Lowe Lintas India’s chairman and chief creative officer, R. Balakrishnan, dwells on his film Paa featuring Amitabh Bachchan as a child suffering from progeria, a condition that causes accelerated ageing. “Balki”, who made his directorial debut in 2006 with the film Cheeni Kum, talks about his experience of working on the film, on admen turning into film-makers and on allegations of the film being similar to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Edited excerpts from an interview:
How did you pick the theme for ‘Paa’?
I didn’t, actually. I was sitting with Amitabh during some post-production for Cheeni Kum and Abhishek walked in; he was quite serious while Amitabh was playing the fool. I thought to myself that one day, if I ever made a movie with them I would find a way to make him the son and Abhishek the father. I didn’t have a clue about progeria at that point, then I thought it would be a fictional or fantasy film, but it had to be more real, more human. There was a friend of mine, whose child I remembered had some hormonal problem, and I spoke to him and asked him if he was aware of such a condition. He put me on to a doctor, who told me about accelerated ageing. That’s when I found out about progeria, but this is just the backdrop. The film is about a father and a son and a mother.
His cut: Balki aims for sensitivity in Paa. Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
I wanted to treat it sensitively and the best way to do that is to treat it normally and not like a disease. I have exhibited as much sensitivity as I would to any child.
How many drafts did you go through before arriving at the final script?
I went through two drafts; the first draft was a much lighter film which I discussed with Amitji and he said, “Yeah, we can do it but are we losing an opportunity to do a Deewar, Muqaddar Ka Sikandar, Trishul, Kabhi Kabhi, all the emotions rolled into one…are we losing that emotion?” I said, I don’t know all those films… I can only do this kind of film. He said, okay. So, I went home and was getting ready to shoot. But after 10 days, it hit me and I was like, “Yeah, this is frivolous.” So I read it, had a good laugh, tore it up and wrote a new script, and it wasn’t a combination of Deewar, Muqadaar Ka Sikandar, Trishul, whatever…it was an emotional film.
What was the most challenging part of the film?
If you saw Amitabh Bachchan, the way we know him, in this film, it wouldn’t work. The challenging part was to remove every part of Amitabh Bachchan. So in this film, he’s destroyed everything that has been so carefully built up...
What, to your mind, are some of the strengths that advertising professionals bring to films?
It’s wrong to say advertising guys are more professional. Some of the best film-makers have not been ad guys—Yash Chopra is not an advertising guy, neither is Karan Johar or Aamir Khan. But they are better at advertising than most people! (laughs) The thing that advertising teaches you, quite well, is not making a fuss about a lot of things. Enables you to communicate things more crisply than you normally would, because you’re always short of time. It also teaches you to edit better, I think. Most advertising people have a better sense of edit, because you are used to crunching it within that space of time, and that 7-second ad has to work.
A number of critics have drawn a parallel between ‘Paa’ and ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’. Any comments?
It’s very simple. When you can get a DVD for Rs200, they must be foolish to think I will make Amitabh Bachchan go through 5 hours of make-up every day and spend Rs20 crore to remake a Rs200 crore film. You would rather put subtitles on Benjamin Button and sell it. Why would anyone spend two years remaking anything?
How can you say what the movie is without seeing it, first of all? Some people have told me it resembles Benjamin Button, some people have said Jack, someone told me Blade Runner. And I was like wow, that’s a new one! Why Jack? Because it’s got progeria. Why Benjamin Button? Because it’s got a bald head. Why Blade Runner? Because it’s got a character that’s got a progeria family. I have not discovered progeria. It’s like saying that every film with cancer is Love Story.
Paa releases in theatres nationwide on 4 December.