Mallesham movie cast: Priyadarshi, Ananya, Jhansi
Mallesham movie director: Raj Rachakonda
Mallesham movie rating: Three stars
Mallesham opens with a song paying tribute to handloom weavers. It talks about the craft, including complex art designs, colours and fine details of threads and fabrics that go into making a beautiful silk saree. It, more importantly, talks about preserving the heritage of handloom, which is also the theme of this no-frills biopic on Padma Shri Chintakindi Mallesham.
The life story of Chintakindi Mallesham needed to be told and Mallesham is a well-made celluloid ode to one of the brightest minds of the country. The film follows Mallesham’s struggles to build a device, without any basic knowledge of engineering, that could save weavers of Pochampally Ikat tradition from back-breaking labour.
A young Mallesham is unsettled by the suicide of his uncle, who killed his wife and two daughters before taking his own life because of his inability to pay off his debts. The culprit is the hand winding process called asu – which is crucial in creating designs on Pochampally Ikat saree. It requires weavers to move their hands up and down around 9000 times in a loop winding meters of silk yard on to a frame for one saree.
Mallesham’s mother and other women, who usually undertake the punishing hours of labours doing asu, develop shoulder problems. Families in Mallesham’s community give up the craft and migrate to cities to eke out a living doing menial jobs. Or like his uncle, they take the extreme step due to the harassment of loan sharks.
Director Raj Rachakonda has taken a very grounded approach to the biopic capturing the struggles of ordinary people. Even as his material has the potential to lure a top star like Akshay Kumar (remember Padman), the director, who has also co-produced the film, has stuck to the basics by roping in a non-star cast. The result is impressive. The absence of a big star in the lead has clearly allowed Raj to whip up an honest script devoid of unnecessary build-up scenes and other cliches.
Priyadarshi has inhabited the role of Mallesham with a great deal of conviction and palpable tenderness. His acting is so natural. In a scene, you can see his hands slightly shivering in disbelief and fear after he learns a fatal flaw in the design of the asu machine.
Ananya Nagalla shines in the role of Mallesham’s wife Padma. Her innate innocence seeps into her performance. Be it the scene where she lashes out at her husband after she refuses to let him borrow her gold ornaments. Or the scene where she nonchalantly points out the defect in the asu machine seemingly oblivious to the devastating shock the discovery gave her husband. She adds strength to the character of a dutiful wife, who do not hesitate to call spade a spade. Jhansi also makes her presence felt as Mallesham’s doting mother Laxmi.
The most engaging parts of the film are set in Mallesham’s native place. While Mallesham’s struggles to realize his dream is the heart of the film, Raj’s script keeps the audience engaged with its focus on the lifestyle of the hero’s village in Telangana. He charms the audience with the stretch that traces Mallesham’s childhood days. At the same time, he also underlines the sufferings of children inflicted by struggling handloom industry. Children are either made to quit school so that they can aid their parents in earning Rs 50 extra or die without a choice when their parents can’t repay their debts.
Writer Ashok Peddinti’s dialogues deserve a special mention for so beautifully capturing the rich dialect of Telangana, which is a mix of Telugu, Hindi and Urdu.
The film, however, loses its steam when the story moves to Hyderabad. Although the second half has its moments, it doesn’t really match the entertainment level of the first half, which is rooted in a distinctive culture and lifestyle.
Biopics have been the flavour of the season in the Telugu film industry. Especially, in the run-up to elections earlier this year, we saw a slew of biopics made with the intention of creating myths and serving legends. Mallesham comes as a breath of fresh air in the genre, courtesy Raj’s no-frills and sincere narration.