When two films with the same theme are released back-to-back, clearly the one that finds its date with silver screens later will begin on a position of disadvantage. The theme of premature balding has by now not only become all too familiar but even a subject of court cases. So, on the count of freshness of concept, Bala scores few points, let alone brownie ones. Its final messaging—bald is beautiful—as are all other perceived inadequacies such as skin colour, too, has been drummed in before. Yes, in its cinematic rival and equivalent Ujada Chaman as well.
So, what is it that Bala has which Ujada Chaman doesn’t? Well, for one it has far more consummate actor Ayushmann Khurrana on board, who once again slips into his part effortlessly and with deftness. Measured and pointed, real and relatable, unbecoming yet endearing, his act is a sum of many inflections. Deemed Shah Rukh Khan of Kanpur right in his childhood days, the younger version has flair and is high on confidence. The child actor (Sachin Choudhary) gets the chutzpah of his part bang on. But grown up Bala (Ayushmann) is hemmed in by falling hair.
Though the film follows Bala and his baal katha more religiously, the narrative works at three levels. A woman Latika (Bhumi Pednekar), who is comfortable in her dark skin, yet another Pari (Yami Guatam), who sincerely believes beauty is skin deep. Then there is our main protagonist Bala, who just can’t come to terms with his balding persona. So much so, the mirror in his bathroom is half covered, for he baulks at the thought of facing his unflattering visage. No wonder, Yami Gautam as Pari questions him, “If you can’t face yourself, is it fair to expect me to?” Yami as the Tik Tok star bites into her role and is incredibly convincing, easily the best here, and charming. Even if she understands her notions of beauty operate at a shallow level, she is ok with it. And that is where perhaps Bala works best. For, it doesn’t outright dismiss the value of looking good as those who believe in its worth will continue to do so. Appearances, even if deceptive, matter to some and that vantage point is as valid as the other one.
Of course, the film that fights stereotypes can’t do so without baring some of those prejudices and erring on the wrong side, one of which is unnecessary darkening of Bhumi. Indeed, the tightrope walk runs the danger of going astray. But then, Amar Kaushik, who gave us remarkable comic-horror fare in Stree, knows all too well how to balance opposing worlds. So, navigating his way through some bizarre solutions (bull’s semen mixed with cow dung) to fix baldness, finally, it does arrive at the sagacious thought.
‘Love yourself the way you are’. Again, something one has been hearing all this while in motivational lectures and self-help books. Certainly, message alone, we all know, is not a film, rather what it packs in its folds is. And it unfolds quite a few punches, one political jibe too. Some dialogues, nay many are, intelligent and smartly written. Vijay Raaj, as the anchor, has the best one-liners and puts the film in the right context. The humour that comes with Bala’s attempt to grow hair might be typical, actually not very dissimilar from Ujada Chaman. Laugh out loud moments too are not as many.
What clicks is the chemistry between Ayushmann and Yami seen onscreen after a gap of seven years when they first created magic in Vicky Donor. The subversion of the plot, Bala is employed in a fairness cream company too has its rationale. As does his mimicry, for hasn’t Bollywood fed our notions of beauty, romance and heroism? Yes, there are nuances, one drawn from the mythological tale of Kabja, which is rightly contextualised. The unconventional climax adds to the film’s appeal, which otherwise straddles between familiar and unfamiliar. Since familiarity breeds disinterest, if not outright contempt, you are not taken in completely. One of our favourite actors, Saurabh Shukla, might say, “Asli aur asliyat ka zayada mel nahi hota hai zindagi mein”, here real and reality meet in many ways. Oscillating between funny and sombre, this bald truth strikes home.
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