Poorna: Scaling impossible heights with grace

A steady strain of hope, warmth and goodness prevents Poorna from becoming downbeat

Published - March 30, 2017 08:43 pm IST

There’s a scene in Poorna where a group of young, underprivileged girls is playing a game of who is the poorest of us all. The protagonist, Poorna wins the day by stating that she is so impoverished that even her name features the word poor. It’s a situation which could have played out utterly sordid but filmmaker Rahul Bose turns it around with some ready wit and humour, which, ironically, makes things even more aching and leaves the audience feeling implicated in the girls’ plight.

Inspired from the life of Poorna Malavath, from a hard-up tribal family in Telengana, who became the youngest girl to scale Mount Everest, Poorna is not downbeat as most narratives of poverty are wont to. There’s a steady strain of hope, warmth and goodness.

Even in the face of the most ugly problems and injustices of life Poorna gets the support of many good souls. Far too many good ones actually to stretch this writer’s cynicism. There is a determined heroine at the centre, the familiar and obvious “underdog winning the day with sheer grit and determination” blueprint of sports films (didn’t we see Phiona in Queen of Katwe just a few months back), the righteous tagline—“Ladkiyan kuchh bhi kar sakti hain (Girls can do anything)”—and all round earnestness and contrivances aplenty. All of them could have easily detracted but the film has a genuine, gentle, heartfelt core that keeps the audience emotionally invested. It is elevated by its sheer simplicity, restraint and an overpowering vibe of empathy.

Much of it stems from the lead roles and performances. There are no false notes here. And it’s not to do with Aditi Inamdar’s sincere and persuasive turn as Poorna alone. There’s also the irresistible S.Mariya as her feisty confidante and cousin Priya. Their camaraderie and deep bonding is so real and credible that you can’t help not feel for them.

There’s something equally compelling in Poorna’s relationship with the empathetic bureaucrat Dr R. S. Praveen Kumar (Rahul Bose), the man who shapes her life. The IPS officer, who opts to work in social welfare department, shares a deep affection with Poorna despite a cordial, respectful distance. What’s most heartening is the unprompted egalitarianism underlining it. He might be the guiding light but the choice to her future lies entirely with Poorna. “The decision is yours, no one else’s,” he tells her.

It’s good to note, Bose coming a full circle of sorts with his second directorial venture – from first being introduced to him as an actor — the young, urbane bureaucrat lost in small town India in Dev Benegal’s English, August (1994) based on the Upamanyu Chatterjee novel. In Poorna that idealistic civil servant gets more surefooted with the inescapable chaos of a young mountaineer’s journey.

Despite the low budget Poorna does a fair, if not extraordinary, job of bringing mountaineering on to the big screen. But then the film is equally, if not more, about neglected towns like Pakala and Bhongir. And scaling impossible heights is ultimately a metaphor—about becoming the vital road that can link these forsaken boondocks with civilisation.

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