While he was in the post production stage of his debut film Cheeni Kum, little did he knew that he would be fielding a lot of questions in his mind about his second directorial venture, till it all boiled down to one day, a few hours and one meeting with Mr. Amitabh Bachchan in Janak. And Abhishek Bachchan‘s interruption in the middle of their meeting made things even profitable. So much so that the entire film industry is going to be present at Paa‘s lavish premiere to take place this evening in Mumbai. Welcome R. Balki, the director whose career path is different. Different because he likes making light entertainers, and that’s about it. There was no place for emotions in Balki’s films till Paa happened (thanks to Big B who pointed out the missing ingredient – ’emotions’). The rest is for us to witness tomorrow on the big screen when Paa and Auro face each other. UK’s Harrow Observer columnist and Bollywood Hungama’s London correspondent had a quick chat with the multi talented R. Balki. His first big success, we don’t know. More money at the box office, we don’t know. But what we do know is that Balki loves the history of cinema and its pioneers. He loves different cinema, and different he is. And now comes a new challenge – a light heartedly serious one, we expect. Come tomorrow, we’re sure-sure that the director is going to deliver us a massive injection of entertainment. That’s Balki – the lighter side of life, the only guaranteed good time.
“Amitji was the one who stressed on the emotional factor in Paa. It was never an emotional film.”
How excited is the father of Paa right now?
(laughs) I am quite numb right now because once you go through this process of fatherhood; it’s extremely difficult to be excited initially as you are tired. After seeing my film for about one thousand seven hundred times, I am bound to be in the exhaustion zone as of now. At the end of the day, I feel something good is going to happen.
Paa deals with emotions to a great extent and yet has a lighter side to it. Is that it’s USP?
I think emotions and good humour exist the world over, and people are going to connect to it. But when the same people see the emotions towards certain character in your film, and its story, the film works.
You have a great connect towards filming in the UK. Why such a fascination?
Cheeni Kum was shot in London and Paa was shot in Cambridge. I love London and right from my childhood days, I’ve got this fascination towards UK simply because of cricket, tennis, of every book that I’ve read out there and every bit of its picturesque landscape. I love the country for its looks too. I’ve grown up knowing a lot about Britain and being fascinated about it.
Let’s do a role reversal for you too. From father to mother. Recall your days when you thought of conceiving your baby, Paa.
Actually, it happened a very long time back. I think during the post-production days of Cheeni Kum. I had gone to meet Mr Amitabh Bachchan in his Mumbai office when I saw Abhishek Bachchan walking. It was one of those rare days when Abhishek was saying something very matured and wise while Amitji was pulling his leg and behaving like a child. So I thought that in their last birth, Abhishek would’ve been a father to Amitabh. So I decided that if I ever make a film casting these two, I’d do a role reversal.
And what happened next?
Well, I decided that I’ll make a fantasy film one day reversing their roles. But then I got to know that fantasy will not create the level of interest I was looking for. It had to be a real film. And if it is a real film, there has to be some medical condition in the kid. One day, I met a friend of mine who is a doctor and he informed me of Progeria patients. I saw some videos of these patients and gave birth to Auro. Then, I started writing Paa.
How well did the narration go? Did Mr Bachchan agree in one hearing?
No, not at all. I wrote the script of the film in one month flat and it was a very different script from what I finally wrote. I had written a light hearted comedy which I narrated to Mr Bachchan and he was very quiet. I asked him, “So didn’t you like it?” Amitji replied, “Yeah I like it, but it’s very light. Isn’t it?” I, then answered, “I write light hearted films and that’s my style.” He questioned, “Are you sure you want to make a light movie? And don’t you think that this concept has the power to be a Muqaddar Ka Sikandar or a Deewar or a Trishul?” I finally had to give in, “No Amitji. I have a certain style and I’ll stick to just that.” Amitji was the one who stressed on the emotional factor in Paa. It was never an emotional film. I was confused for five days as to why Mr. Bachchan was stressing on the emotional factor. That’s when I thought that if the film had to be real, emotions had to be played with. The old script was ripped apart and we began writing the new script once Mr Bachchan came on board. It took couple of months to write the new script.
“Abhishek is a fabulous actor. He can act anything and everything.”
How difficult was it to sell Paa?
It was never difficult to sell Paa. Sunil Manchanda, who had produced my film Cheeni Kum was on board from day one. But it was only on Amitji’s insistence that A.B.Corp too decided to be the second producer for Paa. He was overjoyed when I narrated him the second draft and it was an honour to have him as one of the buyers of the film.
How much can one squeeze out of Mr. Amitabh Bachchan the actor?
He has been squeezed quite a bit by various directors (laughs). He is a supreme actor. In Cheeni Kum, I wanted to do everything that Amitabh Bachchan wanted to do. He was sarcastic, he was witty, he was dry, and he was serious. I wrote Cheeni Kum on the basis of what I felt Mr Amitabh Bachchan was. In Paa, I tried to everything that Mr Bachchan was not. Paa will not even have a trace of Amitabh Bachchan.
Are you doing something towards this disability?
No, not at all. Simple because the film is not about a Progeria child’s illness. It is about a simple boy who has a family. It is a very difficult thing to keep a screening for Progeria children because they are very rare. There are only about ten children in India and are still discovering them. We are not trying to make any media issue out of it and are not indulging in their privacy.
How much of a father figure did Abhishek Bachchan come across?
Abhishek is a fabulous actor. He can act anything and everything. For Abhishek, it was very simple and easy to treat Amitabh as his kid. Yes, he has done his home work but he was so casual about it. The funny thing was that when the camera was on, they were father and son, and when the camera was off, they were son and father. It was magical. So was Vidya. To be a mother of Amitabh Bachchan wasn’t an easy thing to do, but she pulled it off.
How difficult was the dubbing for a thirteen year old Auro?
(laughs) It wasn’t difficult at all. You won’t believe it, but Mr Bachchan dubbed the entire film in three days. It was so simple that he just wore Auro’s teeth and dubbed with that.
“You won’t believe it, but Mr Bachchan dubbed the entire film in three days.”
And your fascination with Illayaraja?
Oh yes, he is great, isn’t he? He did my first film Cheeni Kum and he is back again. But he hasn’t done Paa because he worked on Cheeni Kum. He worked because he liked the story. Paa has some good tracks and you should listen to it.
Did Paa take you back to your relationship with your father?
Yes it did to some extent. Some of the relationship with Auro and his father is what I’d like to have with my dad too, but most of it is just purely fictional.