Tracking the journey of aspiring thirteen-year-old mountaineer Poorna Malavath, biographical adventure film Poorna is a rich and emotional work that will tug at even the harshest critic’s heartstrings.

Poorna (Aditi Inamdar) is a young Adivasi girl from Telangana who, alongside older cousin Priya (S. Mariya), is forced to sweep her local school grounds as punishment for her father not being able to afford her school fees. Dissatisfied with their destitute lives, Poorna and Priya plot to run away and apply for a government-run social welfare school. 

While these plans initially don’t work out, Poorna ends up attending the school where she discovers a passion for mountaineering on a class excursion. This storyline moves at a satisfying pace alongside that of Dr. R. S. Praveen Kumar (Rahul Bose), the newly appointed Secretary of the Social Welfare Department, and his trials and tribulations in revitalising the state’s failing and corrupt education system.

It is difficult to imagine Inamdar’s portrayal of Poorna as separate from her real-life iteration, while director-cum-actor Bose is as confident in front of the camera as he is behind it. Although Bose’s character takes on an unrealistic messianic quality in which deeply entrenched societal problems seem to disappear at the click of his fingers, this is the only major flaw in an otherwise extremely natural story.

As well as presenting an engaging plot that has viewers emotionally invested from the get-go, Poorna offers a captivating insight into India’s social climate juxtaposed with rich cultural snapshots. The writing is subtle in its exploration of complex socio-political issues, making use of a show-not-tell approach rather than resorting to melodrama.

The cinematography is breathtaking in its depictions of Poorna’s dusty village of Pakala, the daunting mountains she scales and the buzz of Darjeeling. The adrenaline-fuelled moments of the young mountaineer’s final ascent of Everest are captured by means of dizzying, shaky close-ups, and while it would have been ideal to flesh out this sequence in favour of some slower elements of the film, it’s convincing and executed sophisticatedly in the context of budget constraints.

Poorna ticks all the boxes for an inspiring tale of the ambitious underdog without succumbing to too much cheese – unpretentious and straightforward, this one is definitely worth a watch.