Only a story about mountains could have prompted Rahul Bose—who has grown up in the Himalayas—to don the director’s hat after 15 years. Poorna is about a teenage Adivasi girl from Telangana, who, after overcoming all kinds of challenges, became the youngest girl in the world to summit Mount Everest.The former international-level rugby player, actor and philanthropist made his directorial debut in 2001 with Everybody Says I’m Fine! Poorna, which releases on 31 March, is based on the life of 13-year-old Malavath Poorna (played by Aditi Inamdar), whose story is not just about remarkable physical achievement, but also turns the spotlight on how a teenager overcame poverty, casteism and sexism to scale mountains. Edited excerpts from an interview with Bose, who also acts as Poorna’s mentor, R.S. Praveen Kumar, in the film:
Were you inspired by films on mountain-climbing when you embarked on this production?
Not feature films, but I loved some documentaries. I watched a five-part documentary series called Everest Rising at least 10 times. I was astonished by the extraordinary footage and how it chronicles the sheer madness of climbing Everest. I have tremendous respect for the mountains.
Did working with a novice require special preparation?
Yes, it did. For Aditi’s training, we had Everest summiteer Shekhar Babu with us throughout. He was the perfect resource. We also had harness, jumar and climbing instructors from the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI, Darjeeling). Everything was super-safe and rehearsed several times.
Aditi began her training two months before we began shooting. I am proud of the fact that there wasn’t a single accident on the set. Through the duration of filming, we had just one twisted ankle. There was no moment when my heart was in my mouth—except when she climbs the first mountain without ropes. That was a little tricky. When we shot that, there were many people around her, yet there is that one moment when you think “What if?”.
We shot in Sikkim, at 15,000ft. Sikkim is green, so breathing is not such a problem. For the crew we had about 98 snowsuits from HMI. The bill for just renting the gear is very impressive. We had to train the unit to understand what they were going in for.
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Why do you think mountain-climbing is not as popular in India as in some other parts of the world?
First, Indians in general don’t like to be in the cold. Also, we don’t have easy access to snow. We are not very high on physical endurance either and, finally, it is expensive to train, buy the gear, etc.
Do you think ‘Poorna’ might help popularize mountain-climbing in India?
I think the film will popularize the non-endurance parts of it—I imagine the standing rock at Bhongir Fort in Telangana is going to become very popular after this film. The HMI is popular enough but interest will increase in the children’s and basic camps. But I don’t think people will be running to test their endurance and climb peaks. The mental pressure and the meditative state of mountain-climbing is the extraordinary part. It requires a different kind of persona. Otherwise, trekking through mountains without snow is a wonderful pastime.
How did you recreate Poorna’s expedition up Mount Everest?
We have used a combination of our own shoot, sourced footage and visual effects. We went to every single stock footage agency in the world. It was enormously expensive, even for very little footage. We were even offered footage of the wrong mountain. That’s when I decided to contact the team from the Everest Rising documentary. They were very reluctant at first. It took some time, but eventually they were convinced about the seriousness with which the film was being made. Through research we also understood the way things function at high altitudes. We used visual effects to match the shots and to create snowstorms and snowfall.