Bala review: Bald, dark or beautiful! Ayushmann Khurrana’s Bala urges you to love yourself

Bhumi Pednekar busts the myth of beauty is skin-deep, Yami Gautam underlines why it’s no crime to look beautiful. Director Amar Kaushik’s Bala is all about accepting one’s individuality

Rating: 4 /5

Bala (2019)

By Mayur Lookhar

One faces an uphill task when you are behind the eight ball.  Maddock Films, Ayushmann Khurrana’s Bala was dogged by external issues. The bigger worry though was a film based on a similar theme taking the march over Bala (2019) by releasing a week earlier.  Ujda Chaman (2019), Bala both tell the story of a man struggling to cope with his receding hairline.  Two bald men, who experience similar frustrations, but there’s a marked difference in the way the two stories play out.

As a child, Balmukund Shukla, fondly known as Bala (Sachin Chaudhary), flaunted his silky smooth hair.  He was much loved by the young girls in his class. He mocked his bald teacher [played by Sushil Dubey]. He also mocked his close friend Latika [Saniya Tauqueer] for her dark complexion.

11 years later,  Bala {Ayushmann Khurrana] has lost most of his hair at the age of 25.  The receding hairline has left him depressed and the man tries nearly 150 desi tricks to regrow his hair but all to no avail.  His father Hari [Saurabh Shukla] then gifts him a wig that triggers a positive change in his professional and personal life. However, he’s kept his bald secret away from his lady love Pari [Yami Gautam], a TikTok [social media video app] star and the face of Pretty You’s fairness products. Bala, who is a field marketing executive at Pretty You, fears that if the bald truth is exposed, Pari will dump him.

Both Ujda Chaman and Bala have few things in common, yet they are two different films. What sets Bala apart is the tone, fine writing and the intelligent humour.   Ujda Chaman had its share of entertainment, but the film played out in an elementary manner.  Ujda Chaman director Abhishek Pathak relied on situational comedy, whereas Bala derives its humour from the rib-tickling conversations.  The Punjabi humour in Ujda Chaman is loud, whereas the Kanpurias from Bala are more subtle. It’s the tone, the idiosyncrasies of each character that makes Bala so entertaining.  

A field marketing executive, but Bala’s heart yearns to be a successful stand-up comedian.  He mimics the Bollywood stars to amuse the local Kanpur audience. Mimicry is fine, but it will seldom bring out one’s originality.  For a man who fakes his physical appearance, his humour can only be limited to impersonation.   More than the mimicry, Bala amuses more with his lip syncing, dancing to 90’s music on TikTok.  It’s this filmi humour that wins over Pari.  

The prosthetic could have been neater, but Khurrana delivers another powerful performance.  It would have been so easy for Bala to be burdened by his insecurity and carry a morose look. Kaushik, and his writer Niren Bhatt though add few extra shades to Bala that make him an endearing character. While he’s played hinterland characters before, Bala is perhaps Khurrana’s most commanding performance.

Bhumi Pednekar came in for criticism for her excessive dark make-up. While it can be argued that picking a naturally dark-skinned person would have been ideal, but one would never find another Bhumi Pednekar.  Look beyond the physical aspect, and Pednekar embodies the pain and spirit of every girl who has endured color discrimination.  Latika’s though a strong woman who has now embraced her imperfections.

When they were children, Bala played Lord Krishna while poor Latika was confined to playing Kubja’s part. As per the legend, Kubja was a lowborn hunchbacked woman who was cured and turned into a fair beauty by Lord Krishna. The lawyer Latika subtly questions what was the need for Kubja to have her color changed?  She’s not questioning the God’s wisdom, but may be such myths have inadvertently reduced beauty to the color of your skin.  

Bala and Latika have their imperfections, but it’s Pari that’s an intriguing character. Once a face of a popular fairness cream brand, Yami Gautam plays a brand model in a film that openly mocks at cosmetic companies for attaching beauty to a certain colour.

The vanity queen’s world revolves around looking beautiful in ads, in her mobile video applications and the countless ‘likes’ to each still or video. And Pari’’s unapologetic about it.   “For a man [Bala] who is embarrassed to see his whole face in the mirror, how can I spend my whole life with him?,” Pari puts forth a pertinent question.  Unlike Ujda Chaman that perhaps stereotyped pretty women as insensitive opportunists, Bala respects individuality and personal choice.  Sometimes, over acting becomes a requisite for a character.  A vanity person fits the bill here perfectly and Yami Gautam nails it.

It’s not just the protagonists, but the supporting cast, too, leaves an indelible mark. Sunita Rajwar, who plays Bala’s mother Manju, is a delight to watch.  Teen artiste Dheerendra Gautam, who plays Bala’s younger brother Vihan, is simply hilarious.  Often, the youngest in the family is required to be obedient. The poor boy is forced to dig his hands into shit literally for that’s supposed to help his brother regain his lost hair.  Tired of it, Vihan eventually lashes out at his brother and his parents.  Dheerendra delivers this monologue with supreme confidence.  

Seasoned actor Javed Jaaferi gets a rare meaningful role as Bachchan Dubey, the man who advises Bala to try hundreds of desi nuskes (tips).  Bachchan, Ajju [Abhishek Banerjee] and Bala pay tribute to the legend Amitabh Bachchan through their collective mimicry.  

Seema Pahwa shows courage in playing a woman who sports a tiny moustache.  If you’ve heard the word testosterone in an Indian film before, then it’s most likely used in a conversation where the father advises his son to get married soon.  In a rare sight, it’s the women having such conversation when Mausi [Pahwa] reminds Latika that the female body too has its own physical requirements and she should find herself a groom.

Perhaps in another first in Bollywood, a non-living thing narrates the story. Vijay Raaz is the voice of the bal (hair) in Bala.  

Given the unending humour, entertainment, it is hard to be critical of Bala. But the film does drag  a bit towards the latter half.  There is an air of inevitability about the plot as the film reaches its business end. Nevertheless, the engaging screenplay and the stellar acts keep you entertained throughout the film.

Bald, dark or beautiful. Bala doesn’t confine beauty to hair and skin. It urges you to simply love yourself for the way you are.

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