Hair To Go:
Rating: Three stars:
At one level, Bala is only a film, an amusing, laugh-out-loud comedy, capturing the foibles of small town India; the kind of film that Hindi cinema has suddenly become fond of, with Ayushmann Khurrana and Rajkummar Rao as its poster boys.
But simmering underneath the film, directed by Amar Kaushik (of Stree fame) and written by Niren Bhatt, is a whole cauldron of social attitudes– at least some of them that have to do with vanity, fuelled by Bollywood. Which is perhaps why visual and dialogue references to popular cinema pepper the film, including an otherwise superfluous character with an Amitabh Bachchan hairstyle, called, what else but Bachchan (played with relish by Jaaved Jaaferi).
Considering that women, even without any visible ‘flaws’ that go against the accepted idea of beauty, endure insecurity or health-endangering diets, pills and lotions, it is hard to feel empathy towards a man with a hairfall problem. Then, Balmukund aka Bala (Ayushmann Khurrana) is so vain, and so nasty to his dusky schoolmate and neighour Latika (Bhumi Pednekar with terrible blackface make-up), that his troubles seem well deserved. For purposes of comedy in cinema it is okay, in reality, men hardly face any problems if they are not physically perfect, but women routinely suffer discrimination in the areas of work or marriage, where, more often than not, men call the shots.
Latika has grown up to be over sensitive and aggressive because of her complexion. In school, she could not escape playing the ‘ugly’ Kubja from mythology, who is turned beautiful by Lord Krishna’s touch (ironically, this deity is dark-skinned), but as a grown-up, she can snap at singers warbling Chandi jaisa roop hai tera. But this is not her story, it is about Bala, who works for a company selling a fairness cream, does stand-up comedy as a hobby and admires pretty Tik Tok star and the model for the cream, Pari (Yami Gautam).
He woos, wins and loses the empty-headed Pari, who admits later in the film, when hit by a crisis, that her beauty is important to her, so her husband has to be Insta-ready handsome, with movie star hair.
The first half is rather funny, with crackling Kanpuriya lines, and the increasingly bizarre and stinky substances Bala’s hapless younger brother (Dheerendra Gautam) has to slather on his scalp, till he rebels with revulsion. A frustrated Bala blames his father (Saurabh Shukla) for his faulty genes that passed on baldness and diabetes to him, so that the older man finds the least offensive solution for him — a wig. Bala conveniently has a hair-dresser buddy (Abhishek Bannejee) to help with the fake hair and listen to his rants.
The whole point of this (and last week’s Ujda Chaman) is to get the leading man to get a lesson in how to accept himself and his balding pate. Other people, however, get away easy for making and obeying the rules of what constitutes beauty. Bala learns to laugh at himself when others do, but in his stand-up act, his jibes are still at the physical shortcomings of other men. Bala is a well-made comedy, but as shallow as its Bollywood-aping lead characters– all the actors are excellent, even the ones in tiny supporting parts. The Tik Tok medley of eighties songs that Khurrana and Gautam perform, looks hilarious now, but this is what India tapped its feet to not so long ago. At least our mainstream cinema is not quite so gauche any more.