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Bala review: Amar Kaushik weaves an entertaining drama around Ayushmann Khurrana's bald tale

Release Date: 08 Nov 2019 / Rated: U/A / 02hr 09min

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Shriram Iyengar

Some flaws aside, Bala is an enjoyable take on an issue that plagues a majority of Indian men, including yours truly.

From its trailer, it was evident that Amar Kaushik's Bala would have its share of laughs. But Kaushik and writer Niren Bhatt wrap this comedy within layers of introspection, parody and satire that offer enough dramatic fuel for the cast led by Ayushmann Khurrana, Bhumi Pednekar and Yami Gautam to explore well.

The story begins with the sight of cocky young Bal Mukund Shukla aka Bala getting into full Shah Rukh Khan mode as he charms the girls in his class with his looks. Arrogant, proud of his SRK-style hair, and even rude to the point of disparaging his friend Latika as a dark-skinned girl, Bala earns his karma when he reaches the age of 25. With his hair fading away, his career as a marketing agent of Fair You is on the downslide and his dream of becoming a stand-up comic and mimicry artist is just a dream.

While Latika grows up to become a confident, self-assured lawyer (Pednekar), Bala turns into a conceited, self-conscious man constantly aware of his baldness. Having tried and failed at everything else, Bala finally opts for a wig to transform himself into the Shah Rukh Khan ideal he wants to be. His dreams almost come true when he manages to charm the model of his brand, Pari Mishra (Yami Gautam), into marrying him. Except, she cannot take it when Bala reveals his true face.

Bhatt and Kaushik manipulate the first half with rip-roaring situational comedy, imbued with local flavour and style. The world of Bala is populated by characters that capture the spirit and essence of Kanpur — in their language, behaviour and dreams. This offers the film a touch of authentic character. The details of Bala's diabetes, Latika's romantic subplot, and Bala's father trying to live through his Ranji days add to the story's allure. The elaboration of Pari and Bala's romance through the medium of TikTok allows Khurrana to step into Shah Rukh Khan and Govinda's shoes and live out the dream of every Indian millennial.

This is helped with good performances from a very talented cast. From Abhishek Bannerjee's barber friend and Jaaved Jaaferi's Bachchan bhaiyya to the wonderfully natural Seema Pahwa and Saurabh Shukla, the performances are well crafted. Yami Gautam comes across as the ideal small-town TikTok diva and holds her own. Bhumi Pednekar, the painted face aside, is excellent as the courageous, self-assured Latika who is Bala's conscience.

Then, there is Ayushmann Khurrana doing what he does best. The actor has made it a habit of bringing to life ordinary people trapped in extraordinary situations. Although there are moments when the actor seems to be running through emotions that he has already displayed on the big screen, we can hardly fault his effort. Khurrana also milks the moments of 1990s nostalgia with his style and charm.

A wonderful addition to the cast is Dheerendra Gautam who plays Bala's younger brother, Vihaan. His anger and constant bickering with Bala, particularly with the many natural hair-care solutions that he is forced to apply, is a laughathon. 

The snippets of Bala's childhood also set up the background to the insecurities of Bala, and the determination of Latika. Niren Bhatt and Kaushik consciously keep the emotional characteristics of both characters simmering till the end. The decision to not turn the friendship into a romance is also good, albeit predictable. The deft handling of Yami Gautam's character, adding to its emotional heft, brings balance to the film. The final emotional defence of her decision to abandon Bala and her right to have a beautiful husband seems valid. It questions our own perception and judgemental nature.

Another such moment is the portrayal of Saurabh Shukla's father buying a wig for his son. That moment arrives after a key emotional breakdown, which adds to its sensitivity.

This is not to say the film is flawless. Key among the flaws is its messaging. While Bala is finally transformed into a self-assured person rejecting his biases and accepts himself and others as they are, the pivotal moment of his transformation begins with the question 'why should we change?' This reveals the film's focus on external appearance rather than internal change. To wit, the key emotional breakdowns of Bala rivalled the constant humour created through his and other people's problems in inducing serious laughter in the audience. While this may be symptomatic of the nature of our society, it also exposed the flaw in the film's discourse. The final monologue ends up being patronizing instead of expressing a wholesome message. Questions need to be asked, and perhaps they will be, in the fullness of time. 

The dark complexion of Pednekar's Latika has already been discussed diversely. The actress conveys the right emotions with conviction and is impressive, but it is hard to ignore the blatantly overdone paint job.

The film's screenplay also sags a bit in the second half. Once the dramatic moment passes, the story segues into familiar routes. The only reprieves are moments of exaggerated humour and parody.

Bala is entertaining, laughter-filled, and thought-provoking in its content. While Kaushik and Khurrana paint a wonderful menagerie of people and ideas in this densely detailed narrative, they occasionally miss the wood for the trees. Nevertheless, this is another of Khurrana's emotional entertainers that will start a conversation.


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