[VoxSpace Review] Mallesham : Priyadarshi & Ananya Shine Through In This Relevant And Aspiring BioPic

The Story Of Mallesham – A Man Challenged With Communal Hardship

Last night I had the opportunity to catch the preview of Mallesham directed by Raj R. The movie starring Priyadarshi as Mallesham ended with spectacular applause as the end credits showcased snippets from a TED Talk given by Chintakindi Mallesham explaining his journey in achieving a near impossible dream. And what an incredible journey it has been. From being a school dropout at merely 6th standard to being able to now work on innovative solutions based on Integrated Circuits, drawing purely on Mallesham’s iron will and deep-seated acumen in automata, is a story we all need to know. The idiom which goes as – Necessity Is The Mother Of Invention, couldn’t have been truer than in the case of Mallesham and his intuitively conceptualised ‘Asu’ (weaver’s loop) machines. Winding a silk yarn on to a large frame, a process called Asu, was the trade of the day back in the ’70s and ’80s, which became the driving force for Mallesham in conceptualising a dream bigger than his own world.

Having known this much, I walked into the movie with a significant amount of confidence and curiosity on its deliverance. Adding to my excitement was, of course, the brilliant yet unexpected casting of Priyadarshi and Ananya Nagalla to play the leads. When I say unexpected, it is only to imply the amount of confidence showcased by director Raj R, in casting these two highly promising actors in roles which are dramatically contrasting of what they’ve been known for in their respective careers.

Casting Wins The Day For The Movie

Of course, those who knew Priyadarshi and Ananya outside their film work wouldn’t find it surprising to see them breathe life into their roles with unparalleled understanding and poignancy. Before we go into the overall review of the film, which is slated to release on June 21st, a special shoutout to a handful of aspects which made a lasting impact on me as I walked out of the movie hall. Firstly, a huge kudos to the Casting team behind Mallesham. It is so endearing to see a collection of perfectly cast actors in a story of such aspirational value. It is a biopic, yes, but it still needs to be built upon the shoulders of actors around Mallesham who contribute to different aspects of the storytelling, furthering it effortlessly, and leaving you with a world you want to be a part of.

The importance of the John Truby’s quote ‘Good Casting Precedes A Great Movie’ holds utmost priority in this movie, as you see, feel and interact with perhaps the most dynamic and vibrant supporting cast you might have seen in a long time. In times, where we have films like Maharshi or Aravinda Sametha, where the supporting cast is merely used to fill up the set space, it is heartwarming to see movies like Jersey and Mallesham using the supporting actors as one of their greater strengths. One another thing that baffled me, as I walked out, and started interacting with the cast and crew of Mallesham, was when I saw Actor Jhansi. Jhansi who plays Darshi’s mother in the feature, with restrained ease and eloquent dialect, perfectly imbibing the struggles of a mother stuck between the old world practises and new age promises, in real life, simply proved that time works differently for her. Exuding hyperactivity outside the screening hall, while interacting with the audience who were rightfully showering praises on her portrayal, Jhansi looked like she hadn’t aged a single day from her ‘Talk of the Town’ days. Another important lesson for upcoming actors here is how fitness plays a major role in portraying roles with keen panache, much like Jhansi, who still remains an evasive muse for any good writer worth his salt, even after a couple of decades in the industry.

A Communal Story Told Via A Single Man

The movie Mallesham works on multiple different levels. At the onset, it starts off as a story of not just a singular man, but a community at large. Set in 1984, in interior Telangana, the weaver’s community face the challenge of delivering hand weaved saris and fabric clothes, despite their age-old practise of weaving, which is resulting in lower output and higher physical ailments in women working on the weaving pools. While the drastic implications of these situations are captured horrifyingly from the first scene of the movie, the story cautiously makes an attempt not to be sucked into the impending tragedy facing the community. Rather it takes a route where we see life going on despite all the troubles. We see, Mallesham a sixth grader, and his bunch of friends, although aware of their misery, enjoy every moment of their childhood till life would allow them to.

In these portions, we are presented with ceremonial Telangana rituals with impeccable details, organically infused within the storytelling. We get to see the innocent childhoods being cut short and being thrown into adulthood, owing to the trade demands and progressing poverty. Like most of his friends, Mallesham is forced to step up to the weaving practice, to contribute to his family’s livelihood. It is in these moments, that we see Mallesham, driven by the suffering that his mother faces day in and day out in weaving, picks up his interest in automata and mechanics. As the story progresses, Mallesham, now a grown man in his early twenties, commits to the cause of building a machine which could automate weaving and end the suffering of the whole community. This is where Darshi embodies Mallesham as a man with an unwavering vision to build a machine that he can only imagine but never truly understand. His academic restraints start to bog him down at every step in building this evasive machine, slowly denting the finances of his family, and putting the whole community at loggerheads with him.

Mallesham A Man Bound By His Dream

In all this chaos, Mallesham meets Padma, who quickly becomes his pillar of support in treading the walkway to a seemingly impossible task. As they say, it is not the destination but the journey that is important. And it is this journey, speckled with vibrant characters like Mallesham’s friends, lesser-known festivities like Peerla Panduga (a resemblance of Muharram), Makara Sankranthi, and rituals like Oggu Kathalu and more, that makes Mallesham a truly experiential movie about times often forgotten. Mallesham’s trials and tribulations, as he decides to come to the city with a hope to achieve his dream machine, is both heartwarming and moving at the same time. And yet it is a journey you want to see, and Mallesham is a hero that you root for, to overcome impossible odds, both internally and externally. In making the machine possible, Mallesham sets out to define and fulfil the purpose of his life.

Priyadarshi – The Actor Emerges

Priyadarshi approaches the movie with specific determination to break a stereotype which was being built around his acting capabilities unwillingly. His roles in F2 and Jai Luv Kusa, although brought laughs to the audience, seemed to bracket him inside a character trope, that is playing a snarkily commenting hero’s friend. It frustrated many writers and filmmakers, including myself, when Darshi became more and more underutilised with every role he took. As a stroke of brilliance, the moment Mallesham was announced, with Darshi on board, it was only a matter of time that he started to spread his wings and soar high as a calibre actor than just a caricature actor as was earlier. Darshi brings a certain restraint, into the character of Mallesham, absorbing the essence of a rapidly changing world around him.

Reminiscent of Satyajit Ray’s Aparijito, in the sense of following a man’s ambition in an unexplored territory of an urban setup, within, a fish out of water scenario, Darshi brings a sense of vulnerability and directionlessness which is utterly palpable. One thing I noticed is the way he uses his eyes, characterised by long drawn stares to exhibit his internal struggle and contemplation. The filmmaker, Raj R, makes it a point to use Darshi’s unassuming demeanour to the best effect, as he succumbs slowly to the odd jobs he takes up to run his family, all while his heart-achingly remains in making the machine of his dreams. The actor, brings a typical awkwardness to the character, making the viewer feel empathetic to his situation. Watch out for him in a couple of scenes, where he breaks loose and starts arguing with his wife over money, and when he is shattered because of a crushing loss in his journey. Darshi breaks free of his restrained nature and shines brilliantly in these challenging scenes as well. He exudes cowardice and under confidence in facing the world, but gets into his own and zone, when he feverishly works on the schematics of the weaving machine. He brings life to the screen, of a man who is both confined and driven by the world around him.

Ananya Nagalla – A Face Made For The Silver Screen

If Darshi is a man confined by his own dreams, Padma, played by Ananya Nagalla, is a woman bound to his destiny. Ananya Nagalla’s debut venture into films seems entirely effortless and extremely self-assured. She brings an undefinable old school charm to the character of Padma, in the sense of woman defined by her traditional values, but again willing to step out of it, into a progressive world without a hint of apprehension. From the moment, she appears on the screen, Ananya demands the viewer’s attention with her resolute screen presence. As they say, she is indeed made for the silver screen. In playing a doting wife, who will sacrifice almost everything to make her husband’s ‘mad’ dream come true, Ananya manages to keep a fine balance between self-imposed devotion and speckle-free self-respect. She is vulnerable and fragile when stepping into new territories, and strong-willed when everything seems lost. It is just a fortunate happening for the industry, that we discover actors like Ananya every now and then, to remind us of the humongous advantage that entails casting someone who knows our language and our way of life. Her soft demeanour, untiring stamina and free-flowing dialect, make Ananya a treasure of talent.

The Round Up Of Spectacular Actors

Jhansi and Gangavva make a huge impact with their effortless portrayals, as has been expected out of them, time and again. There are some actors in our generation whose sheer natural talent can never be caged in any role written for them. Jhansi is one such actor. As mentioned earlier, she was perhaps the first Vlogger of Telugu Television history (before Superwoman, Bhuvan Bam or Mostly Sane happened) in her ‘Talk of the Town’ days. Her range of acting capabilities has since been only glimpsed here and there with roles in movies like Jayam Manadera, and Ashta Chamma. She brings a peculiar flair to her acting that is rarely seen in actors these days. And yet again, brings some freshness to the characters with surgical precision. If you know anything about Tollywood, you will know that Jhansi is a master of dialects, and she plays this trait of hers to full advantage in this movie. Gangavva (of ‘My Village Show’ fame) has about five scenes overall in the movie, all of which resulted in roaring laughter all through the hall. It is also to be noted that, music by Mark K Robbins, slowly grows triumphant with the movie, and remains one of its assets.

Wrapping things up (Yeah! I realise the article is super long. Unfortunately, that’s how I write, so kindly bear with me), Mallesham is a movie which is both relevant and required to the present times. A slight wrinkle in its otherwise solid storytelling is perhaps the length of the movie in the second half. Although it is understandable why some scenes are played out at a slower pace than the others, for an audience which is used to shorter stories and quicker outings, it might require a bit of getting used to. Like most of the social dramas of the ’90s, Mallesham takes its time to unfold, gracefully taking you through the journey of a man against the overwhelming odds of an ignorant world. And in choosing the narrative, Mallesham movie stands to challenge the present set of movies, who are too eager to tell a story, than actually gradually bring the viewer into the narrative.

Mallesham stands to achieve that rare feat of walking side by side with the protagonist as he builds a machine which to this day has served more than five hundred families, thus reviving a community and upholding a culture for the future generations to come…

(PS: Casting Team of Mallesham, if you are reading this, we seek you. Please Reach Out To Us)