Kids With Rare Diseases

I am an NRI, translated into: no real Indian. I follow Indian cinema in my quest to find only one million original films before humanity as we know it disappears. I will use the term Indian cinema sparingly because I only have access to Hindi films, not Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Marathi, Kannada, Gujarati and other languages.

I cannot do justice to Paa, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan, Vidya Balan and Paresh Rawal, because I saw it on DVD.  Despite his height, Amitabh Bachchan is endearing as Auro, Amol and Vidya’s son who suffers from progenia.

Auro, for all intent and purposes is a little boy, whose main preoccupation is his friend Vishnu played by Pratik Katare, his ma Vidya and grandmother whom he calls Bum (Arundhati Naag).  She is also instrumental in Auro’s birth because she supported her daughter’s decision, a departure from the few films I’ve seen where parents’ honour, seem to paramount, more than their children’s safety and happiness.

What is heart rendering about the film is that Auro is not overly concerned about the progeria bit. There is a touching scene though where he is worried that his mother avoids spicy food because of him. Auro’s soul starts cracking when he learns from Bum that his parents did not go ‘round and round’ the fire. The harsh playground also teaches him the meaning of the word bastard.

His friend Vishnu has two major problems, which cascade into one. He is clueless when it comes to mathematics but is so scared of his father, he cannot tell him that he wants to be a dancer. When Auro’s mother Vidya tells him about his father, he starts asking Vishnu pointed questions about the whole my father my son thing.

It is such a pity that Paa had a P.G. sticker on it because in my humble opinion it is a children’s movie. Vidya walked out of Amol at university because she was pregnant. Thirteen years later, Amol accidentally meets his son at a prize-giving ceremony in his school.

The little girl Auro constantly ran away from saves the day, because she finally melts Vidya’s heart. She goes to the hospital with Vishnu to visit Auro during one of his remissions and admits that she was scared when she saw Auro’s face for the first time. (I was too.)

She tells him that she repeatedly tried to apologise but Auro didn’t let her. “The person that makes the mistake hurts a lot Auro.” Amol Arte, the great politician does not say a word but he knows what the little girl is talking about.

One aspect of Auro that I didn’t like was his insolence to his mother and Bum, as if progeria gave him the licence to say what he likes. He also had the propensity to say ‘shit’. Films have the power to influence behaviour, especially in children.

I still do not understand the director’s cut in Rohan Sippy’s film Kuch Naka Ho where the little boy spits at the father he was seeing for the first time. Cinema and television should help beleaguered parents, not make their jobs more difficult.

Paa was heavily advertised as a film about progeria, when if fact it is about women who choose to have children out of wedlock. It is all there in the question Vidya’s mother asked her daughter five times, “Do you want this baby or not?”

Vidya mentions all the disadvantages of being a single parent, while simultaneously pursuing her studies to be a doctor. Balki, the director also gave us a brief scene where a woman was playing with her baby while she listens to Amol on television confessing about the abortion.

If Auro did not have progeria, and was like Vishnu and their classmates, would I have been sympathetic about Vidya’s decision to keep the baby? I don’t know.

Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness The Novel.



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