Shoma A. Chatterji
Rahul Bose is a multi-lingual actor. He acts in Hindi films, Bengali films and English-language films though he is a careful chooser and is not the hot beefcake Bollywood gloats over. He has also directed two films. His second film is Poorna, based on the true story of 13-year-old Purna Malavath, a Dalit girl from an Andhra Pradesh family steeped in poverty who became the youngest person to conquer Mt. Everest in 2014. He opens up on what motivated him to produce and direct Poorna and also play the role of a mentor to the girl in the film.
The gap between your first directorial film, Everybody Says I’m Fine and Poorna is 16 long years. Besides, the two films are as distanced as the North Pole from the South. Why?
I really do not know. It just struck me to direct this film because the idea was so motivating and the girl’s story captivated me. I felt there was a message for everyone but I did not have to raise a flag or a slogan anywhere the film. Poorna – the real girl and Aditi, the girl who played her, did that. I try to bring my entire life experiences into a film I choose to direct. It does not matter whether it is Everybody Says I’m Fine or whether it is Poorna. This is precisely why I decided to play the role of the mentor Praveen Kumar who quits the IPS and asks for a transfer to become secretary of social welfare in 2013.
Is this linked in some way to the work you NGO is committed to?
Not in a direct way but indirectly this film sort of reinforces my link with children. I began this NGO called The Foundation dedicated to doing away with all kinds of discrimination. Our first project was called the Andaman Nicobar Scholarships Initiative. Under this initiative, we selected up to six boys and girls from the Andamans and admitted them to Rishi Valley School in Bangalore from Class VII to Class XII. The selection was based purely on academic and extra-curricular proficiency. Our aim was to bridge the divide between the people of Andaman and Nicobar and people like us in the rest of India. Today, we work with kids from Manipur, Kashmir and the Andamans. So, I already was aware of the governance part of the issue. I knew that the rapport between Praveen Kumar and Poorna had to be warm, beautiful and gentle and not pedagogic, pushy or preachy in any way.
How did you pick Aditi Inamdar who has never faced the movie camera to portray Poorna in the film?
We needed a girl who could convince the audience that she had the capacity to climb Mt. Everest. Can you believe that I had auditioned 500 girls for the part and she was the 110th. I saw the grit, the determination and the self-esteem I was looking for in her eyes. And it was incredible because she was just 13 years old, as old as Purna was when she achieved the feat. Then Purna and her trainer Shekhar Babu trained Aditi and she imbibed part of the ethnic originality from Pakala, the village in Andhra Pradesh Purna comes from. But Aditi does not come from a Dalit background.
Did Aditi suffer any physical injury during the making of this film?
This may sound unreal but no, she did not get a single scratch while breaking her back preparing for her role and while shooting. The mountaineering part was shot in Sikkum right upto a height of 15,000 feet, thigh-deep in snow. The training had put her in good stead and though she must have been scared and unnerved from time to time, her conditioning had sorted her out. We’ve shot in minus-15 degrees to 45 degrees. We spent three months shooting in Purna’s village in Pakala and then went to Sikkim where it was between minus-15 and minus-20 in January.
How challenging was it to direct children, specially kids who have never faced a movie camera before?
Yes, the entire process of shooting was one of the most challenging things for the entire team. I must specially mention the work of Aditi and of S. Mariya who played her cousin Priya in the film. They had the emotional wisdom to understand every scene and to know exactly what I wanted from them. I love kids. I can relate to them on a person-to-person basis. I was a very hard task master so far as Aditi was concerned. For the other children, I had drawn up a Child Actor Charter where I had listed rules such as (a) no kid would work for more than four hours at a stretch, (b) no kid would work for more than eight hours in one day, (c) every kid would have a teacher or a mentor or a tutor as they wished to, and so on. I am no slave driver but for Aditi, I guess I was one especially when we were shooting the scenes of actual climbing the rock face. This film has been a great learning experience for me.
What do you look for as director?
I look for a story, plot or theme, character or subject that has humanism and an underlying theme of compassion. The audience must take this back from the film – the humanism that is really priceless these days. The director who fit into this mould the best is Satyajit Ray