Balki , Bachchan 14 Years Of Paa

Recalls Balki, “He would ask many questions about what we were doing. Mr Bachchan who could barely talk through his prosthetics would say, ‘Abhishek,just act.’ I think Abhishek gave a very fine performance as his father’s father.”

Amitabh Bachchan playing his son Abhishek Bachchan’s son…It’s still hard to believe!!! Fourteen years after its release the director R Balki of Paa wonders at his own audacity.

A happy film on a child named Auro suffering from a rare genetic disorder which tends to age him four times faster than normal? How does Balki manage it? It could have something to do with his deep but never burdensome understanding of the single-most critical mystery of existence… That you make of life what you want it to be.

In many ways Auro reminded me of Anand. In Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand, Rajesh Khanna enters into people’s mildly troubled lives, fills them with joie de vivre and vanishes into the oblivion of mortality.

Auro is a far more complicated act. Amitabh Bachchan has to transform into a rapidly-aging child, throw the manipulative tantrums of an adolescent and yet keeping from appearing caricatural or grotesque. The actor manages all of this, and more, with a fluency that makes you want to grope for new superlatives. Mr Bachchan’s Auro act qualifies as one of the finest most nuanced and sharp performances ever in the history of the motion-picture.

It’s hard to define in words the warm knowledge of the inner workings of a 12-year old child who knows he’s dying, that Mr Bachchan brings into this film.

Paa could be bereft if not orphaned without the Bachchan’s counter-domineering presence where he simply vanishes into Auro’s wrinkled body. From that credibly modulated voice to the sagging walk, he makes the child’s inner beauty mock his ugly exterior in almost a spiritual synthesis of soul and body.

Shudders director R Balki, “It took the make-up man four hours every morning. Once the makeup was done Amitji could’t eat, drink or go to the bathroom. We were all petrified about his health. But this is not an ordinary man. He went through the long and painful process day after day for four hours.”I was recently look at Paa for a showreel to be prepared on Amitji for the film festival in Goa.And I said to myself, ‘How the hell did we do this?’ Because everyone except me and Amitji thought the idea was not workable.”

Balki remembers flying to Hyderabad for Mr Bachchan’s looks test. “Amitji had to do the last day’s shooting of Shoojit Sircar’s Johnny Walker(which never got released) in Hyderabad. He asked me to come to the Novotel hotel. I reached with my cinematographer P C Sreeram. PC very categorically said what I was attempting—to cast Amitji as Abhishek’s progeria-stricken son—was not possible. Since I trust PC’s judgment more than my own I decided we would call it off.”

But then something happened. “PC got on top of a table in the conference room of the Novotel and shot Amitji from above , with his head prominently in the frame.Then PC said, ‘Now it will work.’ That’s how we made him look much smaller than his tall height.We shot from the above, lots close-ups of his his eyes, etc.”

The unbelievable prosthetics went a long way in enhancing the credibility of the theme.

Recalls Balki, “We had no idea of what the prosthetics would do to Amitji.That it would actually transform him into the character Auro was not something we planned. Each morning it took four hours for the prosthetics to be put on. After that Amitji couldn’t eat anything only sip liquids with a straw until the shooting for the day was done late in the evening. At 64, Amitji was the portrait of patience.”

Abhishek had a lot of questions on the sets.

Recalls Balki, “He would ask many questions about what we were doing. Mr Bachchan who could barely talk through his prosthetics would say, ‘Abhishek,just act.’ I think Abhishek gave a very fine performance as his father’s father.”

Vidya Balan who played Mr Bachchan’s mother had serious reservations about the role.

“But once she saw her screen -son all her apprehensions evaporated. What she saw was Auro, the character, not Amitabh Bachchan, the actor,” says Balki.

Balki also got Jaya Bachchan to appear at the start of Paa announcing the cast and crew .

Laughs Balki, “When Amitji saw Jayaji reading out the credit titles he exclaimed, ‘She looks so beautiful.’”

What inspires Balki to be so audacious time after time?

“Mr Bachchan,of course every time I team up with him I want to do something he has never attempted before. What we pulled off was incredible. Of course he insists we do something mass-oriented. But again I will do something with him that everyone would reject as impossible,” says Balki.

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Subhash K Jha: Subhash K. Jha is a veteran Indian film critic, journalist based in Patna, Bihar. He is currently film critic with leading daily The Times of India, Firstpost, Deccan chronicle and DNA News, besides TV channels Zee News and News18 India.