I must admit upfront that I was very skeptical before watching this Bachchan family movie. I was on a short trip to India and the Indian television was replete with promos of this father-son-son-father gimmick of a movie on every channel, every FM radio station and on billboards all over town. I will be honest and admit that I have developed a new “allergy” towards the Bachchan clan. To me the Amitabh of the 70s or 80s is a different person (the kind of demi-God for which kids like Jamal Malik will jump into human excrement to catch a glimpse of) than the one who hosts inane TV shows, endorses everything from fine wool fabrics to cement and whose choice of cinema is that of “Ram Gopal Verma Ki Aag” – enough said.
So when the promos of “Paa” showed an almost unrecognizable Amitabh and a Rahul Gandhi’esque Abhishek I wanted to duck and hide. Memories of that Bhansali inflicted pain called “Black” came rushing back and I found myself shaking my head involuntarily trying to discard any remnants of that experience. However, my cousins wanted a movie date with me and so with as much reluctance as a dead man walking towards his execution, I gave in – ‘tis my fate, I said.
As the screen came alive with adman R Balki’s second directorial venture (Cheeni Kum was his first) and P.C. Sreeram‘s camerawork, I found myself getting involved with the proceedings. By the time the end credits rolled I realized that I just had a satisfying movie-going experience. The plot is essentially a gimmicky version of “The Parent Trap“. Sr B plays a thirteen year old child – Auro -who is suffering from an extremely rare genetic condition called progeria – which causes rapid aging of the body and leads to eventual death of the patient at an early age (being fifteen years old is like being ninety years old).
Vidya Balan plays Vidya, a single mother to Auro who was a result of an accidental moment of passion from her student past at Cambridge. The “bloody sperm donor” (in Vidya’s own words) is Amol Arte, played by a Jr B who seems to be channeling Rahul Gandhi as a daring outspoken and a cool young MP. Amol wants to pursue a political career and hence they separate with much bitterness. As predictable as such plot lines go, Auro and Amol cross paths and sparks fly. They like each other, spend much time together and eventually realize the blood relation and you know what happens.
Sounds mundane and been-there-seen-that, right? Wrong. Although the plot is trite and the progeria aspect of the main character is a plot trick (how else can you get a real life father to play the son to his real life son), the characters are very well-defined, the script deftly avoids mushy melodrama and manages to tug at your heart just enough. Amitabh’s Auro is a delight, (the man is barely recognizable behind all the prosthetics ), never for once does the star take over the character. It’s a major feat that you forget who is playing Auro (the make-up artist takes a lion’s share in that) and begin to identify him for what he is and understand his motivations. The scenes with his grandmother and his school friends sparkle with humor and have a genuine quality to them.
Vidya Balan and Abhishek play the estranged couple with required efficiency (mercifully the production house did not make this an all family affair and cast Aishwarya Rai in place of Vidya- however Jaya Bachchan makes a cameo appearance). Vidya Balan looks like a doctor who can take care of a son with a rare disease without the support of a man. She does a good job when she has to emote silently with her eyes but comes off a little awkward when the script demands of her to display some histrionics in the form of sudden outbursts of angst and despair. Arundhati Naag as Auro’s grandmother is a picture of grace. Ilaiya Raja returns to Hindi cinema after a long gap and the music lends well to the tone of the movie – the “Mudi Mudi” track is already a hit.
While the movie stays true and focused to the central theme of the plot for most of the time, two minor subplots about slum development and media bashing don’t go too well (and when Abhishek’s character quotes the line from Spiderman – with great power comes great responsibility – I found myself cringing uncomfortably).The character of Paresh Rawal as Amol Arte’s politician father, comes off as too black or white and leaves a sour taste in an otherwise economical script.
Even with the above mentioned minor hichakis (sly me!) you leave feeling satisfied and smiling and there lies the success of Paa. Big B, you managed to restore some faith in this once-upon-a-fan of yours.