Tony Montana reviews Bala

Just came back from watching Bala.

A few random thoughts:

I was recently watching a recent Aaj Tak interview of writer-lyricist Varun Grover. One of my key takeaways from it was his describing how he, having listened to hundreds and thousands of songs, understood from a young age what constitutes a cliche and what does not, and that is his approaching into avoiding the stereotypical while penning his songs. Watching Bala, Ayushmann’s latest content-driven film, reminded me of Varun’s casual statement. That is not to say that Bala is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. In fact it is yet another of his forays into subjects that explore small town earthiness with a “deformity” of the lead character. The storyline is straightforward and one can easily form the basic plotline from the trailer. But the film plays smart: it challenges the general perception of beauty and relies itself on well-written characters, each with a decent backstory, to propel it forward. The climax doesn’t fall prey to the “guy ending up with girl and all’s well” resolution. It’s a story written with the intent of appealing to each and every one of us. We all have our insecurities, and we wish to get rid of them by trying to eliminate their root cause. But why? asks the film. Why not accept ourselves the way we are?

Coming back to the characters, it’s a bonus that each of them shines through, most importantly Khurrana’s Bala and Yami Gautam’s Pari. The film gives Ayushmann the platform to bring his mimicry skills to the fore, and amalgamated with his natural, spontaneous charm, he delivers a superstar-like act. The film and the story almost take a backseat in portions when he’s, well, being himself, but I do not mean it in any negative sense. His impersonations and performances on the 90s Bollywood songs with Yami Gautam are delightful, and it is a joy to see the actor being completely uninhibited in front of the (TikTok and film) camera. This is his most confident performance to date, where he acts as if he’s got nothing to prove anymore.

The other interesting character is that of Yami. On the surface, she is a shallow and mean person who ditches Bala because of his premature baldness. But look beneath, and you find there’s much more to her, and the writers deserve tremendous applause for providing motivation for her actions. She is a person who’s lied to despite giving everything to her relationship, and the only thing she expected in her husband is taken away from her in the blink of an eye. “I was never good at anything else apart from looking beautiful. So if I wanted a husband who looks good, did I ask for something too much?” she blurts out in a scene. And you find yourself nodding through her justifications even in court when both come face to face. The actress gives the performance of her life in each of her scenes, and it is to her credit that the character comes alive as much was intended.

Bhumi Pednekar is sincere and confident, but again, its the well-written character of Lata that overshadows the actress. Lata doesn’t take pity on herself, is a headstrong, accomplished lawyer who is comfortable in her own skin and doesn’t let anyone affect her decisions. She gets hypersensitive when her dark skin is even hinted at, and isn’t afraid to challenge norms about women.

The film entertains and draws laughs, and has a strong climax that makes its point without being preachy. But as much as I try, I just can’t get Bhumi Pednekar’s painted, made up blackface out of my mind, making Amar Kaushik’s entire intent appear dubious and reeking of hypocrisy. If only they had found a dusky actress and practised what they preached, Bala would have gone a step ahead and become a sincere, genuine cause.

9 Responses to “Tony Montana reviews Bala”

  1. Ayushman is on a roll. Great review. I liked Yami in Vicky Donor. Gave up on Kaabil after 2 mins.

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  2. Saw it on Friday too and agree with your thoughts..
    Bhumi was a distraction and they could picked somebody else like a younger Nandita Das for the role.. Ayushmann’s brother has two great scenes and shines brilliantly.. wish to see him more.. haven’t seen Dreamgirl yet but Ayushmann is the new Aamir Khan for me.. each movie is well worth the wait.

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    • tonymontana Says:

      Thanks.
      Yes, Aparshakti is a natural talent. Loved him in Stree and can understand why Amar Kaushik might’ve decided to have him around on the sets of Bala

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  3. Great review.
    Ayushmaan is lucky that both Aamir’s and Akshay’s fans are telling him to be the next Aamir and Akshay resp. Couldn’t be a bigger compliment for the new superstar on the horizon (currently at No 5 in star ranking).
    Aamir of course is quiet on Ayushmaan as he only supports Khans and sometimes out of the blue a tiny winy star, but the big hearted Akshay is more forthcoming on Ayushmaan. This is what he said after watching Bala. Quite a blessing i would say.

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    • tonymontana Says:

      Thanks Naveen.

      Ayushmann is certainly on a roll, and keeps getting better with every film. He has a certain quality: of playing to his strengths yet being constantly self aware on screen. He’s connected well with the audiences here

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great observations Tony.

    I am glad both you and Shivaay had a good time but I have reservations regarding the effectiveness of this movie as a finely-fit assembly of scenes. I didn’t find it very cohesive in terms of scenes that organically jump from one to another; rather, I found — I felt — that some of them were just put in to fit a square peg in a circle. The immediate transition of Bala from a supposed loser to a SRK-esqe lover with the wig on didn’t convince me. The cinematic ‘jump’ for Bala from Kanpur to Lucknow and to the immediate after-effects like fast-track dating with Yami’s Pari was jarring — and then it was almost like the camera and the director just went on vacation with the camera lingering on and on and on with the Tik-Tok videos of ’90s songs. [They sure as hell appeared quite funny and intriguing in the beginning until the maker decided to stretch it as long as possible.]

    Pednekar was as effective as possible with the horrible black-face; am not sure whether it was a ‘in-your-face’ trick played by the director so that we could write/talk/discuss on this or plain stupidity/laziness on his part by casting her and blackening her. [Well, if Pednekar herself isn’t happy with her body-weight; what else can one do?]

    AK was good but I really didn’t find anything extra-ordinary here — and when I say that, I am only comparing him to his earlier films; not to anyone. He was great in his outburst though, in the genes scene against a terrific Shukla. Shukla was a delight to watch: LOL at the scene where he under-plays the fact that his son is drinking daaru in a coca-cola bottle and says, ‘Sugar kam karne ki dawa toh mila di hi hogi na tumne?’ AK’s brother losing his patience applying all types of mixture to his brother’s head and venting out was fall-out-of-your chair moment. Great act! The barber was brilliant too!

    Finally, I agree with you that the film — both morally, philosophically, and as a ‘shove-your-philosophy-up-your-ass’ moment, belongs to Yami’s role and her performance: Which side weighs more, you take a decision. In a society that’s built up this way and these things have been ingrained in you, multiplied by the disgusting social-media and its likes/dislikes/comments, her lines hit you like a whip-lash. What’s wrong with her decision to reject a husband on a ‘flimsy’ note? I mean, she’s just following what she was taught was flimsy!

    I think that’s the strength of this film: The unconventional ending, where you let the ‘fairer’ person walk away with the lines and the plaudits and having her drill some sense into your head and heart…

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  5. Watched it yesterday. Indeed entertaining but not the out and out laugh riot I’ve come to expect from Ayushman Khurrana. Very cute cues from 80s and 90s Bollywood. All 3 leads were superb. Agree with the review but somewhat felt little disappointed slightly on Bhumi’s character – that was hypocrisy!

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