Oka Chinna Family Story Review: A Show With Big Ideas But Small Returns

The show sets an expectation that it would subvert conventional ideas of parenthood. In the end, it falls back into the same loop.
Oka Chinna Family Story Review: A Show With Big Ideas But Small Returns

Director: Mahesh Uppala
Cast: Sangeeth Shobhan, Simran Sharma, Naresh, Tulasi, Get Up Srinu, Rajeev Kanakala
Language: Telugu

Oka Chinna Family Story, streaming on ZEE5, is a show about one small family — a mother, father, son and a grandmother. Set in Warangal, this middle class family lives a seemingly normal life until one incident makes their world turn. 

The show begins by introducing Mahesh (Sangeeth Shobhan) as an unambitious, B.Tech failing, jobless son about whom his father is worried. He hangs around the house or the local pan shop, has no interest in finding a job and likes to be handed things on a silver platter. Most of all, he feels entitled to all of this. His life's mission is to marry his neighbour Keerthy (Simran Sharma). Yet, he never actively does anything to achieve that (except of course, waiting on the terrace everyday to stare at her). His happy-go-lucky life is rudely disrupted when his father, Haridas (Naresh), passes away suddenly and a loan that he took falls on the family's head. What the family goes through while trying to pay off this loan and what that does to Mahesh makes the rest of the show.

This premise has the potential to open up a number of interesting questions. To what extent will Mahesh go to pay off the loan? What is the consequence of waiting around finding your passion? How will a homemaker, unaware of the world outside, make money? Can parents have dreams of their own? 

Instead of setting up situations that answer these questions interestingly, the show packs the resolutions into one big lecture about the sacrifice made by parents to raise their kids. A neighbour lectures the father-loathing Mahesh about the sacrifices made by his father, and voila, he is transformed into a loving son. It might have been the length of the show or all the build-up to Mahesh's irritation with his father, but when this moment arrives, it all feels too easy. 

It's not just Mahesh who lazily wants to borrow from others, the show does too. Oka Chinna Family Story is conveniently peppered with references to popular Telugu dialogues and songs that tell us what is happening. For instance, at one point, Mahesh gets a job opportunity that requires him to take a test. The show cuts to a clip of the movie Sontham playing on the TV where Sunil says "ee sadavataalu pass avvatalu mana valla ayye pani kaadu ra" (this studying, qualifying etc. is not for us, friend!). Almost nothing is left to the audience's imagination. The second and third episode tire us out by saying the same thing in a number of ways without contributing to moving the narrative ahead in any way. 

The show has a number of women, who are significant to the life of the protagonist, though not to the story. Rukmini (Tulasi) is a mother who has never stepped out of a kitchen. Her son and husband keep insisting that she knows nothing. She herself can't stop talking about knowing nothing but to make pappucharu. Even the very brief period of street-smartness fades away urgently. 

Another important character is Keerthy. When a prospective husband tells her that she can't work after marriage, she slaps him twice and says a marriage is not just what a man decides. However, a few scenes later she says that her marriage is her mother's choice. The women in Oka Chinna Family Story are not just confused, but also rather confusing. 

What writing can't fix, the casting does somewhat. Tulasi as Rukmini and Naresh as Haridas perfectly fit the bill. Sangeeth Shobhan as Mahesh is a guy-next-door who seems comfortable playing an irritated and sarcastic man while getting the comic timing quite well. The rapport between him and Tulasi keeps the interest going. 

Music director PK Dandi has taken it upon himself to tell us what to feel. To his credit, he manages to force a lump in our throat in the emotional sequence towards the end. The way the characters look, where they live and how they eat make it an authentic Warangal story. Yet, for a show that endeavours to open up a number of complex questions, it hardly questions the status quo. In the end, in this small family story, a parent can't have an identity beyond parenthood.

Alas, Oka Chinna Family Story's pedha ideas are crushed by its chinna worldview.

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