By Neha Bora
Films of Bollywood are often highly unconcerned and as a result unaware of the story and ideas that constitute them, ‘Bala’ is not one of them! Bala is the story of Bal Mukund Shukla or simply Bala from Kanpur.
Once, the ‘stud’ of his school, Bala is now bald and insecure at 25. He works in the marketing department of a fairness cream company and has been recently dumped by his girlfriend of 15 years.
Bala is friends/enemies with a childhood schoolmate Latika, who happens to be a dark skinned yet firm woman. He wishes to gain his hair back and looks to his friends for help.
His friends Abhishek Banerjee and Javed Jeffrey make Bala try oil messages, raw eggs and even cow dung and bull semen. Nothing works! Meanwhile, Latika who is fiercely unapologetic of her looks is made fun of by everyone, including Bala.
When he is being sent to Lucknow by his company for the add shoot of model and Tick Tok sensation, Pari, he needs to find a solution quickly. The solution presents itself in the form of a wig and Bala is once again filled with the charm and grace if his school days.
He meets Pari, who is dreamy and naive and instantly charmed by him. They make Tick Tok videos, sing, and live in a happy bubble for two months, at the end of two months, Bala returns like a star to Kanpur, Everybody is convinced that he got his hair back by some miraculous treatment.
Everybody but Latika, who calls out his bluff and ‘nylon hair’. Meanwhile Pari visits him and declares her intentions of marrying him. Bala is both thrilled and horrified! He knows that he would have to tell Pari the truth about his false hair, before getting married.
His retinue of friends advise him against it also, incorporating in between the bit about how ‘the world is patriarchal and there are several shortcomings of men, the women only find out after marriage.’
This, is exactly what happens, Pari finds out about Bala’s baldness and in a wonderfully done piece leaves him! Bala is heartbroken and goes to Latika to plead his case in court!
Hereon, begins Bala’s journey of transformation. Bala slowly learns to accept himself and also, that he loves Latika. However, we don’t get to witness the kind of happy ending one is used to.
Niren Bhatt’s story and dialogues are crisp and very engaging. He interestingly places the transformation of his protagonist in the last part of the second half, he also doesn’t make Latika irritating or Bala heroic.
He makes them both human. Kudos to Niren for not making Pari into an empty shallow caricature and Latika into an uptight scorned woman when so many of his contemporaries would have easily done so.
The story knows itself and the audience it wishes to talk to. Although the film makes attempts to apologize for knowing its content well. Bala towards the end, for instance, tries to blunt the edges of a religious criticism. The movie informs the audience that the film is a little cautious of the ‘traditional’/ ‘cultural’ criticism it is making.
The direction is air-tight. The story doesn’t run away despite the multiple things it deals with. There is an endearing believability in the film that sets it apart from the other recent works dealing with premature baldness.
The various references to other popular Bollywood movies and remakes of popular songs is well embedded in the film too. Although the much anticipated ‘Don’t be shy’ is placed at the end of the movie and holds no relevance to the story.
Ayushmann Khurrana has become effortless in playing the common man, troubled by his own prejudices and shortcomings who faces life and emerging happier from it.
His characters are simple with everyday problems but multilayered in their portrayal. The choice of coloring Bhumi Pednekar dark for the role of dark skinned girl has rightly came under a lot of criticism.
The idea of representation and its tokenistic substitution is the debate in this regard. Nandita Das’s entire article on Bollywood’s fear of a dark skinned heroine is proved correct here.
Bhumi Pednekar, however was good in her role as a smart self-governed woman. Yami Gautam as the face of a fairness cream is an interesting choice because she is the face of ‘Fair and Lovely’ in real life too.
Is she justifying the personal choice of prioritizing appearances through her character or is this is funny play of fate? You are meant to wonder at this because this is good filmmaking!
You will also wonder at the wonderful Seema Pahwa’s moustache and eventually draw your own conclusion. Abhishek Banerjee is colorful in his sunder portrayal of wing man/friend/adviser.
Javed Jaffrey needs to do more films because one doesn’t see enough of him in ‘Bala’. Aparshakti Khurrana brings in a special surprise to the film, try to see if you can catch on to it! Filmi Files is the best place to look for online movie reviews.
The movie is worth watching, so enjoy your weekend with this fun release!
FF Ratings: *****
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