Starring Priyadarshi Pullikonda, Ananya Nagalla
Directed by R Raghuraj
Rating: ****(4 stars)
In the week when the Telugu neo-classic Arjun Reddy, one of the cockiest most obnoxious screen heroes of all times, gets a new avatar in Hindi cinema, another remarkable Telugu film diametrically opposite to Arjun Reddy, quietly sneaks into our hearts.
Mallesham the gentle beautiful and moving story of Chitakindi Mallesham , the handloom weaver fromAndhra who revolutionized the weavers’ profession by inventing a mechanical loom–why, because his mother’s shoulder threatened to collapse with all the manual weaving—is a testimony of truth and tenacity.There are many flaws in the narrative .Scenes often lack a sense of flow and rhythm and move with the awkward gait of the protagonist who, let me tell you, is played by a relatively unknown actor who owns Mallesham’s part to an extent that he could easily exchange identities with the real Mallesham
The story of Mallesham’s determined bid to beat destiny is not a rarefied experience.There is no room for subtle sighs and stifled sobs in the storytelling. Not that the characters are shown indulging in exaggerated breastbeating. But the raw feel of emotions that are unpolished gives off the feeling of the rough handloom texture in its untreated form.
Oftentimes, the fillm and its anguished plea for the betterment of the lives of handloom weavers in AndhraPradesh and Telangana echoes Shyam Benegal’s 1987 film Susman which featured the formidable Om Puri andShabana Azmi as weavers struggling to be their tradition alive. Here in Mallesham , the protagonist and his endearing wife(Ananya Nagalla) are shown struggling to just stay alive.
Sensibly and wisely, director R Raghuraj has used authentic location. As I have already said, put the actors in real locations and more than half the job is done. The actors, barring Jhansi who plays Mallesham’s mother and who is a little too glamorous in her starched sarees,are so utterly credible that one tends to forget that this is a fictionalized version of a man so fiercely dedicated to improving the lives of the weavers that he forgets to live his own dreams.
There are two enormously insightful premises that propel this gentle drama to a glorious hurrah.Firstly, the idea that all great social acts are born on a personal sometimes selfish note. Mallesham sets his eyes on the mechanical loom because of his mother’s physical suffering. Secondly, the idea that every true hero, unsung or otherwise, needs a support system of family and friends who believe in him.
Standing tall in this endeavour to bring alive a life that simply(and I do mean simply) had to be chronicled is Priyadarshi Pullikonda. So selfeffacing and vanity-free is his performance that we don’t see the actor at all. We see only the transparent honesty and the uncompromised sincerity of the protagonist.
Some of Mallesham’s madness and his utter devotion to his wife reminded me of Arunachalan Murugunantham, the ‘Padman’ in the film of that title who invented the economical sanitary napkin because….well , his wife bled . Just as Mallesham’s mother suffered.Women indeed inspire in ways that the pseudo-feminists would never understand.
Mallesham is a film of tremendous virtue and honesty. At a time when biopics on gangsters and other sociopaths are being made this film shows us who the true hero is. Not the guy who beats up a dozen adversaries. But the guy who beats destiny.