Ayushamann Khurrana, it can be now declared, has singularly taken the responsibility of getting the average Indian dudebro from the hinterland woke. Khuranna, a charming performer, makes the average look exceptional, emphasising his character’s ordinariness by making it appear as an endearingly standout feature as in film after film, he goes about confronting lowkey emasculating terror with a raw, self-deprecating determination.
In Bala, he’s an angsty young man who masks his self-loathing with a charming personality entirely derived from Bollywood heroes, mainly Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan. His balding head, which he says women spot before they see the full moon on a karvachauth night, has crushed his self-confidence and he often breaks into bitter monologues, blaming everyone and everything, but mostly his father’s (Saurabh Shukla) faulty genes. It doesn’t help that the place he works at - a marketing firm for a fairness cream called Pretty You - obviously has an ageist work culture. That his younger brother has a thick cover of hair also troubles him but the worst humiliation comes, as it often does, from only one place: the society’s condescendingly sympathetic gaze.
Amar Kaushik, who made the powerful Stree in 2018, employs an interestingly empathetic gaze in Bala. The director, along with writer Niren Bhat, walks a tightrope, with complex gender, class and issues of colorism at stake. And yet Bala, thanks to its clever and subversive writing, manages to carefully save itself from what could’ve been an alarmingly problematic film... to become a less problematic film.
After several failed attempts at getting his hair to grow (this includes applying animal poop and semen, rubbing raw onion, standing upside down so the roots get better blood flow), Bala finally gets a hair patch. This makes him look like the young Khans of the 90s: innocuous but with a hint of mischief. He falls for a TikTok star, Pari Mishra (Yami Gautam) who endorses...