Shoma A. Chatterji
Produced and directed by Rahul Bose,
Banner: PVR Pictures
Script: Prashant Pandey and Shreya Dev Sharma
Music: Salim-Suleiman and Tanuj Tiku
Editing: Manan Mehta
Production design: Aparna Raina
Costume: Veera Kapur
Cast: Rahul Bose, Aditi Inamdar, S. Mariya, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Heeba Shah, Harshavardhan, Arif Zakaria, Gyanendra Tripathi
Date of release: March 31, 2017
Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Malavath Poorna is the youngest ever person to have conquered Mt. Everest. She is a Dalit girl from a small village in Andhra Pradesh. She reached peaked the summit on May 25, 2014 when she was 13. Have we ever heard of her before this film? It is a shame that we needed a socially concerned person like Rahul Bose to make a film like Poorna on this unique achievement that is a part of India’s ‘invisible’ history.
Poorna unspools the story of this little girl who had to sweep the compound of the school she went to because (a) she was Dalit and (b) her father could not pay the fees. Her older cousin, Priya (S. Mariya), a gritty girl, eggs Poorna to get on with her life instead of getting trapped in an early marriage. Poorna (Aditi Inamdar), who shifts to a social welfare school, is discovered by IPS officer Pravin Kumar (Rahul Bose) who has quite the police service to look after the Social Welfare Department. On a chance rock-climbing course, Poorna’s talent for mountaineering comes to the fore and everyone backs her to try and climb Mt. Everest.
The film is structured in two halves. The first half is of Pravin Kumar’s struggle to get Poorna included in the advanced rock-climbing courses so that she can be selected for the final climb. It interweaves Poorna caught between her desperate urge to go home for holidays and Priya telling her not to come because they are arranging her marriage. Post-interval, the tough challenge to climb the highest peak begins, with Anand, another mountaineer as her co-climber. When Poorna is finally selected to top the peak, a tragic incident pushes her into depression and she withdraws. But a letter from Priya delivered late triggers a last-minute change.
Poorna is very informative and educational without being too much in the face. We learn things about rock climbing and mountaineering including technical terms like rappelling, bouldering, etc. besides being informed about the health consequences at high altitudes with diminished oxygen. The film subtly underlines other issues such as child marriage and its tragic impact on child-bearing coupled with lack of nutrition of the pregnant girl, corruption in schools for the poor, and high incidence of drop-outs leading to closure of many of these schools.
Manan Mehta’s editing is sharp, concise and focussed that does not dwell on a given scene too much. However, the footage could have been clipped by 15 minutes to tighten the narrative and heighten the drama. Subransu’s cinematography captures the wide vistas of the snow-capped mountains dotted with the figures of the two tiny climbers struggling their way to the summit. This is dramatically juxtaposed against the arid scenes of the village, the school, the lunch hall at the free boarding school minus the regulatory eggs and plus its stale rice and watery dal. Sometimes, the camera closes in on the worried faces of Poorna’s and Priya’s parents, cutting to capture the well-appointed office of the CM, with his senior officers Alexander (Dhritiman Chatterjee) and the strict, hard-nosed lady who wants to call Poorna back when the girl runs high fever in the last camp before summit..
Aditi Inamdar as Poorna, picked after Bose had auditioned 109 girls to sero in on her, is excellent in her naïve innocence as much as she is in her focus, her determination and her unwillingness to let go, come what may. Rahul Bose as Pravin Kumar is low-key but convincing after a series of films in which his performance has been indifferent and wooden. Arif Zakaria as the chief of the mountaineering institute is wonderful in a brief cameo. There are slight hints of melodrama the film could have done without. A sterling performance is that of S.Mariya as Priya.
Some scenes are memorable in their simplicity. One is when the girls in the free school joke among themselves about who is the poorest with tragic examples that stand out in their scathing satire. Another is Pravin Kumar’s presentation on the triumph of Junko Tabei. The third is when, after Poorna is seen holding the National Flag at the summit, the entire village gathered around a transistor jump up for joy but the soundtrack remains completely silent, allowing the visuals to overwhelm us, which they do. “Sometimes, we make choices, sometimes, choices make us” says Pravin Kumar in one climactic scene. That one sentence sums up the message of the film. Poorna is a film no one should miss.