08 Dec

About ten minutes into Paa, director R. Balki manages to find his feet with a scene in which 12-year-old Auro (Amitabh Bachchan) calls out his mother Vidya (Vidya Balan) on her Mother India complex. “Why all this unnecessary suffering?” he asks, displaying excellent son skills, and it must be a stone heart that refuses to go at least a little “aww”.

This is good because the beginnings of this movie are not encouraging. It kicks off with a competition in which patriotic children present their vision for the India of the future held in the most awesomest, happiest, giggliest, adorablest school ever that’s incidentally named after a former Emperor of India (British). Presenting the top prize is India’s youngest, dashingest, amazingest, coolest [in his “own words”, according to the principal who clearly has no clue that you’re automatically docked coolth points if you’re the one using the term to describe yourself] Member of Parliament Amol Arte (Abhishek Bachchan).

Auro, using the special-needs-child-is-always-brilliant clause of international movieland, is the winner of the competition. This allows our cool MP to have an extremely uncouth reaction wherein he stands stock still and stares in shock for minutes on end at this old man in school boy uniform (shout out to AB Sr.’s prosthetics team, Christien Tinsley & Dominie Till, who did a splendid job). This is dutifully recorded by teams of media people who’re apparently on the all-important MP-visits-arty-farty-school-competition beat and Auro is outed as a child with a rare disease called Progeria.

So the media does the responsible thing – it gathers outside the school gates and yells, “FREAAAAAAK!!! Show us the FREAAAAAAAAAKKK!! We want to see the FREAAAAAAAAAK!!!”

Understandably Auro is not pleased and more than a little scared of this unwanted attention. He is especially not pleased with the “donkey” MP who brought it all about and unleashes the wrath of Google search on his ass. And thus an unlikely friendship is born.


When news leaked that Paa was about a young boy with a heartrending disease, a number of people felt we were about to receive the Taare Zameen Par of 2009. I’m happy to report that Paa is lot less lugubrious, waltzing lazily with an airy step and a sense of humor, unhindered by a crushing sense of its own importance.

It is a message movie, but the message isn’t centered around Auro and his illness. Amitabh Bachchan is not the new Darsheel Safary. No, Paa reserves its crusading zeal for something a great deal more dear to the heart of its producers, Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Ltd.: the media and its steady jettisoning of ethics in favor of tabloid sensationalism in the battle to net the most eyes by yelling the loudest.

And look, I’m not going to give them a tough time of it. The amount of speculation that family has to live under is ridiculous and if they wish to unleash the powers of Bachchanalia (oh yeah, Jaya B. shows up to read the opening credits, looking tons better in a casual saree than all the weird stuff she wears to red carpets. There was even a smile or two that reminded me of the days when she wasn’t Amar Singh’s scary mascot) to hand out a few spankings here and there, then more power to them.

[I would like one thing: will someone who watches Indian cable news please tell me who those three journalists are modeled upon? Thanks!]


Although the movie is called Paa and its lackadaisical plot eventually meanders around to focus on Auro’s quest to connect with his father, his mother and grandmother, whom he calls Bum (Arundhati Naag), are the ones who really stand out in their characterization.

When Vidya comes home to her mother, pregnant and alone, all Bum wants to know is if Vidya wants to keep the baby. After dancing around the topic for a bit, she finally blurts out that she can’t talk about this to her mother. To which Bum replies that she’s spent most of Vidya’s life as a single mother – she can support her daughter’s single motherhood if necessary.

It’s such a beautiful moment. There’s the good mothering on display, of course: Bum’s steadfast refusal to act like the benighted model of motherhood that Vidya clearly half-expects to erupt at any moment with a storm of “karamjalis” and “maatimilis”. The ignominy of admitting that you had sex – premarital sex! – to your mother trumping the fact that you’re sitting in front of her discussing options about your pregnancy.

But what really got to me was the implicit determination of a mother to ensure that her daughter could avail herself of all her choices. Even as Vidya trots out a long list of reasons why she can’t bring her baby to full term – a list that sounds like things she feels her mother must be thinking but not expressing – Bum is waiting at the other side of the mother-child trial-by-fire where her child’s choices are of paramount importance, above all other considerations.

Which is why the later, absolutely context-less scene of Vidya smugly counseling a DINK couple to have the child that nature intended them to have before the lady half’s uterus explodes is a serious WTF. Perhaps it was a way to inform the audience that even with all the heartache of mothering a special needs child, Vidya has never regretted her decision to become a single mother – except we pretty much already know that every time she so much as looks at Auro.

Vidya is an excellent mother, staring down nosy playground matrons with her superior medical knowledge and stifling her need to smother her precious baby with the care that could possibly prolong his life at the cost of his happiness at doing everyday things like going to school.

Good for her. Because she sucks as a gynecologist with her “procreate or die” speech. And no, tacking on a “it’s your choice, of course” at the end of it doesn’t make it better. It’s like cake or death. Gee, I wonder what I should choose.

The other thing that niggles at me is related to the central plot point and is a common reaction for me when I bump into similar storylines – while Vidya is entitled to her feelings of hurt and anger, I feel I must point out that Amol had a perfect right not to want a child. The choice to have a baby isn’t merely a woman’s. Unless the woman actively wishes to be a single parent, the man gets to have a say.

So I felt Amol was apologizing for the wrong thing at the end because he definitely did have something to apologize for. He pulled a dick move – if you’re not ready to be a father and you’re depending on a condom to keep the mini-hordes at bay, then for fuck’s sake, wear a bloody condom! It’s not like you have to haul a truck full around for it to work or something. It’s a tiny piece of latex that will easily slip into one of the gazillion pockets of your jeans if not your wallet. And if you don’t have one on you, then either learn to be inventive in the sack or else keep your pants buttoned until you can lay your hands on one.

Not having worn a condom on that all-important day(remember kids – it only takes once) the correct way to act is to ask the woman what the next step is going to be, not hectoring her into arranging a doctor’s appointment all by your lovely self. Ask Chris Rock for directions. He’s got Auro down pat.

That is actually the best part about Paa – the kids. They might be movie-adorable but their obsession with all things scatological, the quasi-grown up talk, the camaraderie… it all rings very true. Auro’s best friend and the little girl who follows him around (the pay off for that kid is one of the cutest things ever) are especially hilarious. Balki handles it all very well.

Unfortunately, on the down side, as a director, Balki still believes the cinematic meal isn’t complete until a plate of cheese has been placed on the table. The silver lining is that, unlike Cheeni Kum, this time we aren’t handed chunks of Velveeta to munch on. Even as you recognize the amazing hokeyness of the climax, it’s a little hard not to be taken in by it.

And the reason for that is Amitabh Bachchan. I like to give him a hard time on occasion – and he richly deserves it – but he really is one of India’s finest actors. Even if he weren’t The Bachchan and 67 years old, I’d still think Auro was a fine piece of work. A greater compliment I can’t pay him.

Vidya Balan, after a slew of forgettable movies, once again turns into an actress you enjoy watching. It appears she has learned the power of the bitchface is an enormous thing and must be doled out only upon occasion instead of being used as a crutch to express any and every emotion from anger to sadness to tiredness. Abhishek Bachchan sounds amazingly Anglicized – more so than usual for some reason. But he looks hot again! So that’s him done his bit.

Paa may not be the !Masterpiece! that its publicity was selling, but I see that as a plus. It’s sweet and funny and oddly moving without turning into a total cheezoid weepfest. You can take that as a recommendation if you like.


Posted by on December 8, 2009 in Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video


19 responses to “Paa

  1. BlueMist

    December 8, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    I am yet to watch it. Now I think I HAVE to watch it . 🙂

  2. pitu

    December 8, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    OK your review makes me want to watch it. But *GROAN* Amitabh Bachchan!Argh!! I guess I’ll watch it for Vidya and Abhi. And keep my eyes shut when Sourpuss Bachchan reads the credits. I am yet to get over her ‘maatam’ like reading of global warming notes at the Unforgettables concert. Also, what kinda surname is Arte? If I am not mistaken, Aby’s name is ATRE in the movie, a nice, traditional Coconasty name if there was one!!

  3. Gradwolf

    December 9, 2009 at 12:42 am

    Oh the climax was such a dampener after so many nicely written light moment. But good it wasn’t a sob fest. And though I went in expecting a stunt acting of sorts(Yeah, that NYT review missed something, I don’t know what), in the end it turned out quite cool. Fine piece of work is right.

  4. Gradwolf

    December 9, 2009 at 12:45 am


  5. pitu

    December 9, 2009 at 1:29 am

    Ok I saw it. And reviewed. And I really liked it 😀 Agree with you on the awesome Vidya-Bum scene. Awesome! Also that Vidya-as-gyno scene was very anger-inducing :X Abhi actually looked hot! Yay, no mo stubble! Hurrah! As an aside, doesn’t the screen name ‘Vidya’ really suit Ms Balan? I just can’t see her as a Pooja/Nisha type, ya know 😀

  6. Paartner!

    December 9, 2009 at 1:46 am

    Yaaay! Happy to read my first Paa review.

    BTW, don’t you think if The School of Hard Knocks (a.k.a Life) hosted a tandem-think competition, the pair of us would stand a good chance of cake-walking away with the first prize (hopefully handed out by someone “cool” and “dashing”)? 😀

    Two Edwards in a single post? (Auro’s school and that damn funny Izzie guy I’ve never heard of before but am likely to look up repeatedly from now). Jaya, clad in green curtain-drapes, cruising along the red carpet? You totally made my day! 😀

    Pitu: I think the Coconasty clan would forgive Amrita for getting all carried away by Abhishek’s hotness. Be happy she doesn’t call him “Anmol Arte” (what with “fine piece of work” and all that)! I for one am happy she didn’t call him “Amol Arse” after she yelled at him for not wearing a condom. You know how quickly her Moods change. 😛 (Off to read your review now.)

  7. roswitha

    December 9, 2009 at 9:20 am

    A lovely and balanced review, Amrita. I loved the women in this film, and I thought Amitabh did a good job. Unfortunately it was also on eof the worst-edited films of the year, wasn’t it [And I’ve seen Delhi-6.]? Between Vidya’s doctor-lady crap advice and little Bachchan’s media vendetta, that first half was a smoking ruin. And oh groan, the forced ‘marriage’ at the end.

  8. Amrita

    December 9, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    BM – I bet you love it. 🙂

    Adithya – I felt the same about the NYT review. It’s like she was meh about it and didn’t know how to say it. Btw, if you ever get the chance check out the Variety review of Taare Zameen Par. It’s hilarious.
    I too was expecting stunt acting to the nth degree. It was a very pleasant surprise.

    Pitu – yay! and did you notice that his name is ARTE? It says ARTE HOUSE behind him at one point. I paid special attention because I kept thinking his name should be Atre too!
    I really wasn’t all that enthused about watching this movie, much less looking forward to it, coz of all the AB overexposure, but I must say this is an AB role I’ve enjoyed after a very long time. Staring into the camera in Sarkar was effective but not exactly making me overflow with warm thoughts.

    Paartner – your first Paa review? Oh thats right – Rangan is recovering from the fest 😀 Going by “Moods” we’re a dead lock for that competition!
    And I swear! his name is ARTE!

    Roswitha – hahah, yes, in many ways it’s a movie in search of a plot. This didn’t bother me all that much because there was plenty of cute stuff that kept the movie buoyant. Enough for me anyway.

    • Paartner!

      December 9, 2009 at 7:30 pm

      Recovering? Oh that’s right — there’s only so much (vicarious) sex someone can handle and the fest sure seemed full of it. 😀

  9. Beth

    December 9, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Pitu – I too am forever scarred by Jaya at the Unforgettable thing! She was SO BAD. SOOOOO BAD. It’s hard to think of her any other way now.

    • pitu

      December 9, 2009 at 12:59 pm

      Oh Beth, you REALLY need to watch the opening credits of Paa. Pls pls pls see them! PLS! I want to imagine your reaction 😀 You will soon realise a smiley Jaya can be scarier than a sourpuss Jaya :mrgreen:

  10. abhishek

    December 9, 2009 at 12:13 pm


  11. Amey

    December 9, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    You go on so about the condom and alternative methods in bed, but haven’t Ross and J.D. taught you neither of them work as advertised?

  12. Srinivas

    December 10, 2009 at 2:44 am

    Nice work Amrita, agree with you on all points.

    That pro-pregnancy thing was just plain weird. Did not see that coming at all – especially from Vidya’s character. Serious WTF!!

    Also, what was up at that school with all those teachers walking around in their fancy capes and all?? What was Balki trying for there?

    And the name is ARTE…

  13. Paartner!

    December 12, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    Hey, is it my eyes playing tricks or did “The AB Hosanna” tagline (that followed your “Paa” title) simply vanish? (Perhaps you were thinking to swap it out with something self-explanatory like “Paa — Pati, Patni Aur O” and then forgot all about it? Or, maybe… See, I’m starting to unleash wild theories here, so buck up and tell me.) 😀

    • Paartner!

      December 13, 2009 at 11:39 am

      p.s: Speaking of playing tricks, Amey may have a point there about the “thing” not working as advertised, but to the advertiser’s credit, isn’t the statutory warning part of the product’s name? I mean ‘Con’dom itself implies “Trick Territory: Enter at Your Own Risk”, no? 😛

  14. Amrita

    December 13, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Abhishek – told you, one by one 🙂

    Amey – at least they tried! These two didn’t even give it a shot. It’s spelled RU 486 Vidya!

    Srinivas – didnt that come out of nowhere? I think that school was supposed to be a kind of desi Cambridge but I’m pretty sure the principal said something about it being their 50th anniversary so it was really weird to hear about a school set up after independence that was named after Queen Victoria’s son and is being lauded as the best school ever. Somebody fell asleep at the wheel.
    Nitpicky? I suppose so, but if they’re making award bait then these are the things they need to be on top of, you know?

    Paartner – no you’re not imagining things, 😀 I didnt care for it as a subtitle and I ran out of time so I didn’t bother coming up with a replacement and jsust left it as it was. A kingdom of cons, huh?

  15. Ramsu

    March 2, 2010 at 11:03 am

    Gotta agree with you on the choices the Abhishek character makes. But the truth is, when I watched the movie, I was just too caught up in the 80s love to notice 😀 The entire movie is one long ode to the stuff I grew up watching — KB, Mani (when he was more interested in people than issues), Kamal (when he was more exciting as an actor)…

    • Amrita

      March 2, 2010 at 3:38 pm

      It WAS very comfortingly familiar, I agree 😀

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