Change is known to break hearts, yes.
And yes, people lived in a much simpler, gentler, greener time than now.
But debutant director Kranthi Madhav's Onamaalu, a film that tries to speak to 3 generations but may find understanding nods from only one, grieves a little too much over the decay of the past. It is a story whose rightful place is only in a Telugu weekly, where it can command the attention of the audiences it is seeking. As a film - one that is being released for commercial audiences and not for the patient and discerning jury of a film festival - it will be quickly hit by the dynamics of consumer behaviour. In short, the film will not work commercially.
The story is that of a former school teacher Narayana Rao (Rajendra Prasad) wanting to return to his roots, after having lived a monotonous decade or so abroad with his son's family. Narayana Rao longs to come back to his village in India, and after countless pleas to his son (who has neither the time or the inclination to travel to India) to be taken there, he finally breaks free and sets off on his own.
Once in India, Narayana Rao gets chatty with the driver (Raghu Babu) who drives him to his village. He recollects the poetic simplicity of the times, and paints a charming picture of rural life. Thoroughly prepared to get back to the beauty of it all, Narayana Rao is shattered, one inch of his beaming smile at a time, when he sees that the present is a withering shadow of the past. Poverty on one hand, and the changing sensibilities of the urban elite on the other, burst his bubble of idealism, and he decides to do something about it.
Onamaalu is not a movie as much as it is a string of little vignettes - if the first half is about showcasing incidents of goodness in the picture-perfect rural community, the second half is all about how life has "degraded". It's all about painting a picture with individual elements in place, with little emphasis on making this a free-flowing story.
The tone is that of a sad grandparent feeling displaced in the melee of present-day culture. Several issues are sprinkled all over - poverty, the education system, "immorality" of city life, and even farmers. It's a sensitive film, and is rarely wrong perhaps, but the motive seems to be merely to crib about the present and moralize a lot. Narayana Rao's idealism is tragically misplaced, and this is evident in a scene in which he convinces a mineral-water-delivery-boy to shut his business down because it's apparently a sin to sell water in a land blessed with a zillion rivers (or some such thing). While you wonder how Narayana Rao can be so uninformed about scarcity and water pollution, you cannot help feeling sad for the man.
However, for all its faults, the movie is a better piece of work than Devasthanam
, because it does have some interesting dialogues, and is generally better made.
Rajendra Prasad revels in roles like these. As you watch Narayana Rao relish the memories of a time gone by, get scandalized by cultural blasphemy, and be saddened by the distress around him, you're glad there's still a niche for actors like Rajendra Prasad. These are roles that demand entire ranges of acting, and Prasad embraces them to the full, theatrics and all.
Kalyani plays a make-up-free role as Narayana Rao's wife. Raghu Babu, Giribabu and Chalapathi Rao play accessories to the protagonist, and most of the other roles are played by new faces.
The visuals are appealing, though not top-notch by any means. And Koti's music is charming, with the songs adding character to the movie.
You may watch Onamaalu if you identify with the theme, and even though the movie may still not be the best in its genre, it is an attempt that deserves to be lauded.