Cast: Aditi Inamdar, Rahul Bose, Heeba Shah, Dhritiman Chatterjee
Director: Rahul Bose
In one’s pursuit of climbing the highest mountain peak, a 13-year-old Indian girl, raised in poverty as the daughter of farm workers, became the youngest person to reach Mount Everest’s summit. At an age, when let alone scaling the 29,029 feet mountain, any other young girl would probably dream of only beauty, sunshine, clouds and precious little else. What Poorna Malavath sees is important, not only because of her age, but also because she inspired India’s most marginalised to look at things anew. Rahul Bose’s directorial debut Everybody Says I Am Fine did not set cash registers ringing but it won the runner-up John Schlesinger Award for Best Directorial debut at the 2003 Palm Springs International Film Festival. And that says a lot about his potential. He directs Poorna with unknown young faces, both of whom steal your heart with their natural performances.
At its heart, Poorna (Aditi Inamdar) is the eponymous young tribal girl from Telangana, who barely gets to enjoy one square meal a day. She, along with her cousin Priya (S. Mariya), are made to do all the menial work before they could overcome modest beginnings to even sit in the classroom to learn their lessons. And that’s not all. She needs to shatter many glass ceilings and fight injustice multiple times to clash with casteism, patriarchy and poverty to name a few, to be able to even get a semblance of a proper life. Her father has no interest or any inclination to allow her to study. His brother gets his daughter Priya married while she is barely out of her teens, and considers it to be his achievement. Priya too loves outdoor activities but is burdened with painful emotions and scarcity. Priya’s world crumbles even before she has learned to even dream or set a goal for herself.
Enter IPS officer Pradeep (Rahul Bose), who, by choice, demands a posting in a small hamlet. Fortunately, it is the same place where Poorna also lives. As Pradeep works doggedly to ensure welfare for underprivileged children, he also gets to know about Poorna, who shares with him her ambition to climb mountains. A rare combination of honesty and determination, Pradeep too goes all out to make sure the climbers, particularly Poorna, receive what they aspire for. Soon Poorna finds herself headed towards Darjeeling to train her for the Mt. Everest summit. Poorna’s soulful storytelling tugs at your heartstrings with its naked honesty in retelling a true account. When Poorna, sits nearly 30,000 feet above the sacred Ganges in northern India, the mountain’s perversely stacked obstacles make it both a nightmare and an irresistible calling for some of the world’s toughest climbers.
It’s her determined spirit — portrayed most realistically by Inamdar that one marvels at. By virtue of her sheer existence she evokes optimism and anticipation and displays irrevocable influence on anybody aspiring for hope. There are dependable actors in her journey: Dhritiman Chatterjee, Heeba Shah and Rahul Bose himself. Sadly, not one of these veteran actors looks even half as convincing as the two girls do. Their scenes look superficially juxtaposed to get any desired effect of antagonism. Much of Poorna is about the attempt to accomplish with pristine clarity, filmed with intimacy that any attempts at trying to discover shots would come in the way of its storytelling, which is singularly linear. Just like Poorna, viewers only know that she must achieve what she sets out to.
All other distractions transcend all limitations. True depiction of real-life heroes on celluloid often looks contrived, as if to somehow reach the preordained conclusion hurriedly. There are no digressions here to blend jaw-dropping footage of the attempt to climb Mt. Everest with a dramatic back story to reach the summit. And thank God for that! Bose tells the perilous story of Poorna without clutter and focuses on human endurance and dilemma. Viewers would instantly empathise with her. The only negative aspect could be the simplistic dialogues that make most characters one-dimensional.