Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Bhumi Pednekar, Yami Gautam
Director: Amar Kaushik
That patriarchy is severely under question at least in Hindi films (storywise) is quite evident from the spate of films that have showcased gender-based constructs and double standards. Bala, a story about the travails of a young man Balmukund Shukla who walks around hiding a bald pate when selling fairness creams and other beauty products to women is an addition to that list. The film starts with the tragedy of Bala (Ayushmann Khurrana), once the proud bearer of a thick crop of hair and now a young man desperately trying to hold on to his few remaining locks. Watching Bala being obnoxious to his school friend Latika (Bhumi Pednekar) who is dark-skinned or a teacher who is bald, it would be fair to almost settle for the idea of karmic justice. Bala, the film is obviously sympathetic to the plight of balding men but it also makes a larger point about how the lack of physical features that define good looks impacts individuals and their place in the social pecking order.
I watched Ujda Chaman based on a very similar premise last week, which did give me a sense of déjà vu when watching Bala, but Amar Kaushik's, version has star power and a far higher entertainment quotient than its predecessor.
First off, there is Ayushmann Khurrana giving us one more sincere performance and of course, the high wattage stardom essential to fuel such socially-relevant, idea-based films. His ease in embracing such characters, making them his own, works wonders in lending credibility to Bala on screen. And there is Yami Gautam, as Pari Mishra, a small town model and a huge Tik-Tok star, playing Bala’s love interest, She’s an absolute delight here and one hopes that her performance will get her meatier roles in the future. Bhumi Pednekar’s pivotal character in the film, unfortunately, lands the underwritten part without the nuances, but she does get to score a point or two about how unfair society is to women especially if they don’t fit into the traditional and rather prejudiced notions of beauty. Abhishek Banerjee, Javed Jaaferi, Seema Pahwa, and Saurabh Shukla despite the limited scope of their supporting roles, get you smiling each time they appear on the screen.
The plot really is almost as scant as Bala’s mop, but packaged well enough with glib dialogues and smart tropes such as retro tunes playing on TikTok videos to keep the auds entertained. Given that Bala loves mimicking Bollywood stars (incidentally Khurrana is very good at it in real life too) you can be sure that there are enough laughter inducing moments in store. Good old B-town references like Kaka and Shah Rukh Khan or Ekta Kapoor’s legendary serials crop up frequently enough to regale the audience. A particularly fun scene is the trio of Abhishek Banerjee, Khurrana and Javed Jafferi channelling their inner Bachchan; superbly timed as Big completes 50 years in cinema. But then, there’s only so far that you can go with gimmicks and gags. Niren Bhatt’s sharp dialogues work well but the story and screenplay falter.
In the past few years, we have been inundated with movies-with-a-message in semi-urban settings. At first, there was a certain freshness about these films but now the strain of presenting these stock, small town characters in newer ways is beginning to show. They now need an extra zing to really stand out and become endearing enough to carry the film beyond the obvious.
Bala could have been a crackerjack of a film but allows the novelty of its premise to wear out too easily. Bala, Kanpur’s “edible young man” (sic), certainly gets your attention, but does not manage to sweep you off your feet.
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