche film and is meant only for those who enjoy watching devotional films. It offers everything that you expect from a film of this genre. But take away the gloss and you’re left with an average film.
|Film||Om Namo Venkatesaya|
|Cast||Akkineni Nagarjuna, Anushka Shetty, Saurabh Raj Jain|
|Director||K Raghavendra Rao|