‘Bala’ is  simply brilliant!

Losers are the new heroes of Indian cinema. Ayushmann Khurrana reminds us of that. Bala is arguably the best film of this actor’s career so far

‘Bala’ is  simply brilliant!

Subhash K Jha

Think. When was the last time you saw a film which didn’t have any superfluous  moments? Not one  single  irrelevant scene  or  shot?  That’s Bala, a breezy yet wounding film that comes to us in a haze of stupid pre-release controversies. This  work of grit and gumption is so above the silliness that shrouds our cinema, so  superior to what we generally consider a high standard  in our cinema. Bala is a film of international calibre in every sense.  Stylish and sleek yet utterly and  proudly rooted to its Kanpur milieu.

It is the story of a prematurely balding man who discovers how to love himself and how to embrace his supposed short-coming. It takes a dark-skinned girl (played with a  trademark verve and sincerity that’s becoming Bhumi Pednekar’s signature style) to bring Bala(yup, that’s our hero) to his senses.

As I read the above description of the film I feel have done scant justice to what Bala really is. It’s a beast so hard to tame and so unique in its stride. It is much more than cinema, far far more than entertainment. And yet is a cinema and rousingly entertaining. I don’t know whether director Amar Kaushik shot digressive scenes at all. But as edited by Hemanti Sarkar there is not one shot that we could take out of the narrative without it, and us, being poorer for the omission.

The writing (Niren Bhatt, Ravi Shankar Muppa) is so lucid and easygoing, the  episodes simply flow into one another like river tributaries merging because…well, they have to! I saw life’s inevitability in every chuckle that the film serves up. And believe me, there are so many LOL moments that I felt I was being taken for a joyride where the joy came not from watching the characters reveal their frailties to us but in their acceptance of those frailties.

Every character in Bala is blissfully flawed, none more so that our hero  Balmukund Shukla who thinks the world of himself from childhood. Bala’s vanity (abruptly stymied by his receding hairline) is celebrated in school and in his later life through his constant  evocation and mimicry of  Bollywood superstars, chiefly Shah Rukh Khan and his ilk who  set such  unrealistic standards of beauty and romance for the Indian working class.

In film after film Ayushmann Khurrana lays open the heart and soul of the other side of screen  heroism. The side where Shah Rukh Khan becomes an intangible myth.  Khurrana as Bala with his constant  self-denial and  perpetual ridiculous attempts to hide his fatal flaw(hint: wig)  is so bang-on he  re-defines his own (impossibly  high) standards  of excellence as an actor and at the same time reminds us  that the  definitions of  onscreen  heroism  have changed beyond recognition.

The real surprise in Bala is Yami Gautam who gives her character of a smalltown hottie the kind of authentic vigour and healthy ayurvedic sex appeal that I haven't seen in any recent screen queen. Her  UP accent and exaggerated selfie-induced emotional responses, and her expressions of sheer self-love are proof that this actress has finally found her bearings. In the sequence where she confesses to her superficiality and love for surface beauty, Yami is award-winning.

Bhumi Pednekar as the lawyer with a complexion complex is again, authentic to the core, though her excessively zealous dark body-paint is a distraction. Every actor in the smallest of roles breathes a believable brilliance to this not-to-be-missed masterpiece. Watch the infallible Saurabh Shukla’s face crumble into nullity when his son reminds him of what a loser he is.

Losers are the new heroes of Indian cinema. Ayushmann Khurrana reminds us of that. Bala is arguably the best film of this actor’s career so far. Fresh, engaging, winsome and deeply thought-provoking it starts off as a journey of self-realization of a prematurely balding else.  By the end of it,  Bala is something else. Something so close to life it hurts, though in a way that is welcome.

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