'Paa'

An extended showcase for the Big B's ability to push the envelope of his career even at the age of 67.

Though unrecognizable, Amitabh Bachchan is the star of — and the only reason to go see — “Paa,” an extended showcase for the Big B’s ability to push the envelope of his career even at the age of 67. Otherwise, this dramedy about a 12-year-old kid with accelerated aging (due to a rare genetic defect called progeria) is a long haul with little dramatic gas in its tank, despite a solid supporting cast. Initial curiosity by Indian auds is likely to produce healthy opening figures, but long-term biz looks problematic for this heavily promoted Dec. 4 release.

The hook here is not only the sight of Bachchan playing a prematurely aged kid — with an impressive prosthetics job by Hollywood’s Christien Tinsley and Dominie Till — but also the running joke of Hindi cinema’s megastar playing son to his real-life son, Abhishek. Unfortunately, that’s about it for this one-trick pony, whose writer-director, R. Balki (who previously directed Bachchan in the likable winter-summer romance “Cheeni kum”), doesn’t create a sufficiently interesting surrounding package to justify 2½ hours of screen time.

Auro (Amitabh Bachchan) is a 12-year-old student at an upscale Lucknow private school who wins the Vision of India award for his idea of a geography globe painted all white. Bald, and with an oversized cranium, Auro is both intelligent and creative but looks closer to 60 or 70, and is expected to live only a year or so more. Treasured by the school’s teachers and pupils, he disguises his inner sadness with an often acerbic wit.

Pic’s light, non-maudlin tone is refreshing, and gains much from Bachchan’s ability to create a believable half-child, half-adult character — who’s much smarter than many of his acquaintances — simply through a nasal, brattish voice, eye movements and lanky gesticulations. (Though Auro’s prosthetic head is super-realistic, it doesn’t allow any facial expressions.)

Presenting the award is Amol Arte (Abhishek Bachchan), a bright young member of parliament who’s been elected on a Mr. Clean ticket. Watching him on TV, Auro’s mom, gynecologist Vidya (Vidya Balan), realizes Amol is the ambitious student who left her pregnant when both were studying at Cambridge a decade or so earlier.

After the initial half-hour setup, which also fills in Auro’s backstory, the pic’s only dramatic driver is the question of when and how Amol and Auro will discover they’re father and son. As the audience is already well ahead of the curve here, the pic becomes a long wait for the inevitable, with the side story of the two becoming friends and Amol’s career hitting a roadblock not sufficiently diverting to fill in the leisurely midsection.

As the rather spoiled, idealistic pol with a wealthy, connected father (Paresh Rawal), Bachchan Jr. is simply OK, largely coasting on the running joke of playing his dad’s father. Balan, one of Hindi cinema’s classiest actresses, is good as Auro’s unapologetic mom, but isn’t given much of a role. Ditto Arundhati Naag as Auro’s grandmother.

Rich lensing of locations in the U.K., Lucknow, Delhi and Malaysia give the production a classy look. However, the use of jump editing to jazz up the momentum becomes progressively irritating.

Paa

India

Production

A Reliance Big Pictures release of an AB Corp. production, in association with Reliance Big Pictures, Mad Entertainment. (International sales: Reliance, Mumbai.) Produced by Sunil Manchanda. Executive producers, Jitendra Bagga, Amitabh Bachchan. Directed, written by R. Balki. Associate director, Vishal Gehani.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), P.C. Sreeram; editor, Anil Naidu; music, Ilaiyaraja; lyrics, Swanand Kirkire; art director, Sunil Babu; associate art director, Vaishnavi Reddy; costume designers, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Aki Narula, Falguni Thakore, Viyejata Manchanda, Rahul Agasti; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS Digital), Tapas Nayak; visual effects, Prime Focus; prosthetics, Christien Tinsley, Dominie Till; casting, Richa Kapoor. Reviewed at the Courthouse preview theater, London, Dec. 1, 2009. Running time: 145 MIN. (I: 79 MIN.; II: 66 MIN.)

With

(Hindi, English dialogue)
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