Movie Review: ‘Bala’ solid script with sterling performances

#BOLLYWOOD: It’s strange how these days one is expected to appreciate films for their concept, intention or eye-candy. Whereas what should ideally be indispensable is the story- something that is conspicuously absent from most releases. But boy, what a difference it makes when you have a solid, well-written script backed by powerful performances!

Which is why even though this is yet another week and yet another film tackling the debilitating effects of a receding hairline, thankfully, the outcome is very different. After the rather bald script of Ujda Chaman, this Ayushmann Khurrana-starrer is a luscious, layered and hugely entertaining film about what happens when one’s self-worth is intricately linked to their appearance.

Ayushmann Khurrana in a song from <i>Bala</i>
Ayushmann Khurrana in a song from Bala

Meet ‘Kanpur ka ladka’ Balmukund Shukla. Bruised by his premature balding, he has tried every trick in the book to somehow turn back the clock and get his full head of hair back! As an adolescent, that was his crowning glory, and the hair-raising horror of losing, what at one point of time was his pride, is a shock Bala is yet to recover from. Then there is Latika, played by the meticulously browned Bhumi Pednekar, who has been at the receiving end of mean and ridiculous jokes about her dark complexion.

She, however, isn’t someone to take the jibes lying down. The two were classmates and never really got along which should hardly be a surprise. She grew up to be a lawyer and he is in the marketing department of a company that sells fairness creams. The friction between the two has been used to stunning effect!

Director Amar Kaushik’s grip rarely slips and Niren Bhatt’s dexterously written story takes us, the viewers, into confidence. We get to know not just Bala and Latika better but also the society’s skewed sense of beauty and how unsuspectingly we have all become victims of it.

While Bala feels belittled and Latika takes her detractors head on, life isn’t particularly easy for either. And things only get more exciting with the entry of Pari- the Tik Tok star!

Ayushmann and Yami in a still from <i>Bala.</i>
Ayushmann and Yami in a still from Bala.

Ayushman Khurrana is excellent as the complex young man battling anxiety. He puts up a brave front, but his quivering voice is always a give away. Bala is a breathing throbbing character thanks to him. Bhumi Pednekar has had her share of controversies.

ALSO READ: Brownface of Bhumi Pednekar is important says director

Here, her specifically darkened skin tone does look distracting but it’s still hard to keep us from appreciating how astonishingly good she is as the straight-talking Latika. Bhumi brings in so much restraint and depth. Yami Gautam as Tik Tok star Pari has just the right dose of naivety and charm, and the song sequences between Bala and Pari shot as Tik Tok videos are downright hilarious. In fact, nearly all jokes land and the dialogues marinated in the kanpuriya flavour add to the viewing experience.

Bala has an uplifting and empowering message and it manages to put it across without being preachy or melodramatic!

And then the whole team of consummate scene-stealers that this film boasts of – from Saurabh Shukla and Seema Pahwa to Abhishek Banerjee and Javed Jaffrey. It’s an absolute delight seeing these actors take centre stage!

Except for a minor misstep right at the end, where we are given the impression as if self-deprecating humour seems to be the only way to tackle societal prejudices about being too fat, too thin, too short or too dark, Bala has an uplifting and empowering message and it manages to put it across without being preachy or melodramatic! Bala is satisfying and entertaining.

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