Reel Caregiving: Glimpses of Caregiving – Paa

Movie Review Courtesy: Vedika Wangikar and Ara Shah

The movie ‘Paa’ revolves around Auro, a 12-year-old boy born with a rare disease called Progeria which has him aging before his time. A child with Progeria begins to look old, and problems related to aging appear very soon, limiting the lifespan to about teenage. Auro lives with his mother, a gynecologist, and his grandmother whom he calls “bum”.

At first, the ever-smiling mother appears to do no conventional caring at all. It’s Auro’s grandmother who handles his meals and his moods; the mother is a doctor and is away all day. However, later we see the mother, back from work, cajoling him to eat, giving him a rational explanation about why he needs to avoid certain food, and we see a fully engaged caregiver, who is attuned to her son’s needs and knows how to respond to both his childlikeness and his intelligence.

In the spirit of normalizing the illness and caregiving,  the main characters have a normal social life, especially Auro. Everyone at his school is shown to be fond of Auro. His grandmother too is shown to have her friend circle. It shines a light on the importance of having a normal social life, a sense of belonging, and social stability for both the caregiver and care-receiver.

The mother’s caregiving is shown to be a casual, part-of-life activity, not suffocating. She turns her protectiveness into fun activities and although there is a risk in sending him to school, she lets him go because she knows he loves school. While the grandmother looks after his daily physical needs, the mother ensures that he has a normal childhood, and the freedom to enjoy himself. As a doctor, she is well-prepared and informed about progeria, and in fact, Auro is shown to understand his condition very well, too. This highlights the need for patients and caregivers to gain as much knowledge about their illness as possible.

Another aspect of caregiving that is shown interestingly is the co-opting of others in caregiving, making caregiving a team effort. The first instance is of the grandmother, who had clearly stated her full support to her daughter when the latter was hesitating about giving birth to a child as a single parent. Thus, from the start, the grandmother is an active co-caregiver. The next instance of shared caregiving is that of the father, who accidentally walks into the boy’s life and forms a bond unknowingly. Although the mother is resentful of him, she allows her son to befriend him, because she sees that he clearly enjoys the father’s company. She even lets the son go to Delhi in his care. Later, the father shows his keenness to share caregiving responsibilities, and she allows that to happen, albeit with initial reluctance.

All in all, the film deals with caregiving with a light touch, as a shared and sometimes enjoyable activity. It also leaves the viewer with the possibility of a guilt-free post-caregiving future – the song at the end, and the ending itself, hint at life after caregiving, and show that the mother’s life will go on, possibly together again with the father, after her caregiving responsibility is over. This is an essential and important change in attitude from the multitude of films full of self-sacrificing mothers who are not allowed to have a life beyond their children.

To emphasize the above point, there is an instance at the beginning of the film where the son insists on pickle with his meal. The mother reminds him that pickle will make him sick. The boy then explains that he wanted the pickle for her – he tells her not to indulge in sacrifice, and to enjoy the pickle. Her reaction to this is what makes this film stand apart: she doesn’t protest, doesn’t say, “No, no, if you can’t eat it, I won’t”. Instead, smilingly, she appreciates her son’s concern and acknowledges his point, but does not deny its truth.

This movie is available to watch on YouTube

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