Poorna movie review: Rahul Bose's underdog story has it all - drama, adventure, thrill

Udita Jhunjhunwala

Mar,30 2017 17:12 07 IST

3.5/5

Here’s an underdog story that has it all: drama, adventure, tragedy, improbability, willpower and a win.

For a filmmaker, a biopic on the journey of 13-year-old Poorna Malavath, from a dusty village in Telangana to the treacherous snow-capped peak of Mount Everest, also offers scale and scape. The subject of producer-director-actor Rahul Bose’s film, Poorna, has an unlikely but determined heroine at the centre of the action: a teenager who made history by becoming the youngest girl in the world to summit Everest.

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Rahul Bose and Poorna Malavath in the movie.

Born to farm labourers of the adivasi community, Poorna (Aditi Inamdar) seemed destined for a life of child marriage and lost dreams. When her father is unable to pay her school fees, she’s made to sweep the school’s corridors as punishment. But encouraged by her cousin sister Priya (S. Mariya), Poorna finds her way to a community school where fate opens new doors for her. Among them is the opportunity to learn rock climbing and finding a mentor in the sensitive and forward-thinking IAS officer, Dr. R. S. Praveen Kumar (Rahul Bose).

During the school holidays, Poorna is faced with a choice – to go home to her family and surely be married off way too early, or get on the bus that is taking her friends on a rock climbing trip. She chooses the latter and it’s a moment that changes her life forever.

Seeing her talent, Poorna is selected to attempt a climb to the top of the world’s highest peak. It’s no surprise that Poorna’s idol is Japanese climber Junko Tabei, the first woman to summit Everest (1975).

Bose’s camera shifts from the flat landscape of Telangana to the stark face of Bhongir Rock to the picturesque setting of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling and the chilly landscape of mountain ranges.

Hollywood mountain adventure movies, be it Vertical Limit, Everest or Touching the Void, accorded grand budgets, draw the viewer into the drama, tension, danger and incredible physical will and strength required to climb to the tops of peaks.

This is something Poorna does not effectively convey, in particular during the scenes of the final ascent. Perhaps handicapped by budgets, we are denied the thrill of experiencing vicariously the fear and trepidation of a summit-attempt in harsh and testing conditions.

As much as this is about Poorna’s accomplishments, the story subtly also shows us what is possible when the system works, but the performances of Dhritiman Chatterjee and Heeba Shah as bureaucrats in Andhra Pradesh does not blend in with the style and tenor of the rest of the film. There’s even a quip where Kumar is questioned on his modus operandi for wanting to send children up a mountain, with a line about creating a “Slumdog mountaineer”.

The delight when the two children (Poorna and climbing partner Anand Kumar) summit is greatly due to the endearing Aditi Inamdar. S. Mariya wonderfully plays Priya. While the children and the village folk are mostly convincing, it’s the city folk and those in authority whose performances ring hollow at times.

Poorna Malavath’s story is well documented.

The film handles that with reverence and sensitivity while addressing it’s additional motive: to deliver a message about realising dreams, maximising opportunities, encouraging the marginalised to break out of community constraints and caste shackles.

It highlights the value of gender empowerment and aims to inspire. That’s a lot to load onto a 13-year-old girl, whose singular achievement and struggle were already so remarkable. I wish I had learnt more about her and felt a bit of what she must have felt making those last few, tiring strides towards a life-changing moment.