Bala wants to be as contemporary, relevant and commentative as possible. References in the film are as recent as Gully Boy (2019) in popular culture, keto in dietary fads and TikTok in social media obsessions. The details are highly amusing and perceptive of a rapidly changing small-town India. Yet, if you take a step back and look at the larger picture, the film falls into the same old traps of predictable character arcs, pseudo and shallow gender representation (or advocacy, if the film insists), and a stretched out, didactic climax. If the film can sidestep clichés in its details, it’s only fair to expect more from the bigger narrative choices, in which case the film falls short by a mile.
Bala details how hair loss, like other physical appearances that do not align with conventional and marketable beauty, can have an overpowering effect on people’s lives and self-esteem. It’s one thing to preach ‘love yourself’ to others but a whole different task to eternalise it. With male pattern baldness, you could be both a victim as well as cushioned by patriarchy. But women, one could argue, have it worse, whether it is their skin colour, size or hair loss. Bala tries to juxtapose these two scenarios. Balmukund or Bala (Ayushmann Khurrana), the once cocky teen with a head full of hair, is putting up a ferocious fight against premature balding at 25. Latika (Bhumi Pednekar), a strong-willed lawyer, has always been comfortable in her dark skin, even as she was bullied by Bala in school. While Bala’s insecurities and discrimination comes from his own sense of vanity, Latika has to toughen up to grapple with societal judgement.
Despite Bala being this obnoxious and deceitful chap, the film lays the red carpet for him to eventually come-of-age but is least interested in Latika’s journey or struggles. She becomes a mere yardstick for morality and determination, and ultimately a prop to make a point. With the characters’ one-tracked worldviews, it’s clear that the film wants to actively comment and eventually preaching on a stage (literally, as is the case with Ayushmann Khurrana’s brand of public interest cinema), while pretending to get into the complexities of vanity.
- Director: Amar Kaushik
- Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Bhumi Pednekar, Yami Gautam, Javed Jaffrey and Saurabh Shukla
- Storyline: Bala tries every remedy possible to fight premature balding until a wig changes his life
Tiktok celebrity Pari Mishra (Yami Gautam), is yet another one-tracked embodiment of a worldview. Her character’s purpose is to convey: beauty does not guarantee happiness/looking good is not all fun and games/we all have insecurities/there’s a reason why people are shallow. When all of this is condensed in one scene and not something you slowly glean as a character study throughout, that’s an indicator of what kind of film Bala is: one where most of the film is reserved for silly humour and lessons come as ‘moral of the story’.
On the opposite end of Pari’s character is Latika. The film could have either completely done away with her or bothered to include her holistically. She only comes in to preach and make a point. It doesn’t help that Pednekar’s cosmetically darkened skin keeps changing in tone through the film, almost as a constant reminder that it’s not her natural skin colour. If the film is attempting to be ‘woke’ in content, there’s no reason why it can’t in casting as well. Pednekar, by no means, is irreplaceable for the character of Latika.
Apart from observational details, Kanpuriya Hindi, lingo and one-liners, and amusing pop culture references, the film’s appeal lies in its supporting cast including Saurabh Shukla, Seema Pahwa, Sunita Rajwar, Dheerendra Kumar Gautam and Abhishek Banerjee. Although, Pahwa as Latika’s mausi , with a female moustache, could have been more than a side-kick. She eventually disappears into oblivion, in the film’s pursuit of appeasing Bala’s entitlement. Every balding man has a funny (or embarrassing) anecdote or two, but when you pit it against other discrimination and insecurities, as the film does, hair loss pales in comparison. If you wish to make a film rooted in intersections, you cannot abandon other perspectives in the service of just one. That’s more like hiding behind a combover than accepting your baldness.