It’s night. A man is haphazardly trying to find his way on a busy street. A speeding car almost hits him. The driver shouts the should-be T-shirt slogan of road ragers everywhere: ‘Ae andha hai kya?’ (Dude, are you blind?). What are the odds? The man actually is. Let’s pull back to a previous scene. This man is an infant now, in the arms of his father, on whom realisation is dawning. “I am Srikanth Bolla,” Rajkummar Rao’s voiceover introduces his character. “The apple of my father’s eye but without eyesight.” Flash forward to another sequence, and Srikanth is in court now, fighting a case to have the option to opt for the Science stream in Higher Secondary. He delivers a mic-drop dialogue about ‘kanoon’ (law) being ‘andha’ (blind). The tagline of the film also reads: Aa raha hai sabki aankhein kholne (He is coming to open everyone’s eyes).

For a film preaching every second not to reduce its subject to his disability, Srikanth surely draws no blanks when it comes to wordplay even remotely related to sight. Every other scene in Srikanth is constructed to evoke feelings of either triumph or pathos. The characters resort to low-hanging puns and metaphors to preach to the audience rather than letting the scenes do the talking. The narrative is also one-note. It’s all ‘Srikanth came, Srikanth saw (no irony intended), Srikanth conquered.’


Directed by Tushar Hiranandani ('Scam 2003: The Telgi Story'), Srikanth is an adulatory and simplistic biopic of Srikanth Bolla, the first international visually-impaired student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who goes on to be the founder of Bollant Industries, a recycled packaging paper company, with prominent investors like former president APJ Abdul Kalam and Ratan Tata. It’s a great premise, one that required a deeper and nuanced study, but the makers decide to go for a derivative telling, laced with scenes which are desperate for claps and hoots.

It’s also told in a numbing linearity. Srikanth’s father, as mentioned earlier, ultimately doesn’t end up burying him after discovering he is blind. Growing up, the boy shows signs of genius. He can orally solve for X, he submits his answer sheet in an exam before everybody else, he can outsmart even those with sight in a chess game. But when Srikanth is denied the Science stream in Higher Secondary, he decides to sue the Indian education system.


After a courtroom scene that can put 'Damini' (1993) to shame, Srikanth wins the case. He also gets selected for the Indian blind cricket team but has to abandon his dream of wearing the blue jersey, to follow the bigger dream of studying at MIT. He finds love, comes back to India, meets an investor, starts Bollant, is labelled ‘God’ by the differently abled, becomes a megalomaniac, realises his follies and ultimately finds his way back home.


The drama unfolds pit stop after pit stop with disinterest. Rajkummar Rao’s act, however, is a slight relief. He is perfect at portraying the mannerisms of a visually impaired man and prevents the performance from becoming a caricature. But in an earnest attempt to get the physicality right, Rajkummar loses grip on the character’s emotional arc. His acting, as a result, is more sincere than deep.


There is a slight attempt to shake the glorifying, run-of-the-mill biopic. Srikanth develops a power-hungry attitude in the second half. He starts using his disability to pull favours. It’s a diabolically nice touch but is rather quickly resolved, as if added as an afterthought. Before you know it, we are back to oscillating between pity and admiration for the film’s protagonist.


I didn’t quite get what Srikanth was trying to get at. Its sermons of ‘empathy not sympathy’ felt hollow since the film couldn’t go beyond Srikanth’s disability. It felt rushed, trying to squeeze in the lifetime of a person in two hours, hoping it would present a vivid image of his personality. It took itself too seriously while trying not to. After every scene, the modern rendition of ‘Papa Kehte Hain’ from 'Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak' (1988) wanted to fill us with exhilaration and positivity. I won’t give into the urge of concluding with an eyesight-related pun. It all fell on deaf ears.