As the film ended, a hall full of people rose to applaud and I sat there cringing in my seat.
I was/still am in the minority of people for whom Amitabh Bachchan as 12-year-old Auro just did not work. Don't get me wrong, I am a huge Bachchan fan and I think nobody else would ever fill out the shoes of India's longest ruling Superstar. Nor am I even suggesting that Paa is a bad film or that Auro is a poorly etched out character. Far from it.
Balki proves once again that he's one of the smartest writer-directors around. He tells us another unusual story on age dynamics… This time, an unlikely father-son relationship. Unlikely because the child here looks like the father of the man. Quite literally. And there lies the problem.
You cannot make a film about the child being the father of man by simply casting the father as the child, no matter how brilliant the actor is. More so if the point is to show that the child is the father of the man.
Amitabh Bachchan is God. He shouldn't be a Clown. It's blasphemy; casting him in this role is like making him play Clown.
Auro is supposed to be a 12-year-old child whose aging process is accelerated. One would then expect to see a child who looks like a frail old man and NOT an old man behaving like a child. There's a fine line between the two and this is why Amitabh Bachchan as Auro is a huge casting mistake. How poignant and credible it would have been if it were Darsheel Safary (or someone his age) made to look scarily old with no eyebrows or hair and scaly skin!
This takes us back to why Balki made this film. It wasn't because he wanted to tell us a story about a Progeria patient. He wanted to see Big B play son to Junior Bachchan. That was it. Everything else, including the make-up stunt, was an excuse to arrive at this casting coup.
So if you are going into the hall expecting nothing else but just this delicious prospect of watching your favourite Superstar play a boy and his real life son cast as his dad, you will be thoroughly entertained.
You are already sold on the concept. If you love your superstars unconditionally and just want excuses to celebrate them, Paa is one such opportunity.
But if you are, like yours truly, not at all convinced about a 6-foot-3-inch-tall 67-year-old man play a 12-year-old and then go in to find him covered in prosthetic make-up and watch him talk in a faux child voice, it is a little distracting. You KNOW it's Bachchan in there. Physicality and voice are crucial aspects of casting.
Progeria patients are of short stature, not twice the height of kids in the class. They surely don't have voter's ink on the middle finger.
With an animated voice that tries hard to be cute, you half expect Bachchan towards the end to say: “Goodbye mama, now I can have ice cream in heaven! I'll see you again tonight when I go to bed in my head movies.” Heh!
Towering over everybody, Bachchan Senior, the fine world-class make-up notwithstanding, is a bit of a stretch as Auro but he makes up for it with fantastic body language and posture, employing his eyes to speak more effectively than his voice.
Considering that Bachchan as Auro is Mission Impossible, he does the job to the best of his ability and the effort is phenomenal indeed… However, this character needed someone half his height and weight, with a genuine child-like voice.
Abhishek exudes charisma as the dynamic politician, rocking the intense scenes with his brand of understatement and conviction even in the film's most ridiculous scene where he teaches the Electronic Media a lesson by buying a slot in Doordarshan!
Gorgeous Vidya Balan plays a yummy mummy, absolutely solid in her wonderfully etched out role. This is the best she's looked since Parineeta. The seniors Arundhati Nag and Paresh Rawal provide able support with superb dialogue delivery of those razor sharp lines.
The writing is smart, the characterisation impeccable. But for that silly crusade against the media, the narrative stays quite focussed.
Ilaiyaraja haunts us with some of his familiar melodies and Balki relies on P. C. Sreeram's clever framing to hide Bachchan's height in many of the scenes.
Though likeable, manipulative Paa ends exactly as you predicted it. If you cry at the movies quite easily, get ready to be choked.
And please, please forgive the guys cringing in their seats.