Bala: A Mere Piece Of Entertainment Or A Performance-Packed Social Message?

Ayushmann Khurrana in the film’s teaser.

Last evening turned out to be quite entertaining as I watched the most-talked about film at the moment. Yes, I am talking about Ayushmann Khurrana’s latest Bala, the story of a young man who has lost all his hair way too early. Once the owner of a beautiful wavy thatch of hair, Bal Mukund Shukla a.k.a Bala (played by Khurrana) has barely any hair left. Naturally, although cruelly, Bala falls prey to a barrage of ridicule for his baldness.

Bala hates his bald self to the extent that he refuses to look at himself in the mirror without a cap on. A parallel story of Latika (played by Bhumi Pednekar), a dark-skinned girl also finds place in the script. She is Bala’s childhood friend and has grown up enduring mockery and hate due to the colour of her skin. She is a staunch feminist and a successful lawyer, and among her mockers was Bala.

So the plot proceeds with numerous fun-filled moments and the idea of handling sensitive issues with generous dollops of comedy works well in the first half, after which, things go haywire. There are several questions I have been pondering upon.

First of all, even though the movie tries to show that skin colour can never come in the way of life and career, the filmmakers possibly could not get over the stereotype of fair skin themselves, and that is evident in the casting of a fair-skinned girl to play Latika’s role. Well, one can definitely argue that Pednekar was chosen because she is a superb performer, however, no one can deny that her makeup looked overwhelmingly fake—which challenged the authenticity of the entire thing to a great deal.

A still from the film.

Secondly, I believe it is absolutely fine to handle sensitive social issues in the form of humour, but the movie loses track as it turns ‘preachy’. Oh! How could we even imagine that a movie which deals with looks and appearance can be made without serious words of wisdom and a seemingly ridiculous portrayal of feminism along with an absurd and unnecessary court-room drama?! The concern is that this level of scant emotional approach will not be able to make an impact on the hearts of the people. All those who have been bullied at some point of time in their lives may relate to the situations of Bala and Latika, however, they would not be over-the-moon with Bala’s speech of self-love or Latika’s not-so-inspiring feminist approach.

Third and the most important issue here is that the female leads of the movie remain absolutely overshadowed by the male lead. Latika could have made an equally powerful parallel and conveyed a stronger message by rubbishing the societal norms of fairness; however, she is not a headstrong woman, rather, she is extra-sensitive and gets unnecessarily hyper. The filmmakers should have drawn a line between a strong woman and a short tempered woman.

Then finally the best one, Latika’s to-be husband is ‘fair’ and ‘handsome’. And he is wise and kind enough to choose Latika! So finally when Bala, for no specific reason, suddenly falls for her and approaches her, she decides to stay with her fiancé, which in a way, is a good break from the typical ‘Bollywood’ style conclusion. So basically, Latika’s real qualities shine through only after a fair man approves of her! Wow! That is the irony, indeed.

Yami Gautam, who in real life endorses a fairness cream brand, is an important part of a movie that apparently champions the cause of the dark-skinned. Her character is extremely funny—as she instantly forgets everything at the mere sight of her bald husband! Her one serious piece of dialogue in the one where she says that beauty is the only thing she has, and therefore, all she wants is that her husband must look good?! Seriously, this is such a wastage of energy.

Nonetheless, Bala offers a great dose of witty humour, and as always, Ayushmann Khurrana is simply beyond perfection. The supporting cast, within their limited capacity, did a fairly laudable job. Yami Gautam performed better than expected, and Bhumi Pednekar remained underused. What could have been an out-and-out comedy with a subtle social message—just like Shubh Mangal Saavdhan that dealt with the taboo of erectile dysfunction brilliantly—turns into a lukewarm drama. Bala fails to achieve a similar feat.

The concept of self-love was interesting, although there was no solution offered for the agony people go through due to society’s ideas about looks. Bala learns self-love only after getting rejected by his wife. Bullying and contempt remain as it is, and those who bully and are contemptuous of others remain unaffected, of course, with the exception of Bala himself, who loses his good looks because he himself used to mock others. This is too absurd to be believable. Bala is entertaining in parts and performance-packed, but it definitely doesn’t sweep us off our feet. Happy viewing to all!

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