From Film Desk:
Making Poorna Possible!
- Writer-duo of the film Poorna in an exclusive interview

The Rahul Bose directed biographical film Poorna, which is based on the true story of the 13-year-old from Telangana who became the youngest girl in history to climb Mount Everest, hit the theatres on March 31st 2017. Although opening on a below average note, it became an instant hit with the critiques. It was hailed as ‘A small film that stands tall’, ‘An incredible story, beautifully told’, ‘Simple, taut and pleasurable cinematic experience’ by various film reviewers in different publications, in addition to several other similar compliments which fell in its kitty.


The film, written by Prashant Pandey and Shreya Dev Verma, tells the uplifting story of a tribal teenage girl from a dismal background who ends up conquering the highest peak in the world. As per news reports, the President Pranab Mukherjee was also deeply moved by the movie, reaffirming that this heartfelt story needed to be told.


SWA website team spoke with Prashant and Shreya and Prashant, the write-duo and also a married couple, who wrote the film as a speculative screenplay. Here are the excerpts from the exclusive interview -


SWA team: How was Poorna written? Where did the idea come from? How did the development happen? 

Prashant: In August 2014 Shreya first found this incredible story on NDTV about Malavath Poorna. The development took a painful long time, because nobody was ready to fund the writing. Then we pooled in our funds to start researching. We travelled to Hyderabad, which became a base and a second home to interview our characters. The journey to put this film out has been extremely challenging. As it is making a “children's film” is a big disadvantage, trade wise. 

Shreya: Well! Yes writing a spec script that to a biopic where your protagonist is a thirteen year old. The challenge was paramount and to keep us motivated with no funds was a task. It was sheer passion and love for our characters. I appreciate the accolades but it was not easy. We knocked several doors. People would twitch their eyebrows and say ‘Poorna?’ like she was some fictional character.


SWA team: In Poorna, what are the major fictional additions to the narrative? 

Prashant & Shreya: A lot of characters have been combined as "composites”, also a lot of time has been compressed. The character of Priya is fictional but it’s totally based on the girls Poorna has grown up with in her village. So everything is real that way, but heavily compressed and filtered and chiseled with sharp edges. 


SWA team: When chasing a biopic script, what is the balance that you strike between fact and imagination?

Prashant & Shreya: You need to be extremely tuned in to the potential such a story can have. From that abstract tuning, lots of coherent ideas are born. Once it’s set factually, depends the route you want to take; a writer is free to take his or her own path. We wanted to avoid melodrama and glamorization of poverty. Also, we didn't want to make a boring film. If we keep that rule it’s easy to dramatize anything. Writing a film like Poorna is more like a leap of faith than an assignment. 


SWA team: Since the story is about a girl unexpectedly discovering the passion for mountain climbing, do you feel that you could explore adequately her love of that experience?

Prashant & Shreya: Both yes and no. Our expression could have been better, while in fact, we kept struggling with it. Poorna’s passion for mountaineering is intangible. It's magic. It was challenging to put it on paper, especially in the screenplay format. We tried to play with surrealism but these are complicated calls. 


SWA team: The social themes (gender, class prejudice, corruption, apathy in the bureaucracy) are so well explored in the script. How did you manage to incorporate those so seamlessly in the story of her mountain-climbing achievements?

Prashant & Shreya: Actually, a lot of it is just integration of some brilliant news reporting into our plot. We have travelled extensively in rural Maharashtra, so a lot of plot points are personal observations on underprivileged children.


SWA team: After you have seen the film, is there anything in the screenplay, you wish you had done differently?

Prashant: Well, the process of writing is never ending!  

Shreya: I would never edit my favourite scene for production issue. Haa haa!

SWA team: The sub-plot of Poorna and Anand seems to be a bit underexplored. Was it intentional not to go into direction of competitiveness, rivalry and jealousy?

Prashant & Shreya: Yes, we wanted to keep those kinds of sentiments in characters, but then not every sports film needs to have that. So, we thought to keep that bit but also underplay, at the same time.


SWA team: The challenges, to climb the Mount Everest, can be either playing on an inner level (which can become difficult to externalize in the absence of other characters) or can be just Man vs Nature, like cold, snow, storm etc. Did you feel that there was a danger for a script like Poorna to not have varieties of challenges?

Prashant & Shreya: Yes. That was quite overwhelming- How to build the external as well internal challenges? It took the maximum time to crack. Mountaineering is not a competitive sport anyways. It’s neither a hobby. The reasons for kids to do mountaineering in India can be different from, say a Scandinavian kid or a New Zealander. There are many books and studies on this. Rock climbing is actually a standard French Public School trick to bring difficult children in "centre". Here, in the film, mountaineering is rendered as a backdrop, a looming atmosphere for a larger sentiment to be conveyed.


SWA team: How was the co-writing system between the two of you? Shreya, as trained screenwriter, how did the training help you during the process of writing Poorna?

Prashant: Co writing is tougher than writing, because it's a lot of role playing and its political too. There are distinct roles and rules, which get set slowly and you need to go along with that. This was different because of access and lack of formality. Shreya is a brilliant reader of scripts from her experience with Star TV and Kumar Mangat ji. Her script notes are very detailed and well reasoned out. 


Shreya: I think the Hero’s Journey lecture at FTII, conducted by Mr. Anjum Rajabali, helped us a lot. This is a special workshop based on the book The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. However, while writing you keep your training aside and it's only during and after several rewrites when the training comes into play. As co-writers, we had our share of arguments but Prashant always gave me my creative space. His patience and passion is commendable.



SWA team: What next shall we look forward to from the writer-duo?

Prashant: Let's hope some story will drive us again.                           

Shreya:  We have couple of scripts together but we also write independently.


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