Somewhere in this enchanting, enrapturing, heart-warming journey into the heart of a specially-gifted child, our 11-going-on-80 hero, the child born out of wedlock, Auro says to his 34-year old father, ”I’m the last to last to last mistake that you made.”
It’s not that Paa doesn’t make mistakes. There’re some flaws in the narration. Minor, as they turn out to be, when you see the larger, supremely harmonious, picture .But you blissfully overlook the blemishes, to focus on a magical universe that the writer-director creates from the raw material of that hurtful thing called life.
Before we can say ‘Ouch’, Balakrishnan opens a new window to the clear-blue sky much beyond the clouds that hover on our day-to-day existence, each time life begins to suck.
A happy film on a child suffering from a rare genetic disorder which tends to age him four times faster than normal? You’ve got to be kidding! How does Balakrishnan manage it? It could have something to do with his deep but never burdensome understanding of the single-most critical mystery of existence… That you make of life what you want it to be.
Take the spirited Vidya(Balan). After her ambitious lover-boy Amol Atre(Abhishek Bachchan) refuses to accept their love-child she decides to move to Lucknow with her supremely supportive mother(Arundhati Nag) so she can go ahead and have her child.
But hang on! Unwed motherhood is not all that fate has in store for Vidya. The child is born with Progeria. And there begins the narrative’s nubile waltz of life and death, performed with a sumptuous elan that is at once spontaneous and manipulative.
Portions of the film, like Auro’s introductory sequence at a school function where the upright politician who happens to be Auro’s secret father, gives the special boy a trophy, or the finale where Auro’s parents take the saat-pheras around his death bed, smack of filmy connivance.
Balakrishnan smoothly and splendidly gets away with the contrivances. They fit rather aptly into the picture of a brief life lived in the glow of radiant happiness.
In many ways Auro reminded me of Anand. In Hrishikesh Mukherje’s Anand, Rajesh Khanna enters into people’s mildly troubled lives, fills them with joie de vivre and vanishes into the oblivion of mortality.
Auro is a far more complicated act. Amitabh Bachchan has to transform into a rapidly-aging child, throw the manipulative (oops, that word again!) tantrums of an adolescent and yet keeping from appearing caricatural or grotesque. The actor manages all of this, and more, with a fluency that makes you want to grope for new superlatives. Mr Bachchan’s Auro act qualifies as one of the finest most nuanced and sharp performances ever in the history of the motion-picture.
It’s hard to define in words the warm knowledge of the inner workings of a 12-year old child who knows he’s dying, that Mr Bachchan brings into this film.
Paa could be bereft if not orphaned without the Bachchan’s counter-domineering presence where he simply vanishes into Auro’s wrinkled body. From that credibly modulated voice to the sagging walk, he makes the child’s inner beauty mock his ugly exterior in almost a spiritual synthesis of soul and body.
Many of the scenes featuring Auro with his school friends have been written with a tongue-in-cheek comprehension of the way the world of the school-going children works. The kids, supporting the ailing but never failing Auro’s presence, are bright and sympathetic without making a song and dance of the special presence in their midst.
What comes in the way of the narrative’s smooth progression from Auro’s life to heartbreaking death, is the politics of the plot. That, Auro’s dad happens to be a politician, is a misfortune which the screenplay tries to transcend by making Amol Atre that contradiction in (the 5-year) term. An upright politician, Abhishek plays him sensitively, oh yes. But his uprightness when placed against Auro’s spontaneous mischief and wicked disdain for the sacred cows of life and living, appears hugely inadequate.
Besides fighting corrupt political forces Anmol also has to indulge in some heavy-duty media-bashing, aired live on Doordrshan if you please. You impatiently wait for the narrative to return to Auro’s world of mom, grandmom and those little joys of being a privileged child.
While Mr Bachchan’s Auro is the film’s backbone, Vidya Balan as his mother brings a rare and precious understanding to her tearless but troubled, single-mother’s part. The women in Balakrishnan’s films are always enchanting in their eccentricity. In Paa, whether it’s the little girl, who chases Auro in the school or his bohemian grandmother at home, these women won’t take no for an answer from life.
The asymmetry of the world that Balakrishnan’s characters inhabit is richly complemented by the technical virtuosity and packaging of P.C Sreeram’s cinematography, that captures the greenery of the outdoors and the cosy comforts of the interiors with seamless visual correctness. Ilaiyaaraja’s melodies weave themselves into Auro’s tale tenderly.
Paa is a film that could have easily been weighed down by the supreme strength of its central, once-in-an-eternity performance. Balakrishnan doesn’t let Auro’s tale become subservient to the incredibly skilled performance behind it.
And that’s the miracle which we all must witness in Paa.