Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Bhumi Pednekar, Yami Gautam
Director: Amar Kaushik
If you’ve been following Indian cinema, over the last few weeks, you’d think the biggest crisis Indian men are facing today is… male pattern baldness. If the 2017 film Ondu Motteya Kathe was a quiet gem coming from a space of self-introspection, Ujda Chaman that released a week ago was a wasted opportunity and a failure as a remake.
With Bala Ayushmann Khurrana, plays every role he’s already played. When even different becomes boring, you know you’re being typecast, without realising it. Ayushmaan is Bala and very arrogant as a kid, because he has SRK-like silken hair that he’s a little too proud of. He insults his bald teacher calling him ‘takle’ and insults his classmate Latika, for being too dark as well. The problem? Every single thing is painfully explained by a voiceover (the voice is that of ‘hair’).
Bala as an adult has his ‘comeuppance’. He is bald. For Bala, both the film and the character this baldness is all-consuming, it is the only preoccupation. He’s a 2-dimensional bore. His frustration, anger, and tantrums after the initial introduction are annoying. Begs the question, ‘So what?’ He subjects everyone around him to hell because he’s unable to come to terms with his appearance. The one line that stands out in the film comes from his father (Saurabh Shukla, who has fabulously come to terms with his baldness, both in real life and on-screen in this film). He asks, ‘You are not the only man to go bald.’
Bala is not even remotely funny to have a career as a stand-up comedian, he can mimic other actors, but he doesn’t even make a joke in their voice. He also spends his days insulting women for being dark-skinned as he peddles ‘Pretty You’, a fairness cream.
Bhumi Pednekar as Latika is an utter disgrace, dripping in black paint. I winced every time she came on screen. Indian filmmakers asking, if Ayushmann can act as a bald man why can’t Bhumi act as a dark woman? She can’t because, in this film, she isn’t even tan. She has been painted black. It is so bad that the shade keeps changing through the film and the make-up (0r paint) is so uneven that you can see the streaks of lighter shades under the black paint often. How difficult is it for Bollywood to cast an actual dark-skinned woman in this role? Would that not have been convincing, when Bhumi’s Latika lectures self-righteously on being okay with who you are? Instead, here, it just feels absolutely insincere, because guess what, Bhumi can wipe the makeup off and go back to being ‘fair’. The women buying fairness creams cannot. This is Bhumi’s strike two, in a sense, after playing an older woman in Saand ki Aankh. One is so distracted by the bad paint job on her body and face that there’s hardly any time left to notice her act or role. There were loud murmurs every time she came on screen in the hall I watched it in. I did not buy her role at all. It could have been a statement, instead Bollywood is only interested in tokenism of the worst kind.
Yami Gautam as the Tik Tok star Pari whom Bala falls in love with, and dupes with his toupe, is impressive and her role has the right shades of grey. She is self-aware, understands that looks are her currency in this world and shows considerable range as an actor. The other actors are in control of their craft, but their characters just do not have the kind of gravitas hers does. They are stuffy and this need to sermonise, turn every scenario, every insecurity of the hero, in every movie into a message for the society, instead of for him to instrospect, is making Bollywood more and more insufferable. Even the ‘jokes’ Bala makes after he has apparently come to terms with his baldness are neither insightful nor funny. They continue to milk laughs from looks. Just because he’s ok with laughing at himself, doesn’t mean he can laugh at others. The plot is contrived, and the supporting cast criminally under-used, their roles are written badly.
Bala coming in a long line of Khurrana films about the upper caste, North Indian, male anxiety about the ‘performance’ and ‘perception’ of virility, is about an annoyingly self-centred man who, even at the end of his ‘journey’ in this story remains woefully egotistic and works on the assumption that everyone around him exists to service him. What does that say about us now?