There's a scene in Poorna, where a senior government official (played by Heeba Shah) looks towards Rahul Bose's character and says, "we all know you have a weakness for underdogs" and I found myself mildly shifty in my seat. That was because it just felt like she was talking to me.
I love underdogs.
I've considered myself to be tenacious all my life - which is a dramatic way of saying I've never been good enough. And that's why you know, deep down in my heart I was rooting for the movie. I didn't have very high expectations from it, however, that didn't take away from my quiet optimism about the big-screen adaptation of this incredible true story.
I interviewed Rahul Bose last week, where he made a sweeping declaration that he would give a prize to anyone who didn't cry in the film's climax. I didn't cry. But hold on to that prize Mr Bose, truth be told, you got me with it. I didn't shed tears, but you managed to overwhelm me. So much so that I hoped that the majority of the film was as impressive as that definitive shot in the end. That shot had the restraint, which one hoped to see more consistently throughout the movie. Unfortunately, a lot of the movie turned out to be everything I feared it would be - schmaltzy, preachy and contrived.
First things first, Poorna is the story of Telangana's Poorna Malavath, who became the youngest girl to climb Mount Everest at the tender age of 13. Belonging to a tribal family in the district of Nizamabad, Poorna dodges her fate of an early marriage and finds her calling in mountaineering. After being spotted by an IPS-turned-social welfare bureaucrat Dr R S Praveen Kumar (played by Rahul Bose), the young girl is short-listed for 'Operation Everest'. And thus begins the incredible journey of the girl from her hut in Pakala village to the summit of Mount Everest.
Charting her way through such an unbelievable journey, I expected to feel more for the characters and the film. However, one of the perils of cutting the movie in a way where the story is always flowing, is that some elements of the movie begin to feel glazed over. There's no stopping and assessing how every cog in the machinery is so well oiled. On the upside where the movie never feels boring, there is also the journey towards the eventual pay off which feels unfulfilled.
The movie scores really low in its subtlety quotient. The scene when Bose's character gets the idea about the Everest initiative, he might as well have read it in a newspaper headline. However, with the look of the film, Bose shows plenty of flair. The story required him to film at high altitudes, he confidently switches from helicopter shots, crane shots to PoV shots.
One of my major problems in the film is Rahul Bose - the actor. His character as Dr R S Praveen Kumar eclipses nearly every other character in the movie including Poorna's. That is probably because he's the most recognisable face in the movie, and which is why I would have preferred Bose to remain behind the camera. Bose's scenes as an actor seem well prepared to a fault. The Telugu lines, followed by their Hindi translations don't make too much sense. Aditi Inamdar, who plays the title character is earnest, but it is S Mariya as her elder sister Priya, who walks away with the acting honours.
However, Bose stars in one of the two really good scenes in the movie. On a surprise visit to one of the welfare schools Bose's character agrees to eat lunch in the school canteen, which serves sub-standard food. Right before his intake of the first few morsels of rice, the kids around him look at him with anticipation. The faculty accompanying him, excuses himself from lunch since he's 'fasting'. Bose looks back at the kids and chews the rice to realise how bad it really is. In another scene, a bunch of girls sit in a circle to brag about how poor they are. When it is Poorna's turn, she just says "Mere naam mein hi toh 'poor' hai." It made me chuckle, and one really wishes there were more moments which felt as spontaneous as that one.
Rahul Bose shows awareness as a director when his character is asked if he's planning on making a Slumdog Mountaineer. Sure, the story is inspiring, but what differentiates these underdog movies is the way the director goes about unravelling the story. We all know she's going to reach the summit, the question is will we clench our teeth, rub our sweaty palms together as we see her do it? The treatment is awfully straight-forward and vanilla. The story, in my opinion, could have worked better in a documentary format.
I will be honest and say that I felt bad after watching Poorna. One of the reasons why I ventured into film writing, was to champion the cause of these little gems which get lost in the bling of everyday Bollywood. And I'm afraid this movie isn't that gem, even if it could have been. Sometimes inspirational true stories, don't make great films. And that's a real shame.