I had a classmate once, who always began the group discussions with the line – ‘See, India is a poor country!’ And we used to get irritated with this line of introduction. I mean, who begins anything with such a line? As I step into the thirty-fifth year of my life, I’ve started to see the rationale behind the line. We are a country of 1.37 billion people, who speak multiple languages and boasts of a diverse culture. So we tend to differ on many things. Where we do come together, is cricket and stereotyping of people. Yes, we are also a country full of bigots who invariably judge people on the basis of their colour of skin, caste, creed and the list goes on. For us, a fair-skinned girl is far more beautiful than a girl with a darker complexion. A Muslim is gets labelled as violent automatically and a Christian is always suspected as a lookout for faith conversions. ‘Bala’ is the story of such a person, who’s a byproduct of this prevalent system. It’s a story about us.
Bal Mukund Shukla aka Bala is a man who is suffering from premature balding. Named after his once-upon-a-time luscious, wavy hair, this is a man who gets rebutted at every juncture of his life, because of his reducing hairline. After failing every attempt at growing hair, Bala, in a desperate attempt to woo a local pretty model, ends up wearing an artificial wig. His efforts bear fruit and reach to the extent of marital bliss. But can a relationship emerge unscathed from the web of lies? To know what happens next, watch the film.
The film is woven around the premise of self-love. But it also highlights the prevalent mentality of the people around us. By using the mythological story of Krishna turning a hunchback old woman to a pretty princess, the storyteller urges us to see beyond the literal meaning. Krishna didn’t make her pretty, rather made her realize her inner beauty. Bala, who grows up ridiculing and body shaming his classmate Latika for her dark appearance, gets a taste of his own medicine as he keeps suffering from losing his own identity due to his baldness. Somewhere in the film, Bala confesses that his worst nightmare is to be publicly ridiculed. And exactly that’s what he goes through, a public humiliation for his bald patch of the head. Life comes full circle for him, as he realizes the trauma that he had put people into, has finally engulfed him. Bala isn’t a protagonist, rather he’s a mirror image of the society we reside in.
Ayushmaan Khurrana aka King Midas, who turned things to gold, the moment he touched them, is on a roll. He could even try his hands on winning a billion in the lottery and end up winning the same! Impeccable choice of scripts and solid acting has made him the darling of masses and classes alike. What a phenomenal star! Bhumi Pedneker, who is thriving on a similar path as Ayushmaan, is a scene-stealer. If you can ignore the blackface, which in my honest opinion, is difficult, she does a great job portraying as Latika, a woman fighting against stereotypes. But here’s a thought that kept pestering me for a while. Both Ayushmaan and Bhumi have succeeded in their characters donning the roles of small-town inhabitants. After perhaps doing similar roles for the nth time, there’s a sense of comfort seeping into them. So one feels, the actors don’t need to do much and they sleepwalk through the performances. Perhaps a change of roles or characters will give them the necessary jolt. Yami Gautam, the third cog of the wheel, does really well in her short appearance. In fact, she brings out one of the most aspects of the film – If a man cannot live with his own self, how can he expect another to live with the same?
A film is as good as its ensemble cast. Actors like Saurabh Shukla (plays the father, who had played Ranji Trophy once), Javed Jaffery (plays Bala’s mentor Bachhan Dubey), Seema Pahwa (plays Latika’s moustached aunt), Abhishek Banerjee (plays Bala’s man Friday and the hairstylist) take the performance of the film a notch higher. The film uses the social app TikTok as one of the gimmicks and it comes out really well. Some of the scenes are too terrific to miss out, for example the Amitabh Bachchan impersonation by Ayushmaan, Javed and Abhishek Banerjee. Another is the outburst by Ayushmaan’s younger brother, for exploiting him in his brother’s anti-balding treatment. The cherry on the cake is the narration by Vijay Raaz, who plays a strand of hair and the casting of Deepika Chikhalia, the erstwhile actress who played Seeta in Ramanand Sagar’s TV series ‘Ramayan’ as Yami’s mother. At one critical juncture of the film, Bala even asks her to stop making him go for the ‘Agni Parikhsha’! The film’s authenticity lies in its treatment of small-town India. The lingo (Kane Pur, Ayurvedic Chemical, ‘Sanse’ Of Humour, too good!!), the behaviour, the looks, everything is spot on. Credit must go to the director Amar Kaushik, cinematographer Anuj Rakesh Dhawan and script and dialogue writer Niren Bhatt.
Arguably the film presents some of the prevailing societal mentalities and biases, disguised in humour. Especially when countless comedy shows use body shaming as one of their key plot points, films like Bala comes as a fresh breath of air, who attempt to put up a mirror to the society. One wonders what would take all of us to look beyond the set norms of cosmetic looks and see people, the way they are.
Until that day arrives, we wait in despair.
The Cinemawala Rating: 3.5/5