Srikanth Review: Aided By Rajkummar Rao's Skilful Performance, This Is No Ordinary Bollywood Biopic

Srikanth Review: The lead actor has exceptional support from Jyothika and Sharad Kelkar - both are epitomes of restraint in keeping with the sustained balanced timbre of the drama.

May 10, 2024 - 13:15
Srikanth Review: Aided By Rajkummar Rao's Skilful Performance, This Is No Ordinary Bollywood Biopic

Aided by an exquisitely skilful performance from Rajkummar Rao - this despite the fact that the actor has to push himself to the limits to come across as a teenager and a twentysomething - Srikanth isn't an average Bollywood biopic. It seldom takes recourse to overt melodrama to showcase the magnitude of the visually impaired protagonist's achievements.

Directed by Tushar Hiranandani, who has two well received biographical works behind him (the sports drama Saand Ki Aankh and the web series Scam 2003), Srikanth narrates the incredible true story of industrialist Srikanth Bolla, who made his way out of poverty, went to MIT and returned to India to set up a corporate entity that is like no other.

Srikanth is a classic rags-to-riches saga that is enriched enormously by the director's refusal to employ the standard tropes of the genre. Not only does he keep the storytelling simple and ship-shape, he also ensures that the craft that has gone into the project - cinematographer Pratham Mehta and editors Debasmita Mitra and Sanjay Sankla do their jobs to perfection - does not overshadow the essence of the narrative.

The congenitally sightless hero fights seemingly insurmountable odds, including widespread discrimination, dispiriting bullying and a myopic education system that has no scope for differently abled people to go in for higher studies in the field of science even if they score the requisite grades.

Barring a somewhat shrill opening sequence that over-dramatizes the circumstances and the immediate repercussions of the birth of a blind boy in a village in Machilipatnam in then undivided Andhra Pradesh, the screenplay by Jagdeep Siddhu and Sumit Purohit steers well clear of overly maudlin methods.

Even in the pivotal courtroom scenes in which Srikanth, with teacher Devika (Jy0thika) steadfastly by his side, has to convince a judge, a college principal and a skeptical lawyer that he deserves a fair shot, the film devises ways not to undermine its moderate tonal qualities even as it makes a strong case for individuals with physical abnormalities to be given equal opportunities.Admittedly, on a few occasions - one of them centres on a harrowing moment in which Srikanth's father digs a pit early in the film, an act that he repeats much later in a completely altered context - the film tends to state the obvious when you expect it to leave something to the imagination and the interpretative faculties of the audience.

Srikanth tells the remarkable story of a young man endowed with exceptional vision and tenacity but does not shy away from pointing to the delicate junctures in Srikanth Bolla's life when he comes precariously close to letting his self-confidence turn into a degree of arrogance and success into streaks of insouciance.

These moments of weakness trigger friction with the handful of key people in his life, including his girlfriend Swathi (Alaya F), a medical student who connects with him on social media before meeting him in person on the campus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where Srikanth enrolls as a full scholarship student.

While it crafts an engaging portrait of a man whose single-minded pursuit of his own goals and a plan to help other physically challenged and economically disadvantaged people find a firm footing in life, it also acknowledges the chinks in the man's armour that threaten to push his true well-wishers away from him.

Srikanth uses the Qayamat Se Qayamat song Papa kehte hai bada naam karega beta hamara aisa kaam karega as a musical refrain but it does not focus so much on the hero's father as on a teacher who takes the boy under her wings and teaches him how to fly in the face of adversity.

If teacher Devika is the anchor who gives Srikanth the freedom to dream, investor and friend Ravi (Sharad Kelkar) is the man who believes in the protagonist's aspiration to own and run a business of his own.

Srikanth is not given to saying sorry, but he does say thank you either in so many words. Of course, he delivers an entire soliloquy that acknowledges his supporters and his own fierce sense of self-worth. The contradictory impulses within him are perfectly understandable given that he has never had anything easy.

An important passage of the film revolves around the then President of India A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and his "Lead India" campaign, which inspires Srikanth to redouble his efforts to achieve what his heart desires. However, an encounter with a self-seeking politician leaves him disillusioned and teaches him a lesson or two about the pitfalls of short-cuts.

The ability to 'see' without one's eyes is the most important element in the Srikanth story. It is what sets him apart. Main sirf sapna hi dekh sakta hoon (I can see only in my dreams) is a line that he delivers more than once. Dream big, he keeps insisting when Ravi tries to rein him in with his reality checks.

But Srikanth is also a man of action. He goes from Main sab kuch kar sakta hoon (I can do everything) to Main kuch bhi kar sakta hoon (I can do anything). The former is an assertion of intent; the latter has the ring of a warning. The character becomes all the more relatable because of the inner pulls and pressures that he encounters as he deals with challenges from within and without.

Rajkummar Rao plays Srikanth from roughly the age of 14 - that is how old the Bollant Industries founder was when he first met President Abdul Kalam - to about his mid-20s. It obviously isn't easy for the actor to pass himself off as a teenager, but he delivers a performance that is so convincing and nuanced on all other counts - the physical impairment, the dialogue delivery, the body language - that one cannot but marvel.

The lead actor has exceptional support from Jyothika and Sharad Kelkar - both are epitomes of restraint in keeping with the sustained balanced timbre of the drama.

Srikanth, as uplifting a film as any, deserves a wide audience. It is more than a mere story. It is a heartwarming celebration of a way of seeing the world in a new light.

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