Amar Kaushik delivers yet another clever, bold and beautiful film, with his new release Bala, starring Ayushmann Khurrana, Bhumi Pednekar, and Yami Gautam, that talks about premature balding, and how to cope with it in such a judgemental society where the ideal man should have luscious hair, while the ideal woman should be pretty and fair.
In one of the scenes, Latika and Bala (Bhumi and Ayushmann) are back to school for a reunion. They are watching the same play they used to do back in the day, wherein Latika played Kopa and Bala, Lord Krishna. It was through Lord Krishna’s blessings, that Kopa turned into this ideal beautiful ‘fair’ girl. Looking back at this from the audience, Bhumi says, “Jab bhagwan ne hi galat precedence set kya ho, toh insaan ki kya galti”. In a country where religion and mythology play such huge roles, you cannot blame humans for having such opinions, because they have taken them from the gods they worship.
This is just one of the smart ways that Amar Kaushik debunks the deep-rooted stereotypes prevalent in our society, and how even today, play such a vital role in forming opinions about the ideal partner. He uses his film as a voice to say one simple thing, through multiple layers, i.e. stop caring about what others think of our looks – that once we begin valuing ourselves, the world will too.
There is more to a good comedy film than dropping a few clever jokes. Director Amar Kaushik understands the mechanics well – something he displayed earlier in Stree. It’s about the layers and complexity along with a stellar cast and great performances, a mantra that has been working for Amar Kaushik.
Set in Kanpur, the film starts with a voiceover by Vijay Raaz, pulling off an autobiography as to how important hair is to a man. This voiceover doesn’t end there, rather continues throughout the film wherein this voiceover plays the point of view of Bala’s journey with his hair. Khurrana plays Balmukund Shukla, a fairness product sales agent in Kanpur, whose fortunes in the follicle department have gone south. Once he had floppy, wavy hair that made him a school favorite. At 25, all that remains, are a few strands, and he is desperate to find a solution.
When nothing works, he takes the big leap of wearing a wig (transformation shown in dramatic thunders). All it takes is a cap of real looking nylon hair for him to change from a timid, annoyed introvert into a confident stud. He uses his talent for movie star mimicry to win the affections of Tik-Tok star Pari (Yami Gautam). Soon, they’re talking about getting married, even as he wonders how he’ll tell his supermodel fiancée the truth.
It’s a recurring problem with films and filmmakers in India where they want the issue, but not the actual representation. Kaushik tries to draw similarities between premature balding and dark-complexioned women in India. Though not the most balanced equations, he still does a great job in showing the cruelty both these cases face. However, casting an actor everyone knows is way fairer than she is in the film is somehow ironical. To add to that, Yami Gautam actually featured in a fairness cream ad back in 2012.
It is not just the story, but also the performances which Kaushik brings out from these characters. Yami is masterful in her character when she tells Bala that beauty is all she has and cares about and it turns out to be a huge fraud when she sees her husband’s reality. She plays this innocent, naïve self who still somehow knows what she wants out of her life and is pretty black and white about it morally.
Bhumi’s Latika, one of the stronger characters in the film falls flat. Latika is a dark-complexioned woman who has been cursed and made fun of since her childhood but has grown to accept and have a carefree attitude about it. However, she practically plays blackface, which isn’t easy to let go of. She also slips out of character a lot of times in terms of her Kanpuri dialect while delivering a few of the most important dialogues for her in the film.
Ayushmann Khurrana does it yet again. He pulls off another film by playing the unlikeable hero and be the star of the Ayushmann genre of unconventional cinema. Bala does not miss even a single beat in delivering what is expected out of him. But, it’s Bala’s insecurities that make for the best scenes, like when he explodes at his father (Saurabh Shukla) for passing on baldness and diabetes to him.
The supporting cast also rises to the occasion in providing with the punches and adding to the drama, another tried and tested method from Stree. Saurabh Shukla as a devoted father, Seema Pahwa as a mustachioed neighborhood mausi, Abhishek Bannerjee as the salon guy and Javed Jaffrey, coming out tops in a scene with dueling Bachchan imitations, all hone their respective parts
All in all, with Ujda Chaman, talking about the same issue of premature balding, released just a week ago. Kaushik’s Bala hits all the right notes in passing on the message of self-love, in a bold but beautiful way.