Talking about the internet, there is a charming dialogue in the movie when 11-year-old Auro (Amitabh Bachchan) looks up an errant politician on the computer saying ‘Google se bach ke kahan jaoge’ (you can’t run away from Google).
It’s difficult then, not to fall for Auro, the possessor of a dry humour that consistently produces gems like the one above. We flashback to his mother, medical student Vidya’s story (Vidya Balan), who, after an affair with a political science student, Amol (Abhishek), gets pregnant and is disappointed when she is asked to get an abortion.
She speaks to her mother (Arundhati Naag, superb) who had brought up Vidya all alone after her husband’s demise. When plainly asked whether she wants to keep the baby or not, Vidya decides to go ahead with the pregnancy. Already wondering how she’ll bring up a child all alone, she’s shattered to know her newborn is suffering from progeria, a rare disease causing premature ageing in children.
At that moment, when you see Vidya Balan’s expressions on learning that her child is likely to have a life-span of only 13 years, you feel every bit of her anguish. All grown-up now and studying in a school, how an adolescent Auro rediscovers his Paa after 11 years forms the rest of the story.
The finest quality of the film is its refusal to coax pity out of the viewer - either for Auro or for single mother Vidya. A successful gynaecologist, Vidya is shown to provide Auro with all the comforts - from a nice car to a computer and even a play station. Together with Vidya’s mother, they form a cosy unit always good-naturedly ribbing one another. The inclusion of the Paa happens only after the interval, reminding you of Taare Zameen Par where Aamir enters the story around the middle.
You adore Amitabh Bachchan’s performance while applauding his commitment to his craft. Reportedly, it took a 60-plus Bachchan five hours to wear the prosthetic make-up for six hours of shooting, with another two hours to take it off. So truthful is this performance, you begin recognising Auro as an existing character with flesh and blood and forget you’re watching Amitabh Bachchan.
Abhishek Bachchan is also excellent as the do-gooder politician, who never agrees with his father’s (Paresh Rawal) seasoned opportunism. The story is as much Vidya’s as Auro’s and Vidya Balan is fabulous as the proud, independent single mother. Kids playing Auro’s friends, especially Pratik as his best bud, are fabulous.
In the technical department, the first mention must go to make-up artists Christien Tinsley and Dominie Till for painstakingly and expertly converting Amitabh Bachchan into Auro. Cinematography by P C Sreeram, editing by Anil Naidu and art by Sunil Babu are top-notch.
Styling, too, deserves special mention. Vidya Balan’s lovely saris are matched by a thick-strapped ‘working-woman’s’ wrist watch and subtle earrings. However, it's a little odd that the foreign-educated doctor doesn’t have any contemporary western clothes in her wardrobe. Abhishek’s clothes are delightful as is Auro’s oversized hooded shirt that he picks up for a special occasion.
Music by Illayaraja and lyrics by Swanand Kirkire make for hauntingly beautiful songs. Just for the Ittefaq song and its wonderful picturisation, this writer intends to watch the film again.
Some might fear Paa would be a depressing, melodramatic film or a shadow of 2005’s heavily emotional Black. It’s not, and neither does it have any link to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
For a couple of moments, the film does turn your eyes moist, but there are dozens where you’ll enjoy Auro’s antics. Of course, you wonder about the film’s anti-abortion stand and it’s propensity to encourage child-bearing - in a rather awkward scene, Dr Vidya tells a couple, who confess they’re too busy to have a child, that they ought to have one as life changes for the better after a baby.
The melodramatic finale, too, seems unnecessary and it appears that the director, who had so boldly shown a mother raising her child without getting married, cops out towards the end.
These are minor complaints still, in a film that holds you from the first scene to the last. R Balki outdoes himself with a film that’s intelligent, entertaining and visually arresting.
It’s indeed a pleasure presenting four stars to a film after years. You don’t want to miss this one.
Rating: Four stars