Director: Raj Rachakonda
Cast: Priyadarshi, Ananya, Jhansi, Chakrapani Ananda, Jagadish Pratap Bhandari
Padman, the film that was also about an ordinary man’s extraordinary journey had a major design flaw. It didn’t care about the time period in its hero’s life that can’t be played by Akshay Kumar. It never tells us why/how the hero is the way he is—he is unaffected by the conservative and patriarchal background he comes from–and that turns it into a celebration of the actor rather than an insightful look into the life of the man he is playing.
Mallesham knows better. The title credits at the beginning bring with them two things. One, a powerful song that talks about the relationship between the weavers and their work, and how their world hangs by every single one of those threads. Two, images of faceless people working on their machines while creating beautiful sarees. It perfectly sets the mood for what is coming, in addition to creating a reverence for the work that is being showcased. ‘This is art too, these are artists too’, the film seems to be saying. Mallesham, the film, refuses to be a mere checklist of its protagonist’s milestones. Instead, it lends some of its time to celebrate the people that helped Mallesham along the way—his wife, the old man in his village, the electrical guy, and Abdul Bhai—and those that practice the art of weaving.
The film is about Mallesham, a 6th class dropout, who comes from a family of Pochampally weavers in a Telangana district. Even as a child, he sees his mother, Lakshmi, struggling with her right hand that she uses almost every day to work the asu—a process through which complex designs are created on sarees. As he grows old, so does her pain. And when he is old enough to be resolute, he decides to invent a machine that can help alleviate his mother’s pain. The rest of the film is about this journey of a son.
There are virtually no bad actors in the film, even the kid who plays the young Mallesham doesn’t falter. Even though Priyadarshi plays the titular role with great ease and honesty, the film equally belongs to Ananya, who plays Padma.
At one point in the film, Mallesh is in class taking notes and his pen stops working. He goes to Veera Pratap, a rich kid, to borrow a few drops—it’s an ink pen, you see. Pratap agrees but not before reminding Mallesham that he now owes him a total of 9 drops. This is a rather funny scene to watch, but it also foreshadows Pratap’s character arc. Raj Rachakonda, the film’s co-writer, director, and producer, and Ashok Kumar take an already inspiring story of Chintakindi Mallesham and turn it into a screenplay that is meaningful in more ways than one. It masterfully treads the fine line between emotional heft and manipulation. The film understands that most of us are familiar with the story at a macro level. So it enriches itself with details, which allow the film to leisurely and organically grow on us while also exploring the milieu it’s set in. The highly energetic Oho Jambiya, in the backdrop of Peerlu Panduga, wouldn’t have space to exist in a rushed film.
There are virtually no bad actors in the film, even the kid who plays the young Mallesham doesn’t falter. Even though Priyadarshi plays the titular role with great ease and honesty, the film equally belongs to Ananya, who plays Padma. With her relentless glee and strength, she is as much a silver-lining to Mallesham’s life as she is to the film. While Jhansi’s Lakshmi is the quintessential doting mother, Chakrapani Ananda is the cynical/tired father. They both play off each other rather well. Anvesh and Jagadish as Mallesham’s friends are great additions as well. Special mention to the avva whose idea of speaking is shouting at people until they lose hope.
Cinematography by Balu Sandilyasa adds to the film’s warm and intimate vibe. The use of natural light and shot treatment keeps the film grounded to its reality. The aerial shots beautifully capture the vastness of village life, especially in Dhana Dhana Dhann song. Mark K. Robin’s score feels like a natural extension to the film, and never a distraction.
The movie begins with the protagonist’s childhood. We see how his mother’s turmoil-filled life and the way she deals with it prepares him for his extraordinary journey in the future. While this is an interesting way to go about a biopic, what’s more interesting is the way it moves forward. We leave behind the young Mallesham enjoying Induvadana Kundaradana and jump cut to a grown man listening to Bangaru Kodipetta—years go by but nothing much changes for his family or the many families in his village. Even though it gets a bit stretched by the climax, this ability to weave culture—both popular and traditional—and people into a story about a single man is what makes Mallesham an experience to cherish.