Films that are potential winners don’t come by easily and actors are aware of it. After opening 2019 with the comedy hit F2, Jhansi is now looking forward to a handful of promising films. First up is the biopic Mallesham , releasing this Friday, where she plays the mother of Chintakindi Mallesham. It’s a pivotal role, since Mallesham’s innovation — the Asu yarn-processing machine — was named after his mother, Lakshmi.
In a complete shift from this biopic is the wacky entertainer Brochevarevarura , releasing on June 28, followed by Kausalya Krishnamurthy , a gritty story of a woman cricketer, and the rom-com Manmadhudu 2 . “For a large portion of 2018, interesting scripts didn’t come my way. Things began to roll from the fag end of the year,” says Jhansi. F2, Mallesham and Kausalya Krishnamurthy have her essaying mother characters, each different from the other.
The core team of Mallesham was predominantly from Telangana, keeping with the requirements of the story, and Jhansi had her task cut out. “I was born and brought up here (Hyderabad), though my roots may not essentially be in Telangana. As a television anchor, people have seen me speaking different dialects; I can say with confidence that mandalikam (dialect) is my forte. Whether it’s Srikakulam or the rustic Telangana dialect, I can do justice to it,” she says.
While the production team stayed put in the handloom clusters of Pochampally to shoot the film, Jhansi moved back and forth from Hyderabad. “I would leave Hyderabad at 4 a.m. and reach the location by 6 to 6.30 a.m., shoot till around 10 p.m. and return to the city. We worked without the frills of a typical film set. It was a different experience. I made new friends in the region,” she says.
- During the test screening of Mallesham , director-producer Raj Rachakonda pointed out his mesaures to ensure safe working environment for women in the team. He drew up contracts with a clause that warned team members against sexual misconduct. It’s perhaps the first Telugu film production team to do so, and acquires importance in the wake of the #MeToo movement and allegations of sexual harassment that have been making news since last year.
- In late 2018, key members of the Telugu film industry also formed the ‘Voice of Women’ body to put certain regulations in place in the film industry and to look into complaints.
- Jhansi lauds the contracts drawn up by Raj and says, “It’s one thing to give verbal assurance that women will have a safe workplace and a different thing to put it in writing. As per the contract, anyone guilty of sexual misconduct will have to exit the project and compensate for the loss incurred. The contract warned against giving and receiving sexual favours. It’s a brave step.”
Mallesham was shot using sync sound and there was no scope for error. Actors had to get their dialogues right while shooting. “It was both challenging and frustrating, at times. For instance, during Dasara and other festivals, the villages would have programmes and music would play on mics. We had to request them not to do so while we shoot,” she recalls. Controlling extraneous sound was one aspect. The real task was getting all the actors to emote right and nail their dialogues. “In a scene that involves a bunch of actors, even if one person misses something, we had to go for a fresh take,” she recalls.
Jhansi had no qualms enacting a mother’s role as she was determined to be a part of the biopic. “The TED talk of Chintakindi Mallesham, which the casting director Mahesh Gangumalla shared with me, was enough to make me want to do this film,” she says.
The anchor-actor has been a handloom supporter and knew about ikat-weaving process. Yet, it was a learning experience to to do the manual ‘Asu’ process: “We have the luxury of worrying about our posture and ergonomics. The women there go about their tasks for years with incorrect posture and it affects their shoulders, hips and spine. Asu making is a pre-loom step and doesn’t the women any revenue. Only the men who work on the loom are recognised as weavers. For women, yarn preparation is a daily task, just like cooking and managing the house,” she explains.
Jhansi learnt to work on the Asu, with the help of local women, and admits it’s tedious. She hopes that engineering students and corporates holders will watch the film and come up with solutions — technological and financial — to help more weaver families buy the Asu machine. “We need collective effort. If gram panchayats and cooperative societies can have these machines where women can come and work, it will make things better,” she says.
Jhansi has a word of praise for artist Laxman Aelay who looked into the nitty gritties of production. “He looked into minute details. For instance, the jewels I wear in the film are sourced by him from local women,” she says.
Kausalya Krishnamurthy, starring Aishwarya Rajesh in the title role, is a different ball game: “I play a typical mom who doesn’t want her daughter to rough it out playing cricket.” Moving away from these heavy subjects, she got to do some comedy in Brochevarevarura . “For both me and Priyadarshi, this was so much fun after Mallesham ,” says Jhansi. The fun continued with Manmadhudu 2 . “I play Nagarjuna’s sister, the control freak Swarnalatha akka who is a terror to Vennela Kishore,” she signs off.