In Bala, Ayushmann Khurrana reaffirms yet again that he just might be the only present day Bollywood star who has successfully not just played heroes (or should one say characters) with normal fears, flaws and complexities but also turned them into a credible and saleable virtue. His Balmukund Shukla alias Bala, a man suffering from premature balding at 25, is yet another feather in the already crowded cap of Khurrana’s career.
Bala (Khurrana) is a stand-up mimic and a marketing agent in a local fairness cream manufacturing company in Kanpur. As a child, he was an insensitive and callous brat. To the extent that his behavior towards his childhood friend, the dark skinned Latika (Bhumi Pedneker), has scarred her for life. But at 25, Bala has his own scars to deal with as he is unable to accept his receding hairline and growing baldness. Bala dreams of wooing the local Lucknow model of his fairness cream, Pari (Yami Gautam). He does succeed but only by hiding that he is bald by wearing a hairpiece. The film traces Bala’s journey to his acceptance of who he is rather than who he wants to be.
No, doubt, director Amar Kaushik’s second feature outing, following the massively successful Stree, has its heart in the right place, but the film doesn’t quite get there. On a broader level, it it let down by a lethargic script that is repetitive and oscillates uncomfortably between the crass and the sentimental. The first half, in particular, is too densely packed with silly jokes and typical sitcomish situations, while the second settles into giving us the predictable ‘It-is-the-inner-beauty-of-a-person-that-truly-matters’ moral lesson. The film also gets weighed in by its running time of 2 hours and 9 minutes.
That said, the film has its share of enough positives. The are some surprising subtleties and nuances that Kaushik and his writer, Niren Bhatt, bring into the film’s narrative flow. Especially in getting its milieu, characterisations and the dialogues almost pitch perfect. While the accent of some of the characters vary from time to time, the local lingo and slangs of the Kanpur-Lucknow belt are spot on and used to maximum effect. But ultimately what scores above all to lift the film a notch is the fleshing out of the three central characters. Bhumi Pednekar’s dark skinned Latika, after being subjected to neglect and humiliation by her friends, most of all by Bala, is your quintessential small town non-english school educated lawyer. Pednekar not only gets the body language perfect to the smallest gestures, but even her costumes and hair are something that you will see every second girl in UP from that strata of society wear. A big thumbs up for her stylist here. But the film does raise a question regarding her casting. For a film that stands up for inner beauty, it’s surprising that the makers couldn’t cast a naturally dark-skinned performer in the role and instead go for the cliché-ridden Bollywood route of taking a fairer-than-her-required-skin-tone star and then darkening her. And none too well. This takes away a bit from the film and from Pednekar. Yami Gautam’s Pari, epitomizes a small town celebrity in a post daily soap world. She is a girl with tall aspirations but limited reach and Gautam does a good job of it except that her small town accent does vary at times. And it has to be said, her characters is astutely observed. In one of the more telling moments of the film, she tells Bala, “Mere paas dikhawe ke siwa kuchch nahin hai.” or “I have nothing to show except an exterior appearance”.
But above all, the film is owned by Ayushmann Khurrana. He genuinely makes us empathize with his angst as a fast balding young man. The highlight of his performance is that it is earnest and makes his Bala real yet extremely entertaining. He is wonderfully supported by the secondary cast of Saurabh Shukla, Seema Pahwa, Sunita Raiwar, Javed Jaffrey and Abhishek Banerjee. Banerjee, in particular, shines as Bala’s barber freind.
On the technical side, while the camera work and musical score are adequate at best, Hemanti Sarkar’s editing is by and large smooth and seamless, which adds to both, the humor and emotion in the film. Still, some parts, as mentioned, are repetitive and this tells on the final length of the film. No complaints though with the film’s highlight – its production design and art direction. Every space, location and prop appears real and lived in with a fine attention to detail.
In spite of some ifs and buts, Bala makes for reasonably engaging fare.
Hindi, Comedy, Drama, Color