Great Story Poorly Told
Poorna is the story of Poorna Malavath, who at 13 years became the youngest girl to climb Mount Everest. Poorna grows up in a dirt poor part of Andhra Pradesh where girls are married off as soon as they hit puberty and are considered a burden. Although her sister cannot escape that fate, Poorna does and goes on to conquer the highest peak in the world. Although the story is inspiring, the telling of the tale is tedious.
Rahul Bose, who produced and directed this film needs to realise that a good docu-drama needs a little more than heart. You want to tell us the story of a poor girl who conquered the Everest, then we want to see more than a montage of her training to climb. We want to get to know her, like her. We want to see not just her triumphs but her small losses. We want to like her enough to root for her when she cannot breathe high up in the Himalayas, or is feeling despondent.
The film is a straightforward narration: Little girl from the back of the beyond finds her calling in climbing mountains and then goes on to climb the Everest, the highest mountain in the world. Her story is inevitable. There are no surprises at all.
Mira Nair hit all the right check-boxes when she shot in Uganda in the slums of Katwe and told us the story of Phiona Mutesi the girl who becomes a chess champion, beating far more experienced players at the chess Olympiads. We learnt chess when she learns, we feel the overwhelming hurt of failure when she fails.
In Iqbal, we begin rooting for the deaf, mute lad the moment we see his dedication to the game. We have seen umpteen sports films with underdogs that work hard at making us like them. Truly ‘like’ them. In this film, we know that the kids are in a residential school for the underprivileged, but there’s nothing heart-warming when we watch the kids play, ‘Who’s the poorest of us all’. That’s plain horrible.
The story of the two cousins Priya and Poorna is really wonderful. Wish there was more of how one inspired the other. But we see a very Hindi film hug when the older one gets married. Yes, she hands over the purple paper that advertises the school to Poorna, but after all that the two risked in trying to escape, the tame acceptance by Poorna’s dad who brings her to school is a bit of an anticlimax. So is their easy acceptance of Poorna getting chosen for the mountaineering expedition.
If the filmmakers want us to think that learning to climb a rock in Bhongir in Telangana is good training for the climb to the Everest, then they think we have not heard of Reinhold Messner and his sans-oxygen climbs, Compagnoni and Lacedelli and their brave win over the K2, or even watched the movies that take us to the Everest not so long ago. Whether it was a budgetary constraint with Poorna or not, we feel shortchanged when we don’t see much of the training at the Darjeeling Institute.
In Queen Of Katwe, we watch in joy when the kids discover simple things like ketchup and other foods at the hotel where they're staying during a tournament. The least they could have shown little Poorna discovering snow: the joy, the fun and even the danger. Even an ancient film like 400 Blows talks about the yearning, the dream of wanting to see the sea. In this film, nothing! The Himalayas are so immense, you cannot be but awed when you see them for the very first time. This kid is practically blase about it? Hard to believe...
Maybe it was true that the school was shortchanging the kids by feeding them really bad food, or with facilities, but the film waffles about many things. And Rahul Bose who shows up as savior rather conveniently. Everything that they show in the film may be true, but it eats away our interest in Poorna. It is her story we want to know. Could they have not accessed real footage from the recording of the climb? The snow scenes look so staged you don’t feel the danger at any step.
When a very young child performs feats very few grown ups can perform, then the madness of either the child or the irrational dedication from coach needs to come through. Even Budhiya Singh offered us a jaw-dropping look into the coach-student connect. Nowhere in Poorna do we see anything more than compassion Rahul Bose has for the subject. Compassion will make you nod your head as audience and say,’Nice’. But that’s not enough. The titles at the end of the film say that Poorna has inspired many more poor students to apply and study at these residential schools, film ends up becoming a showpiece for the government instead of inspiring us all about this awe-inducing feat by the 13 year old…
(this review sans para 7 appears on nowrunning dot com)