Mallesham  Review: A Heartwarming and Inspiring Biopic
Mallesham opens with a euphonious song chronicling the intricate and nuanced detailing that goes in weaving Pochampalli sarees. The lyrics describe in admiration the craft of weaving every fabric to create a mosaic of the art design on a saree. From the judicious selection of threads and its colour to the infinitesimal gap between every thread, you would be sweating by the end of the song, realising the monumental hard work that goes into making a single Pochampalli saree.
And if that was not enough, writer Peddinti Ashok Kumar and debut film-maker Raj Rachakonda give us sight into the lives of the men and women who toil endlessly on ‘asu’ to design the saree. Before they start knitting the narrative, we see how cruel and unrewarding the art is for the artists in debt who are pushed over the edge to end their life.
We see young Mallesham inside the dilapidated classroom, sitting on a well-worn floor-mat with other students. A teacher enters the class and asks the class to spell peacock. When no one could get it correct, he asks Mallesham thrice to be sure he is correct. He wants to get the correct spelling as he himself is not sure about it, and he trusts that Mallesham would get it right. But to his disappointment, Mallesham spells it differently all the three times, leaving the teacher in the state of confusion.
Unlike many kids, who would disregard about it the moment bell rings, he goes back home to learn the word. That’s his conviction. It reflects his determination and resilience in his character. It foreshadows the arduous journey he takes to build a machine that could save weavers of “Pochampally Ikat” tradition from the gruelling task in ‘Asu poyatam’. Over the six long years, despite no engineering knowledge and a school drop out, Mallesham never gives up even when people mocked, shamed, and embarrassed him several times.
Asu poyatam as art is underappreciated, overlooked and inconsequential to the consumerist society. It is a scrupulous and excruciating task (the hand winding process) that requires moving the hand in a loop, incessantly, for the entire day, mostly done by women. It results in a loss of bone density that is a common problem among all the women performing ‘asu’. Looking at the severe pain his mother is in, Mallesham takes it upon himself to build a machine that would automate the process, thus help her mother.
Co-writer and director Raj Rachakonda do not indulge in making a glossy biopics with the unnecessary frills that we are dished out in the name of biopics. He roots the narrative in realism, paints it with sociocultural richness, and tells an extraordinary story of Padma Shri Chintakindi Mallesham in the most simplistic way. The simplicity in the screenplay mirrors the unadulterated character of Mallesham, and it adds to the charm of the film.
Even the romantic drama, involving Mallesham and Padma, is thoughtfully constructed in the film without compromising on the very fabric of the plot. The naive Padma, as a character, is fleshed out beyond the usual banality for mere display presence. She becomes the backbone to Mallesham’s struggle, and Ananya Nagalla plays it unpretentious charm and innocence. Priyadarshi gets into the skin of the character and makes it his own. The performance he puts on display is distinctive and unadulterated.
It fleetingly touches upon the subject of casteism and disparate between skill and education without veering off from the plot to politicize the struggle of Mallesham. The story would not have resonated if the milieu was not this effortlessly captured. The detailing of the social and cultural lifestyle indigenous to the village adds a tangible dimension to the story.
The only issue in the film appears when the narrative drifts to show Mallesham doing petty jobs in Hyderabad to make ends meet. It’s an important chapter in Mallesham’s life when he is faced with an internal conflict, resolving to settle with the failure and move on with his life. But the writing never digs deeper into his inner conflict to show how devastating it could be for a person who struggled, despite anyone to his rescue, for half a decade.
Mallesham (131 minutes) is a moving and heartwarming film that doesn’t fall into any biopic tropes and engages in theatrics. The honesty, sincerity and love in making this biopic reflect in the intention of telling a story than selling it.