Mumbai, 30 Mar 2017 10:23 IST
This biopic on the youngest girl to climb Mount Everest is the feel-good family film of the year.
How can a young tribal girl from a small village in Telangana scale the highest mountain in the world? Rahul Bose’s inspirational film Poorna trains its lens on the awe-inspiring tale of Poorna Malavath, who overcame several obstacles to become the youngest girl to reach where few have dared, Mount Everest. The film also enforces the idea that it takes a village to raise a child, in this case, a few educators and one protective cousin sister that help Poorna reach her goal.
Living in a small hut with her family, Poorna’s father and uncle cannot pay the fees for her and cousin Priya’s education. The two young girls, especially Priya, yearn to be educated and when Priya finds the flyer for a social welfare school that will also provide food and shelter, in addition to their studies, she insists they sign up immediately. Like most young girls in rural India, they are instead readied for marriage and motherhood.
As Priya is married off, she warns Poorna not to follow in her footsteps. Poorna somehow convinces her father to let her join the social welfare school. Less enamoured by its conditions, she runs away only to be brought back by the new head of the social welfare schools, Praveen Kumar, played by producer-director Rahul Bose. An IPS officer, he asks to be redirected to the schools to help develop their potential.
Praveen Kumar soon becomes mentor and guide to Poorna and the young children involved in the social welfare school programme. He gets to work immediately trying to re-energise the stagnant but well-meaning programme and preventing more children from dropping out. When he sees how certain children, especially Poorna and another boy named Anand Kumar, have taken to rock climbing and mountaineering, he thinks ahead to the future.
Poorna blossoms and become focused on the mountaineering programme in Darjeeling, despite family pressure to get her married off. The Operation Everest programme, for which she and Anand Kumar have been selected, is gruelling, but Poorna thrives under the pressure. But before she goes over to Nepal, a family tragedy has her re-evaluating her priorities.
Bose, who returns to direction after 16 years, does a commendable job with this feature, which is clearly a passion project for him. He doesn’t mince emotions, allowing Poorna’s story of struggle and eventual triumph to shine. At 100 minutes, the film doesn’t overstay its welcome.
That’s also due to screenwriters Shreyosi Dev Varma and Prashant Pandey keeping Poorna’s journey through a believable arc of personal growth. However, several key dialogues are essayed by most characters in Telugu, Poorna’s native language. Without any subtitles to guide audiences, it’s hard to guess the importance of their exchanges.
Newcomer Aditi Inamdar is quietly intense as the little ‘power girl’ Poorna. When she finally breaks through in a smile after all she has accomplished, so will you. S Mariya, who plays her older protective cousin Priya, steals her scenes against the more reticent Poorna, but it is she and Praveen Kumar who remain Poorna’s biggest backers.
The supporting cast of Dhritiman Chatterjee, Heeba Shah, Gyanendra Tripathi, Arif Zakaria and Harsha Vardhan don’t have much screen time, but their characters are all essential to helping Poorna with her ambitions.
Salim-Sulaiman’s score, with songs like ‘Kuch Parbat Hilaayein’ and ‘Poori Qaaynaat’, is uplifting and chances are you might be humming it out of the theatre too.
Although the actual Everest scenes are a bit underwhelming, a few point-of-view shots of Poorna’s final ascent literally take you in her shoes. When she finally reaches out her hand to the most difficult peak in the world, it’s hard not to be touched by the emotion of the moment. After all, she is only 13 when she stands atop Mount Everest!
The against-all-odds story has been used over and over in global cinema, but every time we see we can’t help but marvel at the strength of the human spirit. The spotlight has been shone on the importance on the girl child in India, and director Bose keeps the story simple and instead turns the camera on the two amazing individuals, Poorna Malavath and Dr RS Praveen Kumar who, in turn, have gone on to change countless more lives with their efforts.
This past year, the nation has learnt the success stories of Sakshi Malik, PV Sindhu, Geeta Phogat and Babita Phogat. It’s time to add Poorna Malavath and her incredible accomplishments to the list. Take the family to see the film and know her story.
Reviewed by Sonal Pandya