-by Devdutt Nawalkar
Film: “Paa” (2009)
Director: “R Balki”
Cast: “Amitabh Bachchan”, “Abhishek Bachchan”, “Vidya Balan”
Not feeling it.
Paa, and Amitabh Bachchan, have been receiving fellatio from all and sundry. Before I dig in with scalpel and fork, a few caveats. I recognize the escapist element that has always been present in Hindi film, and it would be foolish to expect an accurate rendition of life, even in a movie that is purportedly sincere about its subject. Hindi movies tend to get a free pass masquerading under the “sab chalta hai, boss!” and “public ko yahich mangta hai” sentiments. Unfortunately, this blunt resignation to mediocrity and everything that resides and excretes through its rank bowels is, in itself, an indictment of the sad plight of our movie industry, pervading even our so-called parallel scene, or what remains of it anyway, to such an extent that the delineation between mainstream and the quirky is virtually non-existent. Paa, of course, is unabashedly commercial but the pedant in me has a few bones to pick with it, and modern, mainstream Hindi cinema in general:
(1) Complete lack of subtlety, and a growing dissociation with reality.
(2) Overt pandering, in turns, to the maudlin and the saccharine.
(3) Ridiculously inept use of music.
Paa runs afoul on all counts and then some. Characters are routinely used as sounding boards for political or medicinal issues with an astounding lack of nuance. Picture this; a kid with a visible ailment is playing in the park. A nosy woman walks up to the kid’s mother and asks her what’s wrong with her child. A normal single mother, consumed with the cares of raising a disabled child, would shake off the busybody. Not in this case, though. Our mother, admittedly a practicing gynaecologist, proceeds to give the shrew a crash-course on the intricacies of genetics and inherited disorders. On another occasion, the ongoing degeneration of modern journalism is the debate at hand, and is resolved with the accused absolving himself in unbelievably scheming ways.
Of course, movies have every right to raise political issues. But drinking the kool-aid is much easier if administered with a modicum of homogeneity in the greater context. Instead, Paa chooses to hammer down its agenda with all the elegance of a rusty jackhammer, and at times reduces its characters to soundbite-spewing cutouts, showing a remarkable lack of appreciation for the audience’s intelligence and reasoning faculties.
Nitpicking on, another complaint I have is the tactless use of music. There is no need to suffuse every frame with it. Characters can talk with each other perfectly well without something or the other humming in the background. Music can play a pivotal role in raising the timbre of a scene to a crescendo, but only when used with a bit of insight. Paa obviously goes in for the boneheaded approach, which is in keeping with the general aesthetic of the movie.
The story itself has been told before. Auro (Amitabh Bachchan) is a Progeria-afflicted, pampered twelve-year old with a scatological sense of humour, born out of wedlock, and raised by his mother Vidya (Vidya Balan), who has kept his existence a secret from his father Arun (Abhishek Bachchan), a hotshot, idealistic politician. Progeria is a disorder that essentially speeds up the ageing process, and drastically reduces the lifespan of its victims. Auro’s mother has ensured that he’s lived as normal a life as possible under the cirumstances. He goes to school, has a regular clique of friends (even a chick fawning over his every move), and is generally the apple of everyone’s eye. He meets his unsuspecting father through chance, and they gradually get to know each other. Of course it’s all too good to last, and you know how it’s supposed to end.
Abhishek Bachchan is adequate, saying things with a fuckall accent which I’m sure he feels is all hep and hiphoppy. Vidya Balan looks like a dream at times, and puts in a decent performance to boot (ooh sexist me!). But they’re merely props, human canvasses for the cynosure of all eyes, Bachchan Sr. himself, to record his flourishes on. How is he, you ask? Well….hey, the make-up’s great! He’s not unrecognizable or anything, and looks like a taller Mini-Me, but it’s a good job. As for his performance, well, it’s kind of underwhelming to be honest.
Blasphemy! Sacrilege! Confound me and all my patron saints! How the fuck could I?
Relax. First things first. Let’s get one thing out of the way. The sole purpose behind casting Bachchan in the lead role is for the movie to generate buzz, and also, hopefully, to fulfill some quaint, artistic itch (that, miraculously, seems to have come in the aftermath of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button).
Anyway, I hope he manages to put butts in the seat because his work here isn’t great shakes in my opinion. I know how a patient with Progeria interacts with his surroundings, and Bachchan comes nowhere close to filling out the mould. His shortcoming are evident in the minutiae; keep an eye out for his conversations with his bumchum Vishnu. His friend talks the way you would expect a twelve-year old to; speech slightly slurred, coherence, diction, and punctuation all a bit amiss. Amitabh, however, seems to have forgotten that sped-up ageing doesn’t imply precocious levels of maturity. Sure, he modulates his voice a bit, makes weird chimp-like noises, and does the silly jig where he looks like he’s washing his ass with one hand and rubbing his head with the other. But his speech is fully-formed, and pregnant with pause and expression in a way that would make an established thespian proud. The inability to convince that there truly is a child living inside a decrepit body is ultimately his biggest failing. But, the make up should be good enough to coast on, eh?
Not to mention, Auro seems to have a fascination for the human rump. He goes around pinching his grandmother’s butt, and relishes talking about “doing potty”. He gets off lightly because of his condition, but he spends fair time being an insufferable, spoiled brat. I felt bad hating him; it’s like stealing a blind beggar’s coins.
This is a longass movie, clocking in at 140 minutes. Frankly, it was a chore sitting through it. But I’m glad I did because now there’s one more flick I can call everyone’s bullshit on.