“Paa”- A Review

December 13, 2009

For those of you who read this blog this piece will come as a surprise as I do not write film reviews here. But I am compelled to write this after seeing the movie this morning as I would like to urge you to watch this movie, in a theatre of course.

“Paa” is about a young kid, thirteen years old, who is suffering from a rare genetic disorder, progeria. This disease which is extremely rare ages its victim six to seven times faster than the physical age. Like, if one is ten years old, one has the looks of someone who is sixty five years old and would have ailments like cardiac and respiratory problems, quite common to those of that age.

Add to that the complication of this kid being born out of wedlock. No father to oversee his growing-up phase. Luckily for the kid, he has his mother and grandmother to nurture him though they both know that the kid will die really premature; not surviving beyond fifteen years. That is what progeria does to its victim. This kid dies in his fourteenth year.

The mother is Vidya Balan, a gynaecologist with a mind of her own. The grandmother is Arundhati Nag who supports her daughter (Vidya Balan) in her decision to have her baby unquestioningly. And the father of the kid is Abhishek Bachchan, a young upcoming politician out to prove to the world that there is something called a “good” politician.

And the kid is the 68 year old, ex angry-young-man, Amitabh Bachchan.

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Watch the movie for those great acting performances. Vidya Balan nurturing a kid who she knows would die. With dignity and composure. Her mother, Arundhati Nag, the bulwark for her daughter to take on life at her own terms. And Abhishek Bachchan, the politician who wants to carve a niche for himself by proving to the world that politicians can be upright and honest too.

And the Big B, for acting as a kid as old as his grandson. Auro. This man keeps reinventing himself, with every passing year.  I have been a fan of Big B. Ever since his Reshma aur Shera days. Ek Nazar, Deewar, Sholay, Amar Akbar Anthony, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar right till Black. With this movie, he surpasses himself. Imagine a 68 year old man passing off as a 13 year old kid. Admirably. Complete with his scatological references (“bum”, “potty” etc.). His love for King Kong. Who he claims in a poignant sequence, King Long does not understand English, only Chinese. The graffiti on his bedroom door (“Knock, or I will knock your head off.”). The aversion to girls. Normal for his age. For a girl who he discovers in the end wants to say sorry to him for expressing her shock at seeing an “old man” at school.

Big B is BIG, even in this role as a pre-teen.

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If I have a crib about the movie, it is about the role of the small B, Abhishek Bachchan. He has done a great job but I wish those live TV sequences had more meaning- and meat- to them.

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With a story-line like that, I am amazed that the director steered the movie away from sentimentality, away from tear-jerkers. The focus ultimately is on the loving relationship between the mother and son, the mother and her mother and the grandmother and the grandson.

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For me, the hero of the movie is Vidya B. I have not seen her in too many movies but she straddles it like the proverbial Colossus. And that is some act given the presence of Amitabh B. The immense dignity she gives her role, from right when she discovers she is pregnant to when her lover refuses to marry her till her discovery that her son has an incurable disease is breath-taking.

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OK, now for the other reason why I write this post. This movie reminds me of my close friends, a couple battling with a similar life-threatening disease of their young child, now barely 9 years old. This disease is called Niemann-Pick disease which has so far been known to afflict only 500 kids worldwide. And as of information available now, the kid would die before he turns 17. The couple is grappling with this whole issue in such a dignified manner- and so valiantly.

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May God give them courage to bear this utterly terrible thing with strength.

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Go, watch the movie “Paa” with all you loved ones and celebrate life… and all its ironies.

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A Bird’s-Eye View of Hindi Cinema

December 5, 2009

Hindi film songs are an ornithologist’s delight. Or shall we say a Hindi film is heavily dependant on birds.  Whatever it is, we can rest assured that no Hindi film is complete without the mandatory bird song. The song could range from joyous to melancholic, from love/reunion to separation, from the profound to the bizarre. The bird-songs span a spectrum of emotions, a range of situations in life.

Like, for example, the must-have situations of joy and sorrow between lovers in a movie. The ecstasy of togetherness and the woe of separation.  The birds tell it all.

But before that, we shall explore the aviation fixation in childhood. From the joyous “Chun, chun, chun-kar aayi chidiya” from Md Rafi in Jab Dilli Door Nahin to the melancholic “Naani teri teri morni ko mor le gaye” a song from the old film Masoom sung by Ranu Mukherjee, the daughter of Hemant Mukherjee.  That cute little kid prancing around in her frock hoping that the “choron wala dibba” of the train shows up in the jail. And that the corpulent thanedaar punishes the thieves appropriately.

The bird songs really take flight when romance blooms. Like in the teenagers’ crush: “Kabootar, jaa, jaa, jaa” from the Salman/Bhagyashree starrer super-super hit, Maine Pyaar Kiya. The kabootar (pigeon) being the purveyor of messages between the besotted lovers. Or when the lovers meet and sing together: “Koel boli, duniya doli” in Sargam. Never mind if only Rishi Kapoor is able to sing, Jaya Prada can too, on celluloid. So what if she is physiologically unable to considering she is mute and deaf and able only to respond to her lover’s dafli in real life. While this song exhults in the koel boli, this one likens the lover’s voice to a koel’s, “Koel si teri boli” from the Anil Kapoor, Madhuri Dikshit starrer, Beta. The lovers here are slightly more grown up. Madhuri D. in a pink lehenga and Anil K. in his white dhoti. Rural ornithology, what say?

It is not that only koels and kabootars symbolize love, other species too contribute their humble mites.

A key specimen participating in the romancing process is the sparrow, aka Maina, aka muniya. Sapney’s “Ik bagiya mein rahti hai ek maina”. Ooh, la, la, laa! Which brings us to more of the sparrows. Some with the tota (parrot) as well. Like “Tota-maina ki kahani toh purani, purani ho gayi” from Shashi Kapoor and Shabana starrer, Fakeera. (Yes, Shabana sang bird songs as well!) The maina is also called muniya in common-speak. Says Raj Kapoor’s Hiraman to Waheeda Rehman’s Hirabai, “Mahua key sab ras moh liya liya rey, pinjarey waali muniya.” in Teesri Kasam. How entrancing! The sparrow spiriting away all the juices from the flowers of the mahua tree.

By the way, the mor is not too far behind in these joyous moments. “Morni baga mein bole adhi raat ko” from Lamhe. The rather macho “Tu jungle ki morni main baagan da mor” (Raja Saab). Or Dharmendra’s and Hema’s duet in Pratigya: “ Morni re morni”.

(Talking about mor’s, here is one more, in a different vein though. I am reminded of an Ajit joke. Warning: This is an old joke so all those who have heard it earlier, excuse me, please. Ok? Here goes:

Ajit, goes on a hunting trip with his henchman Raabert (Robert) when he hears a rustle behind a thick bush. Ajit pulls the trigger and silences whatever rustling behind. He then goes behind the bush to check the rustler he has silenced and emerges from the bushes triumphantly. A smile on his face. Robert enquires anxiously, “Kya tha boss?”. Ajit replies, “Mor tha, ab woh “no-more” hai! Khatam ho gaya!”)

Even the very generic panchhi is a great romantic bird. Chori Chori’s playful “Panchhi banoon udti phiroon mast gagan mein”, Bandini’s soulful “Oh panchhi pyaare” and the reflective “ Do panchhi, do tinkey” from Tapasya.

And this nadir of Hindi film music from the 80’s, Bappi Lahiri’s abominable “Bol ri Kabootari, gootar-goon.”

After the romance follows the longing.  “Pankh hotey to udd aati rey , rasiya o balamaa”, Rishi Kapoor in Zehreela Insaan reminiscing his loved one with “O hansini, meri  hansini”, complete with “merey armanon key, pankh lagakey, kahaan udd chali”. Or naughty one sung by Rafi and Asha in Nau do Gyarah, “So jaa nindiya ki bela hai, aa ja panchhi akela hai.” What better expression of longing, and, more importantly, desire! The searing “Pankh hotey toh udd ati rey, rasiya, o balamaa”, from Sehra, or the nostalgic “Ek tha gul, aur ek thi bulbul, donon chaman mein rehtey the” from Shashi Kapoor-Nanda starre Jab Jab Phool Khile.

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After longing, can sadness be far behind? Like the Ganga Jamuna’s classic separation song “Do hanson ka joda, bichhad gayo rey”. (It so happened that a few years after this movie was released the Congress party underwent its first split and each of the new entities had to take on a new symbol, very distinct from the original “pair of oxen” symbol (bailon ka joda). The opposition parties had a field day taking a dig at this by creatiing the ditty “Do bailon ka joda bichhad gayo rey”.)

Or the songs based on our friend, the ubiquitous panchhi: “Pinjre Ke panchhi re tera dard na jane koi” from Nag Mani, Bhabhi’s haunting “Chal ud jaa re panchhi ke ab yeh des hua begana”, and my personal favourite from Toote Khilone, That very uncommon Kishore Kumar song, “Nanha sa panchhi re tu bahut bada pinjara tera”. Or “Jaa rey, ja rey udd ja oh panchhi”, from Maya. Kailesh Kher broke through into stardom with this bird classic “Toota, toota, ek parinda” from the rather recent film Waisa bhi hota hai.

Lest you assume that the birds are employed only for the romantic stuff, let me hasten to add that they serve other diverse aspects as well. Like sheer naughtiness.  Ab Dilli Doo Nahin’s “ Chun Chun Karti Aayi Chidiya”. “Cheel cheel chillakar,seeti bajaye” from the Kishore classic Half Ticket and the utterly raunchy “Rakhna apni murgi sambhal, yeh murga hai deewana”. Sung by, of all the people, Amitabh Bachchan, in Jadugar. Don’t you dare translate this song into English!

The birds signal patriotism too. Like “Ham panchhi ek daal ke” from the eponymous film for kids. To the 15th August/26th January/2nd October staple of Vividh Bharati, “Jahaan daal-daal pey soney-ki-chidiya karti hain basera” from Sikander-e-Azam.

Or philosophical sentiments masquerading as entertainment: “Naach meri bulbul toh paisa milega” sung by Rajesh Khanna in Roti to the inebriated Johnny Walker in MadhumatiJangal mein mor nacha kisi ne na dekha”.

Even a riddle. Mera Naam Joker’s “Teetar key do aage teetar, teetar ke do peechhey teetar. Bolo, bolo, kitney teetar?”.

You must be wondering how the Hindi film industry missed the ubiquitous crow, seen in every village and town. Not that the crows are considered auspicious or romantic. And that is precisely how the Hindi films have treated them. Sample these. “Jhooth boley, kauva katey” from Bobby and “Kauwa chaley hans ki chaal” from Around the World.

Kauas have nothing to crow about as far as Hindi films are concerned!

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Acknowledgement: A big thank you to the following gentlemen for suggesting songs for this piece, Ashutosh Ojha (Chennai), Piyush Desai (California, USA), Sanjeev Kumar Roy (somewhere else in California, USA) and Anshu Tandon (Lucknow). Birds of the same feather flock together, you know!