Bala has arrived at Pari’s room in the most Bollywood way tangibly existent – through the
window – and as they sweet-talk into cinematic illusions of romance, Pari says: “Aisa lagta hai
tum koi film ho. Hasate ho, bohot nice feel karate ho.” If only one could review a film during its
second act and then relax to find his/her early assumptions about the feature being
disappointingly true. Bala — even after leaving all socio-political aspects relating to its casting
and subsequent understanding of an art form as an industry aside — doesn’t push its case
Bala is the story of its namesake, portrayed by Ayushmann Khurrana — the actor can’t put a foot
wrong really — who is suffering from premature baldness. It isn’t just lack of hair, it is the total
contrast to his style and swagger as a teenager — the good old days with his long hair, flirtatious
one-liners, and Shah Rukh Khan impersonations. However, it isn’t his apparent aged-maturity
that grounds his ego, it is his mornings-baths-turned-hair-fall-sessions and office
Based in Kanpur, Bala (both the movie and the character) lives up to its
specifics and gets the most common millennial trait (read: addiction) right: TikTok. He falls
for a TikTok star, named Pari (Yami Gautam) — an affluent girl from Allahabad unaware of
Bala’s tragedy and is another piece of Amar Kaushik’s puzzle of intentional Bollywood
references in style and content.
A film based around a theme previously undiscussed in this part of world cinema chose to go
the same way of storytelling as the industry’s previous family-based social dramas. One can keep
changing the central theme from early balding to late pregnancy, but as long as these are the
same characters with different characteristics, there is little left to anticipate for an issue that was
never our own. A supporting father sharing exactly one personal scene with his son, a concerned
mother who has forever looked beyond the problem, a younger sibling who is under-utilized and
one grandparent (gender is irrelevant) whose voice of reason is the only sane thing about the
household. Also, a friend (or two) who has nothing else to do in the world is mandatory. The
repetition of this structure yields to a similar decision-making process, it’s just the specificity of
the question which shifts.
While Bala refused to not bring up ‘the issue’ in every scene, it was evident the exaggeration was
a cinematic tool to provide outlines for the first-person experience that Bala encountered every
second of his life. It was fitting until it was obsessive and short-sighted. A change in background
music can and has caused character transitions because the makers choose to do it, and so was
the case with Bala. There was hardly any weight in its arguments, with Bhumi Pednekar’s Nikita
providing the much needed second dimension. While it was Bala’s hair, it was Nikita’s colour.
Her dark tone provided for constant taunting all her life, and symbolically so to decide what is
fair and what is not — she becomes a lawyer. Her altercations with Bala become the most
remarkable and consequential sequences of the film.
Bala, on no day or night, is a bad movie. It is similar and strikingly so. Whether the last two
sentences are exclusive of each other is where subjectivity rushes in. Amar Kaushik who
announced himself with a gut-wrenching Aamir and then surprised everyone with one of the
most talked-about movies of the year in Stree, has added another row to his filmography — one
that tells the least about him. Ironically, the movie, which talks about not trying to fit in societal
defined conventions and notions of acceptance, doesn’t listen to itself.