In Rahul Bose’s Poorna, parts of the conversations between Poorna(Aditi Inamdar) and Dr RS Praveen Kumar(Bose) are spoken in Telugu. There are no subtitles. We don’t understand what they are saying because we aren’t meant to. Yet, these fleeting moments give us the essence of the relationship of a 13 year old girl and her mentor better than the rest of the movie: they understand each other. When Poorna and Kumar switch back to Hindi, this sense of intimacy is lost. The language is stilted and borders on routine prodigy-mentor talk – which reaches its pinnacle when, in a crucial point, she tells him, “Mujhe meri wajah mil gayi hai.”(I’ve found my life’s purpose).
The film keeps doing this: pull out creative flourishes where you don’t expect them and nearly undo them with underdog sports movie cliches. This is a real life story, of a tribal girl from Telangana who went against prejudice and poverty to become the youngest female to have climbed Everest, the highest peak in the world, in 2014.
Poorna succeeds in a few scenes which could be rooted in real life anecdotes but throbs with imagination. Like the one where the girls in Telangana Social Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society (TSWREIS), sitting in a circle, play a game in which each person has to say something witty that begins with “I am so poor that..” ; Poorna, who simply deconstructs her name, has the best one. Or the quiet power of the scene where Kumar, on his first day of taking charge at TSWREIS, makes a surprise move to catch the apathetic staff off guard. He sits down with the children to eat the same unpalatable daal-rice served to them as lunch every day.
These bits make us feel the motivation behind Poorna-Kumar’s journey through authentic, plausible scenarios.
The broad, predictable contrivances don’t work. When Poorna’s march toward victory seem inevitable, she faces a conflict within, in a matter involving her best friend back in her village. Later in the climax, an impending natural disaster hangs over Poorna’s chances of making it to the top. These are fatal flaws in a genre which is expected to deliver its knockout punches in the final act.
I thought of Dangal, which Poorna is similar to for more than just its theme. It worked in spite of the obvious manipulations, especially the climax where Aamir Khan’s mentor-father character gets locked in before his daughter’s final match begins. On paper, it is perhaps more contrived than the one in Poorna. But they were solidly acted and executed. More importantly, the characters made mistakes, showed their ugly sides and hence were more relatable.
Inamdar, earnest as she is, appears stagey – the awkward, thick, accented Hindi adds to the effect and distracts from important moments in the film. And in contrast to Khan’s “gruff coach” character, Bose, as the righteous government officer who wants to make a difference, is a little too holier-than-thou; he breaks into a smile every time he sees children. It may be close to Dr Kumar’s real life personality, but it doesn’t make for an interesting movie character.