Mayank Shekhar's Review:Paa | india | Hindustan Times
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Mayank Shekhar's Review:Paa

Reinvention of Amitabh Bachchan, 67, has been for long in Hindi films, a multi-crore, boutique industry of its own. Mayank Shekhar reports.

india Updated: Dec 05, 2009 11:30 IST
Mayank Shekhar

Paa
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan, Vidya Balan
Direction: Balki
Rating: *** & 1/2

Reinvention of Amitabh Bachchan, 67, has been for long in Hindi films, a multi-crore, boutique industry of its own. Most directors have attempted to remodel this rare clay into various forms, to shock or please a captive audience of over four decades. Many have, in the process, merely turned him into a contestant at some pansy-dress show: Jack Sparrow (Jhoom Barabar Jhoom), Gabbar (Aag), ghost (Bhootnath), genie (Alladin)… The star, I presume, came before the scripts. Few of those filmmakers were blessed with a vision beyond a childlike fascination towards Bachchan alone. Balki is a notable exception.

Last time on, he made an extreme inter-age romance (Bachchan, Tabu; Cheeni Kum) charming enough to not appear a pale joke. Here, the risks involved were infinitely higher. There’s the nation’s best-known actor, without his best-known assets: his deep voice, and his deadly presence. Amitabh entirely trades off his screen aura for a child-geriatric Auro. Mainline audiences can’t be used to this. They’re likely to laugh or leave. Surprisingly, they’ll laugh at the intended notes, and leave, quite satisfied actually. Therein lies the film’s grandest achievement.

Born to a political family, a predictable sartorial sense, and doggedness toward legwork like Rahul Gandhi, Abhishek Bachchan plays an upcoming star-MP Amol Arte. His is a 24x7, taxingly busy life: something that’s rarely acknowledged about politicians by their unhappy public. At a prominent school in his constituency in Uttar Pradesh, young Amol bumps into a uniquely gifted kid Auro. The boy’s face is like ET’s, and his voice could pass off for Amartya Sen’s. The two hook up on Skype, and hit it off over a planned date in Delhi.

The MP endlessly entertains the kid’s whims, without a compelling reason to. Only the audience knows that he’s in fact the child’s biological father.

Auro suffers from an incurable disease Progeria, which accelerates the ageing process. Such children don’t live beyond 12 or 13 years, by which time they’re already in their 70s. Auro is 12. He lives with his mum (Vidya Balan, strikingly unaffected), and a grandmom, he calls bum. He’s pretty much surrounded by love and care. The filmmakers completely ignore the trauma such children could go through in school. Kids are a lot more cruel than buddies of Auro’s mental age. These school friends are instantly warm and empathetic to his state. That explains Auro a happy child, and a film that never lets go off its sense of joy and humour.

The tone is still sensitive and sentimental; though, in portions, even melodramatic or bombastic. For most parts, the MP takes on the irresponsibility and trivialisation of television news. This should suit the opinion of the streets. It could fetch the film its box-office returns.

Beyond those distractions, each time the camera pans back to little Auro, you’re almost mesmerised by the face behind that mask. You also wish there was more of him. Though juries aren’t always credited with perfect eye-sights, they’d have to be simply blind to miss out on the sweet-sour, cute-compassionate, tender-strong Bachchan at their annual National Award scroll. Given the hungriest performer of our times, I suspect, he will still love another one of those. Few star-actors with such set public images could’ve pulled off such a nuanced role. This is also to state the character, like the film, isn’t just another advertising gimmick. Thankfully.