- Movie Name:Bala
- Critics Rating: 4 / 5
- Release Date: Nov 8, 2019
- Director: Amar Kaushik
- Genre: Comedy-drama
An entire narrative drawing parallels between a prematurely balding man and a dark-skinned girl -- and the struggles they go through in a world ruled by certain standards of beauty -- could have gone ridiculously wrong, just like the previous week's release 'Ujda Chaman'. But thanks to Niren Bhatt -- who has penned the dialogues and the screenplay of 'Bala' -- the movie and the protagonist are endearing; annoyingly sentimental and painfully practical; fresh and predictable -- all at once.
Niren Bhatt is the main man behind television's favourite 'Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chasma', which has acquired a cult status with the masses. Bhatt infuses the same old-world charm into 'Bala' with his quirky one-liners and unmissable references to almost every contemporary trend.
There is a definitive brilliance with which Bhatt brings in humour to a sequence where Yami Gautam's Pari Mishra leaves Ayushmann Khurrana's Bala, and slaps a case of fraud on him.
Bala, the character, appropriates Amitabh Bachchan's lines from his popular movies and parodies them to laugh at his own fate.
'Bala', by that measure, is a tribute to, celebration of and a merciless roast of Bollywood.
Bala is a small-time mimic (and a full-time marketing professional) with a palpable charm -- he is often referred to as 'Kanpur ka Shah Rukh Khan', so I guess the charm is au naturel. He celebrates life only when he has a toupee over his balding head. Because, self confidence. But he celebrates Bollywood and his favourite stars even when his wife of half-a-day leaves him.
Much to his dismay, his wife of a few hours -- Pari -- believes in Bollywood-ish romance only when it comes wrapped in good looks. Because, and by her own admission, she is all about looks.
A total contrast to her shallow is the sane Latika, brilliantly played by Bhumi Pednekar, who has, through her formative years, been called out for not being too fair (pun intended). She later becomes the moral compass to Bala, and helps him accept himself the way he is.
The story revolves around these flawed characters and the way they try to cover up, or make up for, their insecurities -- Bala, receding hairline with arrogance and a toupee; Latika, dark skin with intellect; and Pari, lack of substance with good looks -- and become, intentionally or unintentionally, a part of each other's tragedy.
Amar Kaushik, who has the 2018 sleeper hit 'Stree' to his credit, had a tight rope to walk on with 'Bala' with its complex gender and personality issues. But with his deep understanding of the quaint locales, and in a larger perspective, of how standards of beauty are set and imposed in them, Kaushik manages to save the movie from becoming an alarmingly problematic film.
Ayushmann Khurrana is the man of the moment, and in the film. The actor has earned the knack of making the ordinary come alive, and with 'Bala', he takes his winning streak several notches higher. His monologues, his arrogance even as a balding man, his charm as a stand-up comic and his demeanour in the course of climax where he realises 'aakhir badalna kyun hai...' keep you sitting on the edge of your seat.
In the climax, when 'Bala' becomes a little preachy, Ayushmann safely, and quite carefully, channels his inner 'hero' and makes the viewer yearn for him. Amar Kaushik's empathetic gaze on Bala, the character, is certainly the scoring point of the movie.
So is Bhumi Pednekar. What a talented actress!
Bhumi, after 'Saand Ki Aankh', has given another compelling performance in 'Bala'. Her Latika is a self-made woman -- dark-skinned, but supremely confident in a country obsessed with fair skin. She has always harboured a soft corner for Bala, but doesn't let it come in the way of her calling his nonsense out.
The only issue in her portrayal is (weirdly similar to 'Saand Ki Aankh's) her make-up. The oodles of brown put-on on her face looks patchy in places.
Yami Gautam is a revelation. She does the eccentric part of Pari with elan. The faulty gene here is the narrative that goes to enforce more stereotypes in trying to convince the viewer that Pari was all about looks.
Every good looking human is not just about his/her looks -- but in all fairness (pun intended, again), this bodes well with the movie.
In Ayushmann's movies, the supporting ensemble is a treat to the eye -- in here too, the presence of Saurabh Shukla, Seema Pahwa, Abhishek Banerjee, and Javed Jaffrey make 'Bala' stand out.
While the film works for most parts, what the makers have done with Bala's realisation seems off. Bala....JUST realises he has been wrong, the world has been wrong...in a flash. His view of the world, and his own self, is transformed in one moment of epiphany. It's followed by a "speech" that comes off a little preachy.
Another lacuna is the length. Had the movie been, say, 20 minutes shorter, it would be closer to perfection. What hurts more is the stretching of the plot happens in the middle of the narrative. The tastefully shot climax, however, more than makes up for it.
But as the movie for its most parts says 'bald is beautiful', and dark skin even more so, 'Bala' is beautiful with its flaws -- mainly because, Kaushik's and Bhatt's brilliance in places compensates for the flaws in others.
While the messaging is too spelled out (preachy to an extent), the way 'Bala' appropriates Bollywood, and in parts, Hindu mythology, to call out false standards of beauty they unknowingly perpetuate is worthy of an applause.
There's a sequence in the course of climax where Bala narrates how the human has altered the folklore of Lord Krishna 'turning Kurup Kupja into a beautiful woman' to suit their own taste. That one scene (for me) sums up 'Bala'.
The 'hero' doesn't get the girl but he still doesn't lose the hope of finding love again and the will to stretch his arms, like Shah Rukh Khan, wide open. Bala's narration at this moment 'come fall in love with yourself' -- a rip off from SRK's movies -- takes the cake. Brilliance, I say.
'Bala' exudes a familiarity, a warmth, a knowingness -- and channels it to bring forth the country's obsession with perfection. It's not flawless, but it's beautiful. Painfully awesome in parts.
[And now I understand the perfect usage of the word -- flawsome (flawed but awesome).]
'Bala' is just like its characters -- flawsome. Watch it for some introspection, and of course, for the pleasure of seeing Ayushmann Khurrana do what he does best -- being extraordinarily ordinary -- and in (in all likeliness) his seventh consecutive hit.
My verdict: Four stars (half-a-star extra because it needs to be watched)