Paa (2009): Auro's Aura is Bollywood's Delight

The underlying theme here is familiar -- Bollywood entertainment to the core, with a phenomenal performance that takes an average film to another level.

Great actors do that. Amitabh Bachchan is better than great.

We've known this for decades, as he's obviously long been at the point where nothing he does professionally will ever take away from one of the most remarkable careers in all cinema. The inverse doesn't hold true, of course, i.e. he can certainly continue to add to it all. We know better. So it's hardly surprising that he take on the challenging Paa (forget the mannerisms including voice, how does allocating three to four hours per day to brilliant prosthetic makeup sound?) and not only transform himself completely, but assume the role of his character to the extent we don't get to see Amitabh at all, but get to sense his presence and the brand of cinema he's notorious for -- core Bollywood, this.

Here's the plot synopsis from the official website:

Auro (Amitabh Bachchan) is an intelligent and witty 13-year-old boy with an extremely rare genetic defect that causes accelerated aging. He suffers from a progeria-like syndrome. Mentally he is 13, very normal, but physically he looks five times older. In spite of his condition, Auro is a very happy boy. He lives with his mother Vidya (Vidya Balan) who is a gynecologist. Amol Arte (Abhishek Bachchan) is young, progressive and a full-of-ideals politician. He is out to prove to the world that 'politics' is not a bad word. He is a man with a mission. Auro is Amol's son. Paa is a rare story about a father-son, son-father relationship.

The only thing missing in this synopsis is that Auro being a happy child is a direct result of his relationship with his maa, which is as substantive to the film than his relationship with his paa. It works to the advantage of the film. Vidya is in fine form as ever, and I'm happy to say she is back to her strong suit, for which I am very excited. (I was afraid she'd lost her way since the annoying Heyy Babyy (2007) and frustrating Kismat Konnection (2008), both ordinary at best.) It's refreshing to see a character such as hers with as prominent a role -- resolute but kind, confident and humble, contemporary and 'modern', with a tasteful, modest sense of dress. Methinks she's right up there with Gayatri Joshi of Swades (2004) for my most admirable contemporary Indian woman in a film. The wardrobe and styling do her justice, and she's always had sheer class as an actor. Hubba hubba!

Don't let this frame fool you. The film might be predictable (core Bollywood, told ya!), but the characters often aren't.

I've liked Abhishek Bachchan's selection of films of late (first Delhi-6 (2009), then this!), but wish the same could be said about his performances. He's not bad at all here. (Really liked his wardrobe, too.) It's just quite obvious a better actor would've been better for the film. But then, it's easy to see why a father and son would want to reverse roles in a film produced by their banner, so without both, the film would likely not have been made. (And a film such as this deserves to be made.) Which also leads one to appreciate Vidya's casting instead of Aishwarya Rai. Paa's relationship with his paa (Paresh Rawal) is well-chronicled.

Father and son clearly had a blast working in this!

Amitabh is just sensational as Auro, and what he has pulled off here is a spectacular achievement no matter how one looks at it, the stature of the Bachchan notwithstanding. His interactions with his grandmother, school principal, friends, 'driver' (chauffer), and others, are intricately weaved into the plot and sensitively portrayed. It's a sheer joy to see him surround the screen with pleasant aura that few if any can lend to this character. The film is worth watching for him alone.

That's not to say there isn't more that makes it worthwhile. The background score (Ilaiya Raja) is simply delightful. The supporting cast, which includes Paresh Rawal and Arundathi Nag, are brilliant. Overall direction (R. Balakrishnan) is fine, the art direction and makeup are the strongest. (Contrast the scene in which Amol checks out Auro's room, with the one in Taare Zameen Par (2007), in which Ishaan's teacher checks out the child's room.)

What hurts by quite a bit are the haphazard integration of a good soundtrack (Ilaiya Raja, lyrics by Swanand Kirkire), dialogue that could have been refined some more (the choice of words in many instances did not lend itself to the situations), and the kind of senselessness no prominent, rational, politician or even businessperson would resort to for the stake of stranger (if you've seen the film, you know Amol is both prominent and supposedly rational; think a day in Delhi.) Together, they manage to make this less than a brilliant film.

Thankfully, there's one brilliant performance that towers above everything else. Watch this for Amitabh and fine performances by most of the rest, especially Vidya Balan. It's a heartwarming film which is also very entertaining. There's none who's mastered the art of this brand of cinema better, and it's on fine display. Here's a promo; check out Amitabh at the very end of the clip:

Movie rating: 3.75/5 (Very good!)
Don't miss it! Despite its flaws (writing, soundtrack integration), it's worth checking out. Clearly one of the best films of the year, in what is an amazing effort.

Music rating: 3/5 (Good)
Great background score, and good music (listen at this link) that could have been better-integrated. I hope this is finally Shilpa Rao's coming out party. For someone who has done few but only fine songs in her career (The Train (2007), Gandhi My Father (2007), Aamir (2008), Bachna Ae Haseeno (2008), Dev.D (2009)), it's about time she be given a chance to make it to the top tier alongside Shreya Ghosal and Sunidhi Chauhan.

My classification: PG
The audience at the cinema was indicative of this, with ages six through sixty represented well.

Official website (and picture source):

Also see:
About Progeria at the Progeria Research Foundation.
Video from the truly grand premiere (Disclaimer: Look out for Juhi Chawla!)

And finally...
There's this song Duniya Ka Mazaa Le Lo (Take the world for a ride/lit. Enjoy the world) in Bahaar (1951) starring Vijayanthimala, which also says, "Duniya ko laat maaro duniya salaam kare" (Neglect the world and it'll salute you/lit. kick the world and it says salaam in return). I think the Bachchans have, for once in a long time, managed to do that to the media and critics. The media are the big villain in Paa, and it's amusing to see Abhishek thank the critics and media personnel who seem to really like this film. Might be some reverse psychology at work. As Auro would say, "Round, and round, and round..." :)


Shellie said...

I'm not sure if I want to see this. Your review sure sheds some positive light on it, but as great an actor as Mr. Bachchan is, I just don't know if I can watch him in this role. However, I can see how it could be groundbreaking.

theBollywoodFan said...

I wasn't planning to go see this in theaters at first, but whatever inhibitions I had were gone after I saw the trailers.

Chances are good you'll forget after the first few minutes that it's the Big B playing the role of the kid. The bits with him are extremely well done, and the film has a surprisingly pleasant undertone throughout, which worked rather well. Thanks for your comment, Shell, as always.

limo hire said...

Last night i saw its review and such a incredible... He is a real actor of the Bollywood...

Bhushan said...

Hi Bollywood Fan,

I came across your blog and must say how well written it is and well presented. I saw Paa on the weekend and loved it too!

If you get the chance, please also read the review I wrote for Paa too for a website I have co-created - which is all about Bollywood from a Brit-Asian perspective!

I have added your blog to my favourites and will definitely be checking back to see what you make of Rocket Singh and 3 Idiots!

Bhushan :-)

Filmi Girl said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it! I have a post I'm working on that picks apart the American media's reviews of Paa that I'm sure you will find interesting.

I still don't think I can watch Amit-ji in that make-up but I'm very glad that he's in top form. (And Vidya, too!)

The Abhishek thing frustrates me, though, because he is a weak actor and I think that everybody ignores it because they like him too much. Abhi's comedy is good but needs to leave the drama to the professionals.

Pitu said...

Hmm. If it starred *anyone* other than Amitabh, I'd have seen it. Esp for Vidya Balan, whom I adore. And the kickass music! But 3 hrs of Amitabh, no way man!

theBollywoodFan said...

Amitabh's been around and at the top for so long because he's the best since he's been around, limo!

Bhushan: Thank you very much for your visit and comment! Truly appreciate your kind words, and am glad you enjoyed Paa too! Thanks for the link back, I'll look forward to checking out your site over the weekend. (Interesting title!) Probably won't be watching Rocket Singh in theaters, and I'm looking forward to 3 Idiots, of course.

theBollywoodFan said...

Filmi Girl: Now, why oh why would you want to pick apart the American media's reviews of Paa? :D Haven't read any of those, and my guess is they'd be fairly critical of the core Bollywood nature of this film. (?) Wouldn't disagree entirely with that view. This would've been a much better film had it set out to get its audience to think some as it entertained. But then, I've never let critics' perceptions bother me much.

While on this...can you imagine a Karan Johar directing a Taare Zameen Par? The teacher would probably fall in love with the kids' mom and they'd run away or something. =D I'd have major issues with all that fluff, but it's all in retrospect.

Don't think Paa ever set out to be too much more than an entertainer. In that purpose, I think it passes with flying colors. Sure, the critics out here don't 'get it'. Plenty of them in India don't, too. But at the end of the day, it's art, and there's always a good chance their views are indicative of a great number of the film consumers (especially here and Bollywood). To each (country too) her own!

theBollywoodFan said...

Pitu: That's an interesting take, but Amitabh's a definite asset to Paa! Believe me, we don't see or hear the Amitabh we've known, although we do sense him because of how bossy Auro tries to be, but that's about it.

It's a lot less than 3 hours (more like 2.25, IIRC), so I'd say give it a shot! At least Ash isn't around =)

theBollywoodFan said...

PS Filmi Girl: Agreed on Abhishek and comedy (thinking back to 'Bunty Aur Babli'!). Liked him in Guru and Yuva too. Wonder how much our expectations of him have to do with him being Big B's son. Like his choice of films of late, wish he acted better. Oh, well.

theBollywoodFan said...

All: Here's an interesting Times of India picture series: The Unmaking of Auro.

Anonymous said...

hi bollywoodfan, thanx for the review. i was interested in seeing Mr. Bachchan Sr. in this movie ever since i saw the ads. The makeup alone was incentive enough and now i am much more excited about it! Talk about stepping out of your comfort zone! I think he should be commended on that alone!

theBollywoodFan said...

Hi Anonymous, and thank you for your visit and comment! I, of course, agree with you on the remarkable effort by Big B here. If you got a chance to see it, please share your thoughts! Cheers.