PAA-r Excellence (Here Be Spoilers)
I am normally gripped by the fancy to watch a movie once every month. This is crazy because I grew up watching first-day-first-shows of almost every Hindi movie ever made. It had translated in to being a long line outside Lowe’s theater on 31st and 2nd every Thursday night to watch the first-night-first-show of every Hollywood film that happened to be running there when I was in New York. (I saw ‘All about Steve’, there, I said it) So the fact that I’m watching one movie a month now that I’m back in India, and that includes all my T.V time, is fucking insane.
Last month, I had the fortune of finding a 1:00 p.m. showing of Wake Up Sid that I enjoyed thoroughly and have been smitten/stalking Ranbir Kapoor since then. (Wait till I get my hands on you Ranbir!) The cinematography by veteran Anil Mehta was breath taking, lyrical and gentle. Bombay will never be the same to anyone who has watched the movie.
This month, I called Niharika, eager to watch Kurbaan. I don’t much care for Kareena Kapoor or Saif Ali Khan and the hype around their ‘on screen chemistry’ had already annoyed me to epic proportions, but reviews mentioned that there was an attempt at some sort of discourse on terrorism, I really wanted to see what Bollywood thought of terrorism. But Niharika saved me Rs. 80 and need for a barf bag at Saif Ali Khan’s and Kareena Kapoor’s ‘on screen chemistry’ (What? It’s like watching Skeletor and Jocelyn Weinstein make out.)
Discourse on terrorism aside, I bet you’d like to see the ‘on-screen chemistry’ between this:
I didn’t think so.
Now, you have to be living in the Himalayas, to miss out on the pre-release promotion for Paa. Amitabh Bacchan was organizing private shows for every body- from members of the Indian cricket team, to his driver’s children, there were the interviews with the characters from the film with the ad rag, Bombay Times– but it never reached the irritatingly feverish pitch that Kurbaan had, so when Niharika suggested Paa, I agreed.
Good idea, me thinks, because the film was exceptional. R. Balki of Cheeni Kum fame managed to make and write one of the best movies I have seen in a long time. From the performances to the cinematography everything was just right. Paa is the story of a young couple, Amol and Vidya’s untimely separation due to an unwanted pregnancy. Amol encourages Vidya to abort the child which she does not and raises it, Auro on her own. Auro and Amol meet by coincidence 13 years later when Amol is a successuful politician and MP and Vidya is a practicing gynecologist. Auro, suffers from Progeria, a disease that causes accelerated physical aging among infants. (So patients may only be 12-13 but their bodies look and work like that of a 70 or even an 80 year old). The fact that Amol does not know that Auro is his son forms the crux of the story.
And because no one has ever accused me of brevity, I’d like to go more into detail on my thoughts about Paa.
Amitabh Bacchan: Starting off with the baap of the movie of course- Amitabh Bacchan. I have long maintained that Bacchan is not a “super star”. He’s an actor. I have a disdainful opinion of the word “super star”- It means nothing. Superstars need idiotic press coverage to stay in the limelight. For eg. “Preity Zinta moves bowls, plates feel left out.”Actors, on the other hand, like Amitabh Bacchan can stand aside and let their work speak for themselves–because no amount of private screenings and character interviews will ever be able to do justice to his performance in the film. In Paa, Amitabh Bacchan is at what I’m hoping is not the zenith of his acting career. Of course the make up and strong vision by the art direction team helped. Bacchan disappeared into the character of Auro. I would forgive his Lal Badshah’s and Boro Plus endorsements based solely on his performance in the film. I never understood what the hell the hype around him the superstar is, but I will be reverently bowing down my head to Amitabh Bacchan, the actor, every time I think of this performance.
Abhishek Bacchan: I have a love-hate relationship with Abhishek Bacchan, but no one has managed to remain constant in my heart more than he has. For every Dhoom and Dostana there’s a Yuva and a Paa. And in a movie with performances of the bring-the-house-down variety from Amitabh Bacchan and Vidya Balan, Abhishek Bacchan has not received his due. Junior B is back, in a big way. The scene in which he watches Auro sleep and breaks down is undoubtedly one of those moments when you are reminded of the fact that this man is the offspring of two of the most prolific and popular actors in the short history of Hindi cinema.
Vidya Balan: She’s fucking gorgeous. Let’s just get that out of the way, because I’m constantly thinking about it, to the point that it distracts me from her performance. Her transition from the sultry and naive grad school student to the no-nonsense yet gentle and caring mother over the course of the film is natural, and the transition phase of a woman determined and resolute to keep a child that is not wanted is heart wrenching and beautiful. Vidya Balan bode her time with Kismat Konnections and Hey Babyys. I would love to see her do some Indie work (Even though the Indie film industry in India is regrettably small to the point of non-existence), so she can just keep churning out fantastic performances, one after another.
I have to admit that the salty-sweet Cheeni Kum did not leave much of an impression on me. I will be going back to watch it and might even post about it. The true hero of the film, Paa of course was R. Balki. His generous yet measured approach to the script and film left me satisfied and yet greedy for more in true “pet bhar gaya magar niyat nahin bhari” style. The universe of Paa is simply beautiful and poetic. It is a world where there are no mean kids making fun of the protagonist for being different and no one stands at the roadside to gape at anyone. I have to admit, that I was prepared to see a couple of scenes, at least, where Auro gets teased for being different by a bunch of cruel, taunting kids. I’m glad the preparation was in vain. All the issues of different-ness are dealt with and out of the way allowing the focus to remain on the cultivation of a relationship and its conclusion. On every level, just like the title suggested, the story was about a father-son relationship. The fact that the child was sick, was happenstance and did not take away from the film but added beautifully. Thematically tight, relentless and yet surprisingly gentle, Paa is a late night ride in a dark forest, a walk on the beach by the rising sun, and a view of the stars as you sit on the roof when the power in your house goes out. I will of course, as you might have inferred, be watching the film again, but I did notice some themes featuring more prominently than the others- of time, of expectations and most beautifully portrayed, what it means to be human and what, on the most biological level is the reason for our existence.
Time could almost have been a protagonist of the film. From the first meeting of Vidya(Vidya Balan) and Amol (Abhishek Bacchan) under a large clock (I’ve been unable to place where that is though I spend a bit of time on the Oxford University Campus. Yikes!) to the scene in which they go ’round round’ when both their watch adorned wrists come together as if almost adding up the time they both wish they had with their dying son, making it more. The youngerAmol and Vidya ended up going different ways because careers had to be made, lessons had to be learned, there was no room for a baby in their relationship, the timing was just not right. Even the nature of the disease that Auro suffers from is about the warp between time and a human body.
Weather it be from politicians who are expected to be pure and therefore wear only white or Mr. Arte’s (Paresh Rawal) expectations of Amol, his son or even a woman, who cannot be unmarried and pregnant, expectations weigh heavily on the protagonists. I found myself re-thinking my own expectations and perceptions of a lot of things after this movie.
Man, as an animal
I was reminded after watching Paa, of the most basic reasons for our existence, on the purest, most biological level. Cutting through all our desires of self actualization and the cloak of expectations, standards and pressures, we are animals. We were born to procreate, to produce more of our kind, that is our purpose. Our ancestors realized this when they write “Be Fruitful and multiply” or why most Hindi T.V serials, when a married couple enters, the resident old character/person normally says something along the lines of “Phallo Phullo.” The scene where Vidya, quietly points out to a patient who is too busy to have a child and yet is suffering from some sort of a problem gynecological in nature, that her body is giving her the signs that it’s time for her to have a baby is indicative of this theme. A man and a woman’s body goes through the changes it does, because we are meant to phallo phullo. The scene between Amol Arte and his father at the hospital when he finds out that Auro is his son is heart wrenching and eye-opening.
(This is not verbatim, but as I remember it and it’s in English. It’s still freaking awesome though)
Mr. Arte: (To Amol) The media has gone crazy over the fact that you have this illegitimate child. They want to ruin your career. What you must do is tell them that it’s all a lie and that you were just feeling pity for this dying child which is why you stayed by his bedside all night.
Amol: Why are you saying this Dad?
Mr. Arte: Becasue you’re my son, and I love you and if anything comes in the way of you and your wishes then I want to stomp it out.
Amol: Auro too is my son, and I love him and if anything comes in the way of him and his wishes, I too want to stomp it out.
And it’s as simple as that, the need to protect your offspring, the simplest, most rudimentary biological impulse. It’s just that, man, being what he truely is, an animal.
I’m going to try and convince my mom to watch the movie with me, even though I’m quiet sure she won’t be interested. Or will be making phone calls through the film.(She’s one of those)
There’s a whole political subplot that I’ve not made any mention of and I hear that the movie, when submitted to film festivals across the globe will be cut. I don’t mind that though, Paa in it’s most basic, visceral form, is still a beautiful film.