Auro, the protagonist of Paa, is a smart 12-year-old boy who has progeria - a rare, horribly disfiguring disease that accelerates aging and will kill Auro by the time he hits his teens.
Director R. Balki, who has also written the script and obviously loves to break paradigms-recall the age-defying romance of his debut film Cheeni Kum - has cast the 67-year-old Amitabh Bachchan as Auro.
Balki has also cast Abhishek, as Amol, Auro's father. But happily, Paa is much more than this gimmicky role reversal. It's tender and moving, and equally, clumsy and melodramatic, especially in the second half but Paa is worth a trip to the theatre.
The first half of Paa moves beautifully.
Balki briskly takes us through the romance between Amol and Vidya, played by Vidya Balan, that leads to Auro. They meet in college. When she gets pregnant, he suggests an abortion because he is ambitious and not ready to shoulder the burden of a family.
She dumps him, has the baby without telling him and raises it with the help of her mother.
Paa has been pitched as a father-son film but what works far better is the mother-son relationship. With a real tenderness, Balki establishes the love a mother has, even for this lumbering boodha baccha, as a character calls him.
But Balki's real triumph as a writer is the character of Auro. There is no trace of self-pity about him. He's witty, charming and pretty acidic when he wants to be. He calls his grandmother Bum because she has a big one.
Unrecognizable under mounds of make-up, Amitabh Bachchan is astounding as Auro. His height is a bit jarring but his slouching shoulders and mischievous eyes more than make up for it. There isn't a discordant note in this performance. Abhishek is also nicely understated as the idealistic politician who finds out, too late, that he has a son. Vidya's character has the least clarity but she manages to bring some heft to it.
The film unfortunately, isn't as smooth. The first half has a few jarring moments - at one point, we detour into Amol's political career, which leads to an unnecessary lecture on media responsibility - but mostly Balki keeps the plot on track.
But then, just like it did in Cheeni Kum, the curse of the second half strikes.
Paa loses its flow. It loses its emotional momentum and starts to feel unnecessarily manipulative and lengthy. I found the other children in the film especially problematic.
Like Sexy, the cancer-stricken girl in Cheeni Kum, Auro's friends are overtly precocious and beyond a point, false. Balki also can't seem to leave well enough alone. Auro's mere presence is tragic.
The sadness of his situation doesn't need underlining but Balki doesn't want to take any chances and he yanks up the melodrama. After Auro's death, as his parents weep, a background song goes: Meri Maa Teri Hai Mere Baad.
These are sizeable bumps but Paa neutralizes them with strong performances, some crackling writing and its ambition.
Clearly Balki and the Bachchans, who have also produced the film, want to push the envelope for Hindi cinema.
Various news reports have suggested that Paa is copied from Francis Ford Coppola's Jack but apart from progeria-stricken protagonists, the films have little in common.
In fact, Paa is better than Jack. I recommend that you make time for it.