RAJ KUMMAR RAO LIFTS “SRIKANTH” BEYOND A BIOPIC

CAST: Rajkummar Rao, Jyotika, Alaya F, Sharad Kelkar, Jameel Khan

DIRECTOR: Tushar Hiranandani

Aided by an exquisitely skillful performance from Rajkummar Rao, despite the challenge of portraying a teenager and a twentysomething, Srikanth is not your typical Bollywood biopic. It avoids overt melodrama, instead highlighting the achievements of its visually impaired protagonist with subtlety and finesse.

Directed by Tushar Hiranandani, known for his acclaimed biographical works Saand Ki Aankh and Scam 2003, Srikanth tells the incredible true story of industrialist Srikanth Bolla. Bolla overcame poverty, attended MIT, and returned to India to establish a unique corporate entity.

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This rags-to-riches tale is enriched by the director’s commitment to avoiding standard genre tropes. Hiranandani keeps the storytelling simple and polished, while ensuring that the craftsmanship—cinematographer Pratham Mehta and editors Debasmita Mitra and Sanjay Sankla excel in their roles—does not overshadow the narrative’s essence.

The hero, born blind, faces immense challenges, including discrimination, bullying, and an education system that neglects differently-abled students. Aside from an overly dramatic opening sequence depicting the birth of a blind boy in a village in Machilipatnam, the screenplay by Jagdeep Siddhu and Sumit Purohit avoids excessive sentimentality.

In pivotal courtroom scenes, where Srikanth and his teacher Devika (Jyothika) must convince a judge, a college principal, and a skeptical lawyer of his right to a fair chance, the film maintains its moderate tone while making a compelling case for equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

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While the film sometimes states the obvious, such as in a scene where Srikanth’s father digs a pit—a symbolic act repeated later in a different context—it generally trusts the audience to interpret key moments.

Srikanth tells the remarkable story of a young man with exceptional vision and tenacity, yet it doesn’t shy away from depicting the delicate junctures in Bolla’s life. These moments, where his self-confidence verges on arrogance and success leads to insouciance, create friction with key people in his life, including his girlfriend Swathi (Alaya F), a medical student who first connects with him on social media before meeting him at MIT, where he enrolls on a full scholarship.

While Srikanth crafts an engaging portrait of a man with a single-minded pursuit of his goals and a mission to help other physically challenged and economically disadvantaged individuals, it also acknowledges the flaws that threaten to push his true well-wishers away. The film uses the song “Papa Kehte Hain Bada Naam Karega” from Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak as a musical refrain, but it focuses more on a teacher who takes the boy under her wing and teaches him to overcome adversity.

Teacher Devika is the anchor who gives Srikanth the freedom to dream, while investor and friend Ravi (Sharad Kelkar) believes in his aspiration to own and run a business.

Srikanth rarely says sorry, but he expresses gratitude through a soliloquy that acknowledges his supporters and his fierce sense of self-worth. His contradictory impulses are understandable, given that he has never had anything easy.

A significant part of the film revolves around President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and his “Lead India” campaign, which inspires Srikanth to redouble his efforts. However, an encounter with a self-serving politician leaves him disillusioned and teaches him about the pitfalls of shortcuts.

The ability to ‘see’ without eyes is central to Srikanth’s story, setting him apart. “Main sirf sapna hi dekh sakta hoon” (I can only see in my dreams) is a line he delivers more than once. He insists on dreaming big, even when Ravi tries to ground him with reality checks.

Srikanth is also a man of action, transitioning 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, a warning. The character becomes relatable through his internal and external struggles.

Rajkummar Rao portrays Srikanth from around age 14, when the Bollant Industries founder first met President Abdul Kalam, to his mid-20s. Despite the challenge of playing a teenager, Rao delivers a performance so convincing and nuanced in all aspects—physical impairment, dialogue delivery, body language—that one cannot help but marvel. He is exceptionally supported by Jyothika and Sharad Kelkar, who both exhibit restraint in line with the drama’s balanced tone.

Srikanth is an uplifting film that deserves a wide audience. It is more than just a story; it is a heartwarming celebration of a new way of seeing the world.

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