Mallesham won a Padma Shri yet nobody knows him outside Telangana: Director Raj intv

Raj Rachakonda speaks to TNM on what inspired him to do the movie, working with Priyadarshi and locating the story in Telangana.
Mallesham won a Padma Shri yet nobody knows him outside Telangana: Director Raj intv
Mallesham won a Padma Shri yet nobody knows him outside Telangana: Director Raj intv
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From being a tenth class dropout to a Padma Shri winner, the journey of Telangana man Chintakindi Mallesham is one of resilience. A weaver by profession, Mallesham invented the patented Laxmi Asu Machine to process yarn, which turned out to be a major technological revolution in the life of the Pochampally sari weavers. He didn’t succeed in his first attempt, but the story of his umpteen failures and success is worth a film indeed. Weaving together reality and fiction inspired from Mallesham’s life is director Raj Rachakonda, whose biopic on Mallesham will be hitting the theatres on June 21.

Raj is back to cinema after a gap of 11 years. Sila Samayangal, his first movie in Tamil, was a box-office dud and Raj says the failure of the movie was an excuse good enough not to take up projects for over a decade.

“It was during this period that I came across Mallesham’s TED talk on YouTube. I watched the entire show and was amazed at this man, a tenth class dropout, who didn’t give up after multiple failures in inventing the Asu machine. And maybe that’s when even I realised that a single failure also shouldn’t stop my efforts as a movie maker. I decided to buck up and couldn’t think of a better story than Mallesham’s to start my second innings in the film industry,” Raj narrates.

The Telugu film industry has seen a large number of biopics being churned out in the past two years. The trend started with Mahanati, a box-office hit, to NTR and Yatra, which told the life stories of yesteryear politicians of Andhra. But Raj says that Mallesham isn't part of this trend that has captured the industry because the movie stands out for a couple of reasons.

“In all other biopics that have come out in the recent past, there are four common elements. It will either have a star director or a producer. The protagonist is played by an actor with star value or will have proficient actors like Nawazuddin Siddiqui who played the role of Manjhi. Without any of these, there is a huge risk involved in making a biopic. Mallesham is a risk I decided to take, purely because it is the story of a man that needs to be told,” Raj says.

The story of Mallesham, as dramatic as it may seem, also needed intensive research. A school dropout, Mallesham went on to become an engineer, who later also learnt coding in order to computerise the Asu machine.

“Before we even started writing the script, we had tonnes of interviews with Mallesham. Mallesham is a genius who invented a machine without any secondary aide. At times, we had to underplay certain elements just to make Mallesham’s story more believable for the audience. We lived at Mallesham’s village throughout our research to internalise the story. Living there in itself was a learning process. And for Priyadarshi, who is playing Mallesham, it wasn’t just about looking similar to Mallesham or imitating his mannerisms. It is to tell the audience who the man is, a man who despite winning a Padma Shri, is not known beyond the borders of Telangana,” shares Raj.

Chintakindi Mallesham

Mallesham comes as a big boost for Priyadarshi, who until now has played second fiddle to the hero as his confidante, and is struggling to break his image of Kaushik, his first and most popular character from Pellichoopulu.

However, Raj says Priyadarshi wasn’t his first choice to play Mallesham in the movie.

“We had finished writing the script almost two years back and I had Vijay Deverakonda or Nani in my mind to play Mallesham. Someone else suggested Priyadarshi’s name, but I brushed aside the idea because Mallesham is a performance oriented role and two years ago, Priyadarshi had only a single film in his kitty.  But a few months later, I came across Bommala Ramaram where Priyadarshi seemed excellent playing the role of a villain. Then I watched Tharun Bhascker’s Junoon, where he played a cab driver. The cab driver role was very similar to the auto-driver scene I had in mind for the movie. There was another audition tape of him where he was playing a vendor selling fruits. Though unconventional, Priyadarshi turned out to be the best choice to play the role of an ordinary man,” Raj says.

“Also, Priyadarshi has no physical resemblance to Mallesham. And only a fraction of people among the audience know how Mallesham looks in real life. There wasn’t any pressure to find a Sanju or a Savitri who had close physical resemblance. So we haven’t stressed on any physical attributes here and the movie is purely an emotional journey,” the director recounts.

The soul of Mallesham lies in recreating the ethos of Telangana culture in the movie. Tollywood is now seeing a lot of movies where the characters speak the Telangana dialect and there is a conscious effort by the actor and director to bring in the state's landscape into the movie. Mallesham is also a movie that is close to the life of the rural belts in Telangana and Raj says there is much more to the film than just playing out a state’s sentiments.

“In other movies, the Telangana dialect is more urbanised. Be it Pellichoopulu or Arjun Reddy, it’s only a few characters who speak the dialect. It’s more of a mix of the urban cosmopolitan slang. In Fidaa as well, it’s only Sai Pallavi and her family who speak the language. In this way, the movies ensure that they cater to almost all sections of the Telugu audience who watch the film. But in Mallesham, we had to take the risk of making the movie all about Telangana. Because tomorrow if I have to make a movie in Srikakulam, it has to capture the essence of Andhra and I don’t think there needs to be a compromise made in portraying what’s real,” Raj says.

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