This is Auro. He’s just 12 years old. Due to a rare form of the disease called Progeria, his body ages at an accelerated pace. In effect, he is a 12 year boy with a body of a sixty to sixty-five year old man.
The film is called Paa, and the star is Amitabh Bachchan who is India’s best known film actor, and has been a superstar in Indian cinema since the 70’s. He doesn’t play Auro’s father – he plays Auro. Yes, that’s him as Auro, but without me telling you, you wouldn’t have guessed it. Amitabh, who is also called Big B, is unrecognizable beneath the prosthetics and make-up. In reality, Big B is 67 years old, but his regular screen presence is not the least bit evident.
What we see is a 12-year-old boy, who despite his progeria is well-adjusted, and very well liked by his classmates.
Auro’s Mom is played by Vidya Balan. Auro’s Dad is played by Abishek Bachchan who is Amitabh’s real life son. So in this film, the son plays the father of his real life father. As we meet Vidya, she is a college girl studying a pre-med course at a University in England. Also enrolled there is Amol Arte, who is a political science major. He is the son of a well connected and quite wealthy man. One thing leads to another, and Vidya tells Amol that she is pregnant.
He suggests an abortion. She balks. Then later, she announces that the problem has been solved. Amol assumes she has had an abortion. But this is not the case. She refuses to see him again and doesn’t. He has no idea that Vidya has decided to have the child and raise it as a single parent with her own Mother’s help.
Flash forward a dozen years. Vidya is now a practicing doctor in Lucknow, a gynecologist, with a beautiful home, a successful practice, and a 12-year-old son with progeria who is enrolled in fine private school.. Amol is now a MP(Member of the Indian Parliament) and a rising star in the world of politics.
Amol makes an appearance at the private school where Auro is enrolled. The occasion is a science fair. Amol selects Auro’s project as best in show, and so they meet for the first time, each completely unaware of their true relationship. But the science fair award show is televised and Vidya immediately recognizes Amol.
So this sets in motion the story of family coming together. There’s a few side stories about how political corruption is involved with public housing projects, which sits alongside the story of the power of the media. There’s the story of the strong-willed and fiercely independent Vidya who seemingly represents a traditional Indian woman as well as a modern Indian woman. And of course we have the story of a happy 12-year-old boy whose life is racing by much faster than anyone would want.
Written and directed by R.Balki, this is a sweet film. This is not what you would call a standard commercial Bollywood film. Nor is it strictly art-house fare. The film is filled with humanity and emotionality, some laughs, and above all the mesmerizing Big B as Auro.
It is a masterful and bravura performance by a bigger than life actor, who as we come to see, is completely submerged into his role of a child. Yes, it is kind of tricky, and outwardly seems like it could be gimmicky; appealing to our sense of interest about the wierd or freaky. Some might say that Amitabh is too tall, they should have chosen a smaller man, or an actual child. Others might say that the represented Auro is not an accurate portrayal of what progeria does with regard to size and appearance. And still other’s might say that this isn’t original – it is a spin on Brad Pitt’s Benjamin Britton movie. In my view, all of those might be true, but should be discarded.
Because, as the story unfolds, we are completely swept up and carried along. While many films wear the mantle of magical, this one is a simple story – there’s no gunplay, explosions, car chases, or violence. This is just magic on its simplest and most beguiling level because it reaches your heart and does so in a straightforward manner without any visual pyrotechnics or directorial flourishes. Available from Netflix as a rental.