‘Bala’, a warm and fuzzy comedy about a balding young man who pins his self-worth on his diminishing strands, gamely takes a nick at vanity and unattainable beauty standards that fuel low self-esteem.
The film champions the cause of inclusion, diversity and acceptance without making it painfully didactic.
Khurrana is perfectly cast as its lead player Bala, a boy from Kanpur who’s consumed by self-loathing. His receding hairline and his gleaming baldness makes him miserable and he’s on a perpetual quest for a lush mane on his head. His scanty hair is his Achilles heel and he makes it his life’s mission to hide his baldness from the world.
Director Amar Kaushik and Khurrana do a splendid job of making Bala’s narcissistic behaviour endearing.
“He’s Kanpur’s edible young man,” boasts his mother during a marriage proposal. She meant eligible, but edible works for Khurrana who breathes life into ‘Bala’ with an incredibly nuanced performance. He’s obnoxious as a kid who bullies his dark-skinned classmate (Bhumi Pednekar) for her looks. He hasn’t improved much as an adult and directs his frustration and anger towards his ageing dad for not giving him the right genes.
He’s petty and confused for most parts of the film, but Khurrana injects a much-needed vulnerability into ‘Bala’. He finds his match in the winsome and petite model and Tik Tok sensation Pari — an angelic Yami Gautam who falls in love with wig-strapped Bala. She’s the byword of vanity and superficiality, but Gautam pulls off the role with aplomb. She’s vain and her reaction to seeing Bala’s wig come off is comic gold. Their courtship is adorable, but it’s their conflict that gets more interesting.
A visibly-darkened Pednekar plays Bala’s feisty childhood mate and she holds her own beautifully. If you can get past her greasy dark foundation, there’s lots to love in Pednekar’s act too.
‘Bala’ is a sweet-natured film that celebrates self-acceptance and loving oneself with warts and moles. One of my personal favourites moments in the film is a scene where Pari explains why she rates good looks as her top priority in a relationship. She isn’t vilified for wanting a dashing partner and that’s one of the nicest parts about ‘Bala’. There’s very little judgement, but plenty of commentary on the standards of beauty and India’s obsession with fair-skinned girls. While they don’t delve too deep, the makers do scratch the surface successfully. The scene where Pednekar’s mother posts deceptive, lightened pictures of her daughter on Instagram in a bid to find eligible suitors strikes close to home.
Director Kaushik has also painted a colourful picture of middle class Kanpur with seasoned actors such as Saurabh Shukla and Seema Pahwa showcasing impeccable comic timing. While the comedy takes a bit of time to grow on you, it’s the characters that collectively endear. You have seen Khurrana attempt to play the small town bloke before in hits such as ‘Dream Girl’, but he still manages to bring something new to each role.
Khurrana is wonderfully flawed, yet you root for him as he learns to accept himself — baldness and all. And that’s the bald truth.
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Director: Amar Kaushik
Cast: Yami Gautam, Bhumi Pednekar, Seema Pahwa, Ayushmann Khurrana and Saurabh Shukla
Stars: 3.5 out of 5