Performers: Priyadarshi, Ananya, Jhansi, Ananda Chakrapani
Direction: Raj Rachakonda
Music: Mark K Robin
Producers: Sri Adhikari, Raj Rachakonda
Executive producer: Venkat Siddareddy
The title credits, against the background of drawings (by the artist and production designer Laxman Aelay), roll to melodious melodies composed by Mark K. Robin. The camera of Balu Sandilyasa moves lovingly through the colorful yarns and designs on graph paper before they are brought to life on the Ikat weaver’s loom. Mallesham nudges his audience into a zone rarely explored in Telugu Cinema – the Handloom Cluster in Pochampally.
This biography of Padma Shri winner Chintakindi Mallesham is essentially about a man who makes great efforts to relieve the pain of his mother and some other women like her in his village. The mother, Lakshmi (Jhansi), runs the house and a little more – winds uninterruptedly over a four-foot-long, v-shaped “asu”. It is a thankless step in front of the loom before her husband Narasimhulu (Ananda Chakrapani) can use the weft and warp and bring the ikat fabric to life on his loom.
We see Lakshmi humming a song and occasionally pausing to rub his shoulder. The mallesham who goes to school observes this and tells her that when he grows up, he’ll make her feel better. Lakshmi smiles but does not read much.
Gradually we are shown the many things that make up the way of life of the weavers. Director Raj Rachakonda, who shares author rights with Peddinti Ashok Kumar, begins his story in the 1980s. In the opening scene, a Weber Gold Spot buys, reminiscent of the time. As the story progresses, the various Chiranjeevi blockbusters and local festivals become landmarks of the time.
The childhood episodes are fun and show socio-economic differences. Mallesham has borrowed nine drops of ink from his wealthy classmate Veera Pratap and is in debt. In later years he will have debts throughout the village.
An adult mallesham (priyadarshi) is affectionately called “engineer” by his friends. As a drop-out, he has a flair for machines and taught himself certain techniques. He’s experimenting with a radio, a ceiling fan … There’s a hilarious episode with the ceiling fan and Gangavva (from My Village Show on YouTube).
As Mallesham watches as his mother’s shoulder pain worsens, his yearning to build a machine becomes an obsession. I was reminded of PadMan. Both men are driven by the possibility of a better future for the women in their lives.
The portrayal of Mallesham’s attachment to his wife Padma (newcomer Ananya) is as heartwarming as that of his mother. The father’s resistance to the machine is based on helplessness, knowing that the family does not have the resources to support something that seems like a dream. The run-ins are portrayed without being demonic.
When you talk about machines, note the different Eureka moments that result from observing the mechanisms of everyday objects.
While the narrative is filled with native passion, the dialect needs a bit of getting used to. Terms like Kontrollbiyyam (Rationsreis) are usually not heard in the cinema. The environment is rough and real, so we feel we have been transferred to rural Telangana and see how things develop. The use of sync sound additionally emphasizes the realistic sound.
In just over two hours, Mallesham shows the plight of women in the hand-woven belt. Weber suicides are discussed. It could have easily become a whiny story, but the film underscores the need for hope even in the darkest hour.
Thanks to Gangavva, the last moment of triumph is both moving and entertaining. Malleshams lifeline is Priyadarshi, who shows us what a good actor he is. He has just proved that he is much more than a comic actor, but this film is a clear affirmation of his potential. Be it the embarrassment he poses as a woman during Peerla Pandugas or the sheer helplessness as he struggles to build the machine he possesses at any moment.
Ananya brings the innocence needed for her role and makes a promising debut. Jhansi’s is a poignant performance; she has to portray pain and at the same time portray a woman who does her jobs without caring. She is doing well.
After a series of political biographies earlier this year, this is a refreshing one.