Ramaraju had an idea which most would have deemed it fit to convert into a short story that is the stuff of writers with rare sensibilities such as Tanikella Bharani, but, to our pleasure, he allows it to blossom into a full-fledged feature film. At the heart of Mallela Theeram is an ideology, many of us might be tempted to say. The ideology, actually, is rooted in his worldview that nothing is greater than Heart. Be it the creative love of a poet or the affection of a boy and a girl for each other, they subsist in a state and the state is called Love. "It doesn't require the presence of a human," so goes one of the memorable lines. As against the Mammon-worshipping greed of the modern man, a person who is in peace with existence blithely submits himself to 'manasu', never liking it to be restricted by the insane rules of the world. The society has the evil agenda of imposing crude rules, while the vision of Advaita liberates man from its vice-like grip. It is not 'ideology' but religiousness itself. (It is another matter that the film presents the idosyncratic view that losing oneself in another is Oneness. The fact is that losing oneself in anything other than God is Maya).
Hanu Raghavapudi said that his film, Andala Rakshasi, should be watched with a silence inside. Here is another film which should be watched with a similar state of mind, or, may be, even thoughtlessness.
It is remarkable that here is a film which fundamentally posits itself against restrictions imposed on women and the tyranny of money, at once. However, the panegyric must be limited to the thought at the heart of the story, as the filming is far from being remarkably highbrow. For a film that campaings for the freedom of women to choose her mate, among others, it is deeply ironical for the girl to say that she would have enduring her hubby's beatings if he empathised with her in at least some respects. There is also a sociological misunderstanding that creeps into the film, spoken through the hubby's character. It is not money but ever-growing needs from time immemorial that has spawned institutions and social inter-relationships.
Sri Divya as Lakshmi is a typical girl with small-time wishes that don't go beyond being a beloved wife of someone. What makes her atypical is her ideal longing for a life free of greed, filled with poetic avagations (crudely put, the desire is given the manifestation of a few 'Paduta Teeyaga'-like interludes and 'song sittings' involving Divya and her lyricist boy friend). Her husband is an anti-thesis, he is a greedy capitalist clone who admittedly values only two: money and himself. He presents a realistic caricature of most characters of the modern world.
Beckoning Sri Divya into a prolific sunshine is a lyricist who apparently comes across as having achieved Advaita-hood. With a valued degree and excellent academic track record, he could have chosen to be on the top of the world, but his convictions are rare to come by. Deep down, he is a humanist who loves to use his Saraswathi (talent) and combine Her with Lakshmi so as to metamorphose into an Annapurna for the needy. As against a husband who wants his hapless wife to see the world as he sees it, the lyricist loves Freedom, in all its glorious sense. Her "parichayam" with him graduates into a "katha" and the world of Sri Divya is changed forever.
Whenever she meets him, it is like a tryst with a flower for her. 'Diyas' represent her for him. The relationship, despite all the love talk, remains platonic. Meanwhile, the inferior depiction of the lyricist on the celulloid confounds us.
Keeping the ideas on paper aside, how does the film fare as far as the presentation is concerned. Frankly, it leaves much to be desired.
Ramaraju is a beautiful thinker but not a beautiful filmmaker. Clearly, he has not shown enough imagination when it comes to the lyricist's character. Watching the love story on screen, one feels Ramaraju thought the audience would be overwhelmingly hooked to the heroine so much so the viewer would care little about anything else. It is a film, not a novel where most undiscerning readers would forget that they read the entire book without realizing that the story was told through the eyes of one character at the cost of scratching the surface with regards to a few other important aspects. It is not a sin in itself though. But when it comes to film, there is not much difference between a discerning and an undiscerning audience. The former can see through the fault line, the latter doesn't, but sub-consciously he knows the film lacked something.
Besides his unexceptionably great views on freedom of conscience, one doesn't have a peek into the lyricist's heart. When a lyricist falls in love, he inspires others to fall in love. Where is that magical feel? All magic is, ironically and surprisingly, spawned by Sri Divya, who doesn't claim to have realized neither Advaita nor a rare lyrical sense. The director could have done two things: have a song written by the lyricist (in the film) giving an expression to his girl's ascension into a world of non-subservience; and have the girl imagine her boy's state of mind after meeting her.
A sine qua non for a film of this kind is a haunting music. Pavan Kumar's music is lilting, a bit inspired but it is not in keeping with the times. The less said about the BG score, the better.
It is not like everything about the way the girl is presented is alright. Ramaraju has not learnt from his predecessors like Bapu or K Vishwanath. If not, the journey of Sri Divya's character would not have failed to struck a brilliant chord. He is stuck with the realm of thoughts, he has to enter the domain of cinematic imagination.
The dialogue stand out for the sheer brilliance. There are many memorable lines for sure, one has to watch the movie to savour them in their richness. The improptu conversations and using 'mallelu' as a leit motif are absolutely enjoyable.
Besides the lilting music, crisp camera angles lend it creditibility.
Sri Divya's performance is praise-worthy. She is seen in every single frame. Ramaraju wanted to present her to be exduing 'Telugu tanam' and for this reason, she will be talked about. The lyricist, played by Dr. Kranthi Chand, needs to go back to the training school and learn the basics of acting.
Verdict: For all the wonderful dialogue, crisp camera angles and the beautiful theme, Mallela Theeram is a glorified television serial. Ignore some of the cinematic pitfalls.
Rating: 3 / 5