Rajkummar Rao in Srikanth
Rajkummar Rao in Srikanth

Srikanth review: Bad writing deflates an inspiring real-life story

Indian industrialist Srikanth Bolla’s journey is without a doubt an inspirational story that easily lends itself to cinema. But despite Rajkummar Rao’s affable performance, ‘Srikanth’ is unconvincing.
Srikanth (Hindi)(2.5 / 5)

An underdog hero with a never-say-die attitude, a rags-to-riches tale, and an intercontinental love story. Indian industrialist Srikanth Bolla’s journey is without a doubt an inspirational story that easily lends itself to cinema. Anchored by Rajkummar Rao’s performance, Srikanth ought to have been a compelling film. But, the biopic directed by Tushar Hiranandani (written by Jagdeep Siddhu and Sumit Purohit), packs all that drama into PowerPoint slides that swing between two categories – insults heaped on Srikanth and his moments of triumph. 

The film starts with Srikanth’s birth in a poor agricultural family in Machilipatnam, Andhra Pradesh. The father (Srinivas Beesetty) is delighted that it’s a boy, only to realise that the baby is blind. He nearly buries him alive to spare him the ignominy of leading a pitiful life but his wife (Anusha Nuthul) persuades him otherwise. Rapidly, the baby becomes little Srikanth who impresses his teachers and stands up to bullies, and high school Srikanth (Rajkummar Rao) who isn’t cowed down by rules. 

Rajkummar is nearly 40 and looks too well-built and grown-up to be a teenager. Moreover, his dedicated teacher and stand-in mother (he refers to her as ‘Yashoda’), Devika, is played by Jyotika who is just six years older to him in real life. The actors, however, know their job and help you get past the odd casting. Srikanth is often cheeky and doesn’t want anyone to pity him. Devika is there with him every step of the way. But, the writing is so bland and filled with broad strokes that there are no layers to any of the characters. Devika is ‘teacher’ and nothing else. We don’t know anything about her other than the fact that she teaches children like Srikanth. What motivated her to take up this life? How does she live in a bungalow in Hyderabad when this is her line of work? Doesn’t she have any family? There are no answers to any of this because there is no characterisation beyond adjectives. 

Other than the first scene, Srikanth’s parents barely speak. They look awed and moved by Srikanth’s success, and that’s about it. He has a brother but the film doesn’t explore their bond. Like the parents, he too is relegated to silent admiration. In one scene, we’re told that Srikanth is from a tribal community, and yet, the film only foregrounds his disability when speaking of his struggle. The perspective we get is so firmly that of an outsider that it feels like a quick scan of Srikanth’s CV and nothing more. 

The result is a screenplay that’s stacked with ‘inspirational’ scenes – Srikanth asserting that he will fight to study science, Srikanth declaring that he wants to be President one day, Srikanth schooling an airline staff that refuses to let him fly, Srikanth conquering baseball and so on. There is constant telling and not enough showing, accompanied by a background score that is always amping up emotions and refusing to listen to the protagonist’s plea that he does not want our pity. 

There are many close-ups of Rajkummar’s face, emphasising his eyes and twitching. While the actor’s performance is very close to that of the real-life Srikanth’s expressions, the intention behind the camera’s gaze is questionable. If Srikanth wants to be viewed as a “normal” person, should so much of the film focus on the “acting”?  

I found myself asking why the film is so uninterested in understanding Srikanth as a person and instead holds him up as an exhibit for a model child or a model student. There is a rare moment when Srikanth mispronounces ‘Seq Square’ as ‘Sex Square’ and giggles. Just for that second, the film allows us to view him as an ordinary person. Otherwise, though, he’s forever in crusader mode, fighting battles that are easily resolved by smart speeches and comebacks. “I can’t run away, my only choice is to fight!” he says, but the line remains external and never quite becomes the emotional beat of the film. 

Alayfa plays Swathi, Srikanth’s girlfriend who later marries him. Even this unusual romance – of a girl in India falling in love with an Indian student at an American university through a magazine article – is flattened to a point of no return. Contrast this with Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s 12th Fail (2023) which is also an inspirational biopic with a romance at its core. Shraddha and Manoj emerge as real people who go through ups and downs in their relationship and have their fair share of dilemmas. But in Srikanth, everything is frustratingly linear. Sharad Kelkar as Srikanth’s business partner Ravi Mantha receives the same treatment. Adjectives assigned – rich, generous. 

The only curveball in the plot comes in the second half when we finally glimpse a chink in Srikanth’s armour. The disappointing writing, however, makes this plot thread look unconvincing and laboured. 

Srikanth is just a little over two hours, and the affable Rajkummar Rao makes the film watchable despite its ‘Wikipedia’ approach to Srikanth’s life—a lost opportunity if there ever was one. 

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film’s producers or any other members of its cast and crew.

Sowmya Rajendran writes on gender, culture, and cinema. She has written over 25 books, including a nonfiction book on gender for adolescents. She was awarded the Sahitya Akademi’s Bal Sahitya Puraskar for her novel Mayil Will Not Be Quiet in 2015.

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