I was expecting nothing from the movie Bala, majorly because of two reasons. Firstly, I had checked Twitter and found people with negative reviews (well Twitter is negative about everything these days), and secondly, I had to walk out of the movie Dreamgirl. I like Ayushmann, but I found Dreamgirl to be a pretty average watch, and the movie felt more like a culmination of comedy circus scenes. Thus, I was skeptical.
I was totally wrong. Bala is an Ayushmann Khurrana-trademark movie. Of course, the director Amar Kaushik and the entire cast are responsible for the success, but this movie is not merely about good script selection. Ayushmann did a marvelous job of portraying a frustrated insecure balding guy. I could relate to his frustration (not that I am frustrated because of baldness! *touchwood*) as the portrayal was very realistic.
Now, directly coming to the themes the movie touches.
The movie uses baldness (primarily) and dark complexion as insecurities people have and how the world is hell-bent on shaming them. It sees baldness and skin tone in completely different ways, baldness touching the masculine psyche and skin colour determining the feminine side.
Another insecurity it explores is the millennials’ quest for an enhanced ‘pseudo-identity‘ on social media platforms. Bala gets upset about his baldness because he thinks he is not presentable on Instagram and Tiktok. The film explores the material socialisation of social media where we long to get likes in our videos, intellectual brainstorming statuses, etc. Yami Gautam’s character Pari comes in the frame here as she is a viral star with modeling aspirations.
Javed Jaffrey’s character says that looks don’t matter as much for men as it is a patriarchal society, and after marriage, the girl has to stay with the husband irrespective of her choice cause she is now tied, and the movie constantly challenges this notion. Bhumi Pednekar’s character Latika, who is a lawyer, encourages a woman who was justifying her husband’s cheating because of her weight to step out. Pari files a divorce suit after she finds Bala is bald and has lied to her about his hair. I feel the movie tried to break away from the marital trap that women are subject to.
Bollywood has attempted to touch religion in films like PK and OMG!. I felt that Bala’s addressing of religion is inclusive too. Initially, it criticises Lord Krishna for ‘beautifying‘ a dark-toned and hunch-backed woman into a fair-skinned woman. In the end, it analyses the situation in a completely different way, that Krishna was not trying to make her fair-skinned, but that he was trying to make her realise that she is beautiful.
I strongly feel that this positive interpretation and understanding of India’s religious practices is commendable because many-a-times we tend to associate reformation with a total denunciation of religion. India’s secularism has always been about plurality and not about a complete separation of religion from the state.
It touches upon the pop culture that shames dark-skinned women by mocking certain Bollywood songs. It doesn’t resort to any blame game because during that time subtle misogyny was evident everywhere, rather, it tries to remind us how, subconsciously, we have been indoctrinated with certain ideas of how ‘beauty’ equals fair skin.
I feel that both women leads stayed true to their archetypes. Bhumi’s character, although felt upset as a kid when she was shamed for being dark-skinned, doesn’t let it affect her way of life. She finds social media irrelevant and tries to live her life with her ideals. Yami’s character, on the other hand, is a product of social media. She is aware of her ‘beauty appeal and uses that to build a brand on Tik Tok (just like a modern-day influencer). She herself admits that ‘externalities‘ is important for her way of life and without that she is nothing.
That bedroom scene with Ayushmann was much needed because there’s a ‘nerd culture’ which tends to shames people too much. So, what if someone uploads a selfie or a Tiktok video? Can we just mind our own business if we don’t like it? If one is self-aware of their potential and knows the market, ‘exploiting’ it through social media is not a sin. I feel it is still better than the hypocrite Bala who tries to fake it, while Pari is not faking it.
The best cinematic aspect of Bala is that the movie is not preachy and it is subtle in its activism. It doesn’t call any names to direct blame and it highlights the normalisation of practices. Like fairness obsession, body shaming and even new ones like social media’s edited reality, it depicts the shallowness of being too filmy. Bala’s need for gratification comes from the fact he wants to emulate Bollywood behaviour.
Bala tried so hard to have his hair back because of the appreciation he received in school. A lot of people are stuck in their school days because they had a particular identity in school. Some were good at sports but later ended up in a dead-end job, and in Bala’s ]case, it being the popular kid in class. People are obsessed with high school nostalgia as they want to go back to those days to escape the monotony that employment and real life offers.
Is Bala a traditional Bollywood hero? Well, Bala has certain ‘flaws’; he is bald which the B’town hero rarely is. He is insecure, and our heroes may be big-time frauds in their films but they are never insecure. Bala is different from a traditional Bollywood hero: he doesn’t ‘get‘ the girl, and he is rejected by Latika as she is in love with someone else, and Pari ends up divorcing Bala. Also, it doesn’t follow the typical Bollywood ‘style’ of falling in love with the second girl (read rebound) in movies such as Kuch Kuch Hota Hain.
But, but it does follow the conventional ‘hero arc’ in the end because the movie is all about Bala’s victory over his insecurities. It is about the catharsis he has in his last ‘fairness cream’ presentation. The movie is about Bala’s reversal of fortune from being an average comedian to a well-loved one. He follows the ‘Athenian ideal hero’ in one way, except he doesn’t visit the underground!
Latika feels sympathetic towards Bala and fights his case (it initially felt like she loves him, but I feel she was fighting for herself too as she might have been able to relate with Bala’s baldness in a way, as she had suffered taunts for her skin tone.)
Bala might have deviated from mainstream Bollywood norms (although it is also a commercial movie), but it adheres to the policy of the resurgence of the Indian Hero. To conclude, all this analysis holds no value if the movie would have been boring, and Bala is far from that. It is a fun watch.