‘Srikanth’ movie review: Rajkummar Rao delivers a lesson to the ableist world

Rajkummar Rao in ‘Srikanth’

Most films on physically challenged people end up narrating our perception of an incomplete existence, not realising that all of us are sailing in a broken boat and that communication is a two-way process. Director Tushar Hiranandani’s biopic of the visually-impaired industrialist Srikanth Bolla shuns cloying melodrama to tell an inspirational story that is not only witty and winsome in parts but also probes the mental architecture of a visually impaired person in some measure. And, along the way, the film slips in an important message to not treat a person with a disability as special or garbage – but simply engage with him or her as an equal. However, after a point, the biopic becomes a lesson that the makers want to teach to the people of an ableist world, with a smirk.

Based on the dictum that every idea is blind as long as it is not put into practice, writers Jagdip Siddhu and Sumit Purohit delineate the difference between sight and vision with a blunt knife as they take us into the heartwarming struggle of Srikanth (Rajkummar Rao) with social stereotypes to become a role model for every Indian.

Pushed by his mentor Divya (Jyothika), inspired by APJ Abdul Kalam (Jameel Khan), trusted by entrepreneur Ravi (Sharad Kelkar), and embraced by Swathi (Alaya F), Srikanth’s success story from a modest upbringing to the owner of Bollant Industries is shaped by not just his fortitude but also by people with empathy for him and faith in his talent. However, after a point, he starts taking his support system for granted and suffers.

The screenplays of biopics always run the danger of getting reduced to a collection of bullet points of the sterling resume of the subject. Here, too, the writers have marked Srikanth’s struggle with the education system, his degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and his skill with the baseball bat with a highlighter but it doesn’t brag and drag. Moreover, the film attempts to provide a glimpse into Srikanth’s state of mind when success blurs the line between right and wrong. When prejudices against those who pushed him down threaten to turn the hero’s feet into clay. It also documents the period when he starts using his handicap to get over the obstacles – the time when taking the straight path starts looking tiresome to him. That none is bereft of bias adds a little nuance to the inspirational tale.

Srikanth (Hindi)

Director: Tushar Hiranandani

Cast: Rajkummar Rao, Jyothika, Alaya F, Sharad Kelkar, Jameel Khan

Run-time: 134 minutes

Storyline: The inspirational story of visually-impaired industrialist Srikanth Bolla 

It helps that Rajkummar is the driving force of the film. He keeps you invested in the story even when the screenplay gets predictable. The tonality of the film demands a little exaggeration without going to the zone of caricaturisation, and Raj walks that fine line. He has imbibed the spirit of a visually challenged person. The assurance with which he snaps his fingers to find his path, and the seamlessness with which he makes his eyebrows dance during conversations and moments of silence reflects that Raj has registered the character in his muscle memory. With eyes half-shut, he opens the door to the soul of Srikanth for us. In the list of actors playing a physically challenged person, his performance is in league with Naseeruddin Shah in Sparsh (1980) and Kalki Koechlin in Margarita With A Straw (2014), though Srikanth is less nuanced than the mentioned works.

As an idea, the film doesn’t help Srikanth cross the road but walks along to understand him and his dreams. However, there are passages, particularly related to the romance and the physical needs of Srikanth, where the moments feel a little too sanitised. Moreover, as the story is structured like a moral science lesson, filled with light-hearted anecdotes and wisecracks, the film demands favour from the audience to ignore the flatness and focus on the feats of the subject. A little more craft and a few more drafts would have turned it into an absolute winner.

Srikanth is currently running in theatres

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