The office of Rahul Bose’s production company, Bose Productions, defies a corporate set-up. Situated on the third floor of an old building in Khar, the office has a minimalistic décor with a casual vibe. Cheerful floor mattresses and cushions in solids offset the beige blinds, all chosen by the actor-director turned producer, as he wanted the office to be functional and yet “feel like home”. Like his office, Bose’s choice of films has also been unconventional. He’s back with a film based on the real life story of Malavath Purna, the girl from Nizamabad district of Telangana who, in 2014, became the youngest girl to scale Mount Everest.
It has been well over a decade since Bose made his directorial debut with Everybody Says I’m Fine (2001). The film won him the runner-up John Schlesinger Award for best directorial debut at the Palm Springs International Film Festival in 2003. While acting kept him busy through the years, Bose was waiting for the right story to direct his next, and Poorna came along. “I was approached to the play the role of R.S. Praveen Kumar, her mentor. At the time, the project had no money and seeing the potential the story had, I offered to direct and produce it. Through this film, I want to reiterate that it is possible to make a good film without any big stars,” Bose says, adding that the film is a completely mainstream film, despite being based on a real-life event.
Bose plays the role of the policeman who inspired Purna to scale Mt. Everest. Purna, the daughter of tribal farm labourers, schooled at the Telangana Social Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society, the residential schools for underprivileged children that Kumar transformed into talent incubators.
The actor, who has been vocal about women empowerment, says the film doesn’t preach at all. “The dialogue, which states that ‘girls can do anything’, is actually Purna’s line when she was asked about the reason behind climbing the world’s highest mountain. This is not Rahul Bose preaching about gender equality.” He says the film is about breaking barriers and reaching the summit with grit and determination. “It is an inspirational journey of the girl who comes from a society where, at her age, girls are married off.”
Real to reel
But finding the right actor to play Purna was challenging, as the role was physically demanding as well. Aditi Inamdar, who is essaying Purna’s role, was chosen to play the lead after the crew auditioned 109 girls from several social welfare schools in Telangana. “We were looking at someone who belonged to the same socio-cultural milieu, as she would be able to connect better with the character,” says Bose.
Unfortunately, while he did find some talented young girls, he wasn’t fully convinced any of them could play the lead role in the film. He decided, “Either I find a brilliant Purna or don’t make the film at all.” And then he met Aditi. “I sat very close to her and asked her what makes her really sad. Aditi thought for a while and responded that it was her grandfather’s death. And while remembering him, she began to cry, and at that moment I knew that she would be able to be able to pull the role off well.”
This was Inamdar’s first tryst with cinema, but that didn’t worry Bose at all. “You don’t have to be an actor to be talented. You need three things: the ability to put yourself in someone’s shoes, the emotional intelligence to understand what the scene is all about, and to emote those feelings well. Fortunately, she had all three attributes,” he says.
But the real challenge for the crew was filming in extreme conditions — from shooting in 45 degrees Celsius in Purna’s actual hut in Pakala in the flatlands of Telangana, to Sikkim’s iced roads, where the locations would often be inaccessible due to heavy snowfall.
“We shot at the actual location in Bhongir (where Purna learnt rock climbing), at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling where she learnt mountaineering, and finally at the height of 15,000 feet in Sikkim, which we matched with the 171 shots of Mt. Everest we bought for the film,” says Bose.
While he has liberally used VFX to construct Purna’s journey to the top, “the price of which can buy a small flat in Yari Road”, finding the actual footage was an arduous task. After looking at several stock footage agencies, they contacted the team behind the documentary Everest Rising . “Initially, they were very reluctant to part with their footage, but eventually were convinced about our intentions of making the film,” says the actor.
The documentary was also the point of reference for his research. “It is a five-part series, and I must have seen it at least 10 times. It also provided information about how the whole expedition is conducted, the climbing and the descending.” While the director has stayed true to the events in Purna’s life, he does admit to have taken certain creative liberties. “We have added a new character to create dramatic tension and an inflexion point which propels Purna to climb Mt. Everest.”
As an avid mountain climber for the last 45 years, Bose himself has scaled 17,000 feet. “I’ve been asked for the past eight years if I’d like to climb Mt. Everest. But for that, I need to train for 18 months and do a few peaks before climbing the highest mountain. Right now, I can’t afford to spare so many months as I am busy reading scripts.”
The actor, whose last stint as an actor was in Zoya Akhtar’s Dil Dhadakne Do , has received two new exciting acting assignments in the last two weeks. “I haven’t received good offers in the last two years. Now, I have been offered two bilingual films and I am looking forward to working in them.”
Bose has also started working on his next directorial project, which will be an ode to Mumbai. “It is going to be a warm but gritty film set in Bombay, with a woman in it. I’m deeply embarrassed about starring in my own productions, and Poorna is probably the first and last film from my production house that I’m going to star in,” he grins.
The actor, who is currently busy promoting his film across India, has received positive feedback from several Bollywood personalities and members of the Indian cricket team, who have watched the film. Unlike most films based on real-life events, he doesn’t want to do the festival rounds, and wants more Indians to see the film. “We have received invites from several film festivals, but we have turned them down. For me, the feedback of the audience in India is most important, and after being in the industry for two decades and travelling across the country, I understand the kind of stories that touch us. Poorna will be one of them.”