Dear friends, supporters and well-wishers,
Sincere thanks from the bottom of my heart for thousands of amazing congratulatory messages that we have received in the last few days. We are simply overwhelmed! Many of you have asked us to pen down the experience of discovering, writing and creating the inspiring story of ‘Poorna’ for the screen. It’s difficult to summarise two year long journey in a single post. But here’s a modest attempt to capture that frustrating but exciting journey.
It all started in August 2014 when Shreya (my wife and co-writer) first heard about this incredible story of Malavath Poorna on NDTV. I also noticed that the story had tremendous potential. I had been working on a mountaineering film which wasn’t progressing at the expected pace, so I was not very sure about taking this up. Instead I was looking to go back being a writer for hire. I was both financially broke and unsure of taking another spec script adventure.
However, the symbolism and the potential messaging in the story was too strong to resist! The idea of a thirteen year old overcoming our societal attitudes towards girl child, hopeless education systems, and the almost insurmountable social challenges of being born a Tribal Girl, it overtook all my professional inertia. We took the first baby step towards the film by trying to summarize what this story symbolized, by spending several nights of furious notes making.
I had a “writerly” conviction when I wrote a treatment note and sent an e mail proposal to the Telengana Government. I was almost sure that no one will reply and this will be forgotten.
But the government responded, and soon Dr. R S Praveen Kumar spoke to us on phone. On 25th August 2014, we boarded a flight to Hyderabad to meet Dr. Praveen Kumar. By this time I had an entire file on Poorna, creation of Telangana and RS Praveen Kumar life.
The film looked like a strong polemic which worried Shreya, but it satiated my unconsciousness deeply because I wanted a film which has a practical use. My brother used to mention that John Le Carre’s “The Constant Gardner” is shown to all Oxfam staff in programs in Africa. I wanted to create that kind of film.
Dr. Praveen Kumar met us and understood why we wanted to make a movie on this. He was also quite impressed with our ideas about the film but he kept asking us “are you sure…Prasahanthji…!! Are you sure?” I told him even if the film doesn’t happen, I was just very happy to meet him. So he, in a split second, agreed to do a chai pe charcha next day outside his office.
It was Sunday. We had tea in the “shadow of guns” at the Andra Pradesh Police Officers Mess lawns. I understood that even though Dr. Praveen Kumar works in social welfare department; he is a decorated IPS officer whose life is valuable to the state. I can’t say more.
Dr. Praveen Kumar is a man of immense vision, and has razor sharp understanding of conflict and human emotions. Poorna is an extension of his belief, and our access to the subject matter of the film.
So in the meeting Dr. Kumar took our thought systems like a storm, in half an hour I formed the structure of the film in my head.
I also had a giant déjà vu moment. Interestingly, Dr. Praveen Kumar had already featured in a movie called Rakta Charitam – a film written by me, in which Kannada Superstar Sudeep played his role as a cop who took on the mighty faction leader Paritala Ravi, played by Vivek Oberoi.
I love kiccha Sudeep and I took that as a divine signal. That very day, Shreya and me wrote a one liner sitting in a corner in his office and carried edits in our hotel.
It was all spec and since I’ve been a writer for hire for large-hearted producers, this film brought in a very tough transition. All expenses…outstation travel, local stay, local travel, expensive print out at hotels…were going to be on our own expense. Nobody was funding or managing the usual 5-star-all-expenses-paid writing extravaganza. So we had to be very careful because it seemed it would take time for this film to be made, much like all films do.
Then we met Poorna and Anand (climbed the Mount Everest with her), and had a free-wheeling chat about their life aspirations, over lots of ice cream and cold drinks. I noticed Poorna looked like an old soul. Not much in terms of plot points but I got a fair idea about the abstractions which would be used in adapting her life for reel.
We spent rest of time reading up Social welfare school books and getting acquainted with facts; because we were dealing with a story involving a government sponsored program.
A lot of plot also comes from our own observations. On a road trip to Kashid, we had seen poor students sweeping the school in Maharashtra while the rich ones kept sauntering here and there. We decided to put that in our film.
Creating The Script
It was clear that the film will have to be dramatized heavily as compressing events within the cinematic time would be big challenge. Then there is a huge North Indian bias which prevails in Bollywood. Why would they care about a village called Pakala in a town called Nizamabad?
That overwhelmed us completely. The problems presented themselves often. It paralyzed the entire writing.
So we put deep thinking aside and made marketing pitches, and started to write to almost all indie producers, from Kerela to Mumbai. My experiences with studios weren’t very good earlier, so I avoided them for fear of further disappointment.
Almost all showed very less interest despite the fact that Telangana Government had given us an impressive list of freebies like free locations and subsidized stay and local travel for the film crew.
Many producers kept squeezing us and often offered other projects to direct or write.
Another idea was to approach a “big” director like Neeraj Pandey, who could make this possible. But I realized making a movie is easier here than to get Neeraj Pandey or Adi Chopra’s phone number. The people in between don’t let that happen.
We thought it was happening because we had not put enough work on the script. So this time around Shreya came up with a character of a cousin sister for Poorna called Priya. Suddenly it opened up lot of pain in the narrative and gave us tragic dimensions of Poorna’s character- same arc played out as a tragedy – two sisters – the happy go lucky breaks out while the other talented and ambitious one is thrown into darkness of early marriage destroying all her hopes . Thus it became a film about a girl who Dr. Praveen Kumar, despite his best efforts, wont be able to save. That gave Dr. Praveen Kumars’ character a certain hurry and pace in this game of numbers – girls inside the school and girls outside the school.
The script was rewritten with this central idea and results showed up immediately. When Ashok Purang (Producer of Filmistan) heard it, he reconnected me to my friend Tanisha (actor) who I had worked with in Sarkar Raj. In the first narration, Tanuja ji (Actor/Tanisha’s mother) got very emotional. They had not yet set up their production house but offered all logistical support if I was to make this soon.
Back To Hyderabad
I met a star producer called Dilraju, who loved the subject but wasn’t sure about the film’s box office pull. Unless a star got involved to play the mentor and a Bombay based distribution tie-up. I was like a grazing goat looking to chew on Akshay Kumar’s Bollywood grass but intermediaries in between kept us out.
We then applied for NFDC co-production market. We were certain that it would be picked but when it didn’t make the cut, we were crestfallen. I never felt such a rage in my life.
Flight To Delhi
Given the story’s close relevance to Government’s much well-intentioned and praised ‘Beti Padhao Beti Bachao’ mission, a source in Hyderabad told us to chase Prakash Javdekar (I & B minister), who could route the film through CFSI. It sounded quite like a plan. We landed in Delhi.
Our source mysteriously disappeared just as we were about to reach Shashtri Bhawan. Air tickets + Hotel expenses – everything went for a toss. Later, when the minister came to know about our plight, he apologized and called us to Pune.
The Bus To Pune
Few hours after he accepted our file, we learnt that he had been transferred to the Forest ministry. An expensive handmade poster which I designed and got made to impress the Hon. Minister is still lying in my study! The title of the film in that poster was ‘’Power Girl Poorna’’!
The Final Push
One year passed as we kept doing breakdowns, storyboards, posters, drafts and more drafts of the script. But still we had no producer.
Actor Sonu Sood loved the script immensely but offered me another film he was about to produce.
So despite our best intentions, we were back to square one. Then my brother Nishant introduced me to actor Rahul Bose who decided to come on board as a producer. Rahul set up meetings. I narrated the script to Amit Patni who later funded the film. I passed the producers baton to them happily and made the Telangana Government meet the production for work to begin.
I very much feel this film is my baby as a writer and co-director, and I feel very proud of the mark it’s making. “Poorna” represents the aspirations of millions of children in rural India, and the power they possess to realise these aspirations. As the dialogue goes in the film- “Joote nahi hai toh kya hua, pair toh hai.”
– Prashant Pandey