A unique role-reversal

A unique role-reversal


And how was that possible even in these days of high technology, advanced make-up techniques and digital VFX? The challenge, after all, was not in making Abhishek older but in making Amitabh Bachchan younger — as 13-year-old Auro, son to Abhishek and Vidya Balan, who play an honest, progressive politician and a gynaecologist respectively! And what was the starting point of such a story and what went into the thought and feasibility of this unique phenomenon?

Writer-director R Balki, chairman of Lintas, entered cinema with another unusual subject in Cheeni Kum (2007), of love  that develops between a 60-plus man (Bachchan Senior) and a woman (Tabu) decades younger. And his second film took its origins when Balki and Bachchan were discussing the publicity of that film and Balki had no clue when he would make his next film and what it would be.

“Abhishek walked in and had a brief discussion with his father on some subject, and his father was simply pulling his leg looking at how serious his son was. And I could not help thinking how child-like Bachchan was vis-à-vis his son. I thought this was the right material for my new film, but wondered how I could achieve this by casting them together,” says Balki.

The Internet proved a boon to Balki, as did an unfortunate rare medical condition called Progeria, in which a child ages rapidly. Sensing potential, Balki researched more, met doctors, interacted with the Progeria Research Foundation and watched videos and documentaries besides meeting Progeria patients, and finally decided to make a heartwarming film on family relationships using Progeria, complete with detailed authentic research, as the backdrop. The script took a while to write, as Balki knew that his film had to be authentic, real and yet entertaining.

“I did not want to focus on the disease and go into issues. I wanted to use it to show a parent-child relationship, and especially the father-son bond,” says Balki. “The name Auro for Bachchan just came to my mind one day and seemed to fit perfectly. And Paa was the obvious title, because Abhishek always addresses his father that way.”
Christien Tinsley, the genius behind films like Lord Of The Rings was brought in for the make-up and prosthetics, which included false teeth to fit Auro’s age that would automatically also change Amitabh’s famous baritone into a child-like tenor, and of course the head and the general look. Every day, Amitabh would take five hours to ‘become’ Auro with all these props and two more after the shoot to ‘come back’ to being the Big B. “But he never complained!” raves Balki.

Most of the film’s 15-crore budget was spent on these vital needs. “But I am proud that we achieved everything without the use of computers. We merely used lenses to moderate Bachchan’s height, especially in his scenes with Abhishek. PC Sriram, my cinematographer, also modified camera angles a bit,” Balki adds.

The film is produced by AB Corp along with Sunil Manchanda, Balki’s Cheeni Kum producer, and marks the debut of Abhishek Bachchan as producer. In a unique precedent, Jaya Bachchan is physically present to narrate the ‘credit titles’.
Vidya Balan, who Balki kept in mind while writing the role, was thrilled at the histrionic scope of the role but apprehensive about her playing a mother at this stage in her career and also about how she could be convincing, since a maternal instinct was something she had never invoked in reel or real life.

“The prospect of playing mother to Amitabh Bachchan was amazing yet daunting. But when Balki called me to witness the first sitting where Bachchan became Auro and when he came out of the make-up room, all my fears disappeared. Such was his look and body language that I felt drawn to him like a mother,” says Vidya.
As screen Paa, Abhishek says, “I did not react to Auro the first time because I did not know it was Pa! I did not recognise him at all! Neither did some of his fans who came to visit him on the sets in Malaysia. And I was so excited when Balki first told me that I was playing father to dad that I did not even ask for the script.”
The film has situational songs composed by Balki’s icon, the legendary Ilayaraja with lyrics by Swanand Kirkire, who is best known for his meaningful work in films like Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, Parineeta, Lage Raho Munnabhai and now 3 Idiots. Paresh Rawal plays Abhishek’s father and Arundhati Nag and several child artistes are there in the film as Auro’s friends.

And the last word comes from Auro himself. “I had to eat chocolates, which I do not in real life. Auro’s childhood was different from mine, but there were so many similarities in the parent-child concerns and a child’s natural mischief. Yes, for the first time since I was a kid I got to jump into puddles!”

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