Mallesham - the biopic of Padma Shri award winner Chintakindi Mallesham - opens on a moribund note. A weaver's family, including two kids, kill themselves, unable to pay back their debts. Despite being ingenious from a young age, Mallesham has to drop out of school after the seventh grade to help his dad out. He grows up watching his mom and a lot of other women in his village suffer with shoulder pain, their bodies wearing out. That is the bottleneck he resolves to solve.
In the Pochampally style of weaving, the women help the men by painstakingly winding a silk thread, which pivots around one peg on one side and 40 on the other side - a process that is crucial for any design. Without this assistance, the weaver slows down drastically. Mallesham (Priyadarshi) fights an uphill battle for years, as he is mocked and jeered at by most people, who dissuade him from pursuing his dream to create the Asu machine which will make the process mechanical and spare the women the torment.
In his struggles, Mallesham finds his wife Padma (Ananya Nagalla) by his side every step, supporting him, cajoling him when he is down, cheering him up and even sacrificing her jewellery to invest in his dream.
The biopic has plenty of things going for it. To start with, Priyadarshi and Ananya conjure up a romance that is more charming than any of the overblown love stories we are used to watching. Priyadarshi is a natural, slipping comfortably into the role of a man who is taken over by bouts of inspiration and demotivation, a man who is obsessed about his vision, and yet is dragged back at every step by circumstances. Ananya is endearing and has been given a lot of scope to emote - another wonderful directing decision, to not make it all about the protagonist.
There is bandwidth given to the sidekicks as well, the friends, the supporters who ensure Mallesham doesn't give up during tough times. The biopic is also adorable for not dramatising the incidents. It lets you soak in the story in a leisurely way, sans melodrama. The high point of the movie is watching the TEDx talk of the man himself, while the titles roll by in the end, a talk that makes you choke up and laugh at the same time.
The biopic also benefits from the language used; the dialect while tough to follow at times, brings out the authenticity of the story. This and the setting of the story for most part make you forget that you are watching a movie; it feels like you are peeping through a window into the travails of a culture that could be extinct if not for inspirational souls like Mallesham.
Raj Rachakonda, director and co-producer, should be lauded for the warmhearted sincerity with which he approaches the subject. Make no mistake, this could have been a blockbuster, big-screen biopic too (think Padman/Mary Kom). But, that temptation of making it larger than life has been avoided, and rightly so.
Mallesham is raw. As a film, yes, there are several technicalities that could have been pushed towards perfection. The detail is lacking at times. Priyadarshi's clothes for example, are starched, ironed and new most of the times which doesn't sit with the abject poverty we are trying to digest. While one can't be sure that it is deliberate, some work could have gone into making a couple of scenes more stirring and memorable. After all, here's a guy who gambles away everything for a vision. Surely that obstinacy stemmed from something much deeper? There was an opportunity to explore that, but the film doesn't get into it. The climax is no-nonsense, but wouldn't it have given the audience a high, if it was built up rather than hurried along? The zero drama through the movie, make no mistake, is a plus. But a moment that was the culmination of all his emotions and conflicts could have been capitalised on better.
The movie gives us many nostalgic moments, especially for those who've spent their summers in ancestral houses in their villages. Jhansi, who plays Mallesham's mother, is brilliant, slowly evolving as one of the finest female character artists of the industry. Mark Robin's gentle OST and Balu's camera work don't take anything away from the screenplay; they just add underlying elements that don't stand out glaringly.
All in all, Mallesham is a charming movie about a difficult craft, and one man's struggle to contribute to it, an underdog story that takes him from being a weaver, to being an engineer, and eventually even coding in assembly language to be able to help the womenfolk. The movie does justice to the story that has now enhanced the productivity of these weavers six times, not to mention the pain it has alleviated.
Despite its minute flaws, Mallesham is a movie that should be watched, a torchbearer for so many other stories of the unsung heroes of society.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.