Direction: Rahul Bose
Actors: Aditi Inamdar, S Mariya, Rahul Bose, Heeba Shah
Rating: 4 / 5
Three years ago, Poorna Malavath, a 13-year-old from a nondescript village in Telangana, became the youngest girl to ever scale Mount Everest.
As with most underdog stories, her feat was destined for brief glory, headlines, quick television bytes, and then oblivion.
Real-life stories in Bollywood – their dubious track record notwithstanding – are reserved for those who have made it on platforms we readily recognise: cricket pitches, Olympics, or a World Cup.
Rahul Bose deserves one star just for his courage in choosing to tell this story, and telling it with authenticity.
The story of young Malavath’s (child actor Aditi Inamdar) is so outrageous, it would seem improbable if it weren’t true.
She is born to impoverished parents who can’t afford school fees; they are keen to marry her off early. At school, she and her cousin Priya (S Mariya) are made to sweep the floors. They hope to run away together, to a fabled social welfare school where you get eggs for lunch — a Utopia for the two girls.
Poorna finally makes it to that school, but the midday meals there are inedible, most of the palatable stuff siphoned off by corrupt officials up and down the supply chain.
Enter IPS officer-turned-social welfare official RS Kumar (Rahul Bose). He is the big driving force in young Malavath’s life, and here the film exhibits its one flaw. It turns Kumar into a flawless, omnipresent messiah.
He swoops in and turns Poorna’s school around with incredible ease: a quick threat to fire the corrupt seems to solve most problems. Then he begins to focus on ‘extracurricular activities’, and it’s like champions are born overnight.
But amid his fondness for Malavath, and her show of promise as a climber during a school trip, her incredible journey begins.
Poorna isn’t just a story of human ambition. It is also a story of the friendship of Poorna and Priya – with its joys, grief and inspiration. It is their dreams that fuel her, as she runs in Darjeeling, trains non-stop, goes from tiny village to might mountain.
This subplot lends the story its heart, and makes it relatable.
Bose’s strength as a director lies in keeping it real. For once, the bare, dusty village feels like a bare, dusty village; the smatterings of Telugu aren’t always translated. His shots of the actual Everest climb are often tight close-ups, giving you an almost first-hand sense of the disorientation and struggle; this makes up for whatever may have been lacking in CGI budgets.
It would have been easy to turn this into a hyper-celebratory saga, or a cynical takedown of rural governance. But Bose handles poverty, neglect, and high emotion with swiftness, and a total and delightful absence of melodrama.
Instead, he angles the story itself so that it shines a light on issues like rural neglect, poor schooling, and corruption, with moving effect.
Poorna shows you that incredible stories can be told simply. Bollywood can learn from that.