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Dec 07, 2009 at 02:26am IST

Masand Verdict: Paa a great mother-son story

Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan, Vidya Balan

Director: R Balakrishnan

Like most kids his age, Auro doesn't want his friends to see his mum dropping him off at school. He's not very fond of girls, and most of his jokes involve the potty and what you place on it. In fact, he seems so obsessed with that particular body part he's nicknamed his grandma 'Bum', because she's got a big one.

Auro, of course, is the protagonist of director R Balki's Paa. He's your average mischievous 12-year-old, except for the fact that he has progeria, a rare medical condition that accelerates the ageing process. So although he's only stepping into his teens, Auro has the body of a 65-year-old.

In what can be best described as a casting masterstroke, Amitabh Bachchan steps into the (relatively) small shoes of Auro. Contrary to what the film's marketing conveys, Paa is actually a mother-son story. Vidya Balan plays single-mum Vidya, who raises Auro with some help from her mother, after dumping her selfish boyfriend in college, when he suggests an abortion. Amol (played by Abhishek Bachchan) is not ready for marriage; he is keen to follow his father into politics.

Years later, Amol, who is now a Member of Parliament, accidentally meets Auro at a school event, both oblivious to the fact that they are father and son.

Much in the same vein as the director's previous film Cheeni Kum, the first half of Paa unfolds breezily, with witty dialogue and clever scenes used effectively to establish the characters and their relationships. Steering clear of pity, even in delicate scenes, Balki avoids the obvious pitfalls that come with stories about characters suffering from grim conditions.

There is however, one major speed-bump before intermission, a track in which the young politician Amol launches into a verbal attack on the media. It sticks out in the film because that scenario is so amateurishly scripted and comes off looking embarrassingly self-righteous.

There are more problems in the film's second half when the tone suddenly turns exceedingly manipulative, and several scenes are stretched unnecessarily like the one in a Delhi metro where Auro questions Amol about the futility of having bodyguards.

Despite these hiccups, Paa is ultimately an engaging film because of its largely original writing. One of the best scenes in the film is a hilarious telephone conversation between Auro and a classmate of his, in which the latter explains just how frustrated he is with his father. Most scenes, in fact, between Auro and his buddies at school are a pleasure to watch because of the natural performances Balki is able to derive from his child actors.

Of the cast Arundhati Naag is endearingly warm as Auro's feisty grandmum, and Pratik Katare gets his timing spot-on as Auro's best friend Vishnu. Abhishek Bachchan is a tad smug as the new-gen politician, and tries a little too hard to force the 'coolness' down our throats.

In the end, Paa belongs to mother and son. Vidya Balan delivers her best work since Parineeta, emerging the emotional soul of this film with a graceful, restrained performance that she constructs with minimal help from the script. She strikes up a warm maternal chemistry with Auro and her scenes with him are the film's most heart-felt.

The centerpiece of the action, of course, is Amitabh Bachchan. Under that excellent prosthetic make-up, his baritone replaced by a childish squeaky voice, Bachchan becomes Auro. There is no trace of the legendary 68-year-old star; what you get is a pitch-perfect performance as a gawky but spirited teenager.

PC Sreeram's dazzling cinematography and Illayraja's soothing score help make up for many of the script's flaws, and ultimately contribute to making Paa an easy, enjoyable watch.

I'm going with three out of five for director R Balki's Paa. Few filmmakers stick their necks out to tell difficult and different stories in these days of mindless entertainers making potloads of money. For their intentions alone, the makers of Paa deserve a thumbs-up.

Rating: 3 / 5

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