How 'Bala' went from a story on pollution in Ganga to film about self-love

Justin Rao

Mumbai, Nov 18 (PTI) 'Bala' was initially a critique on the industrial exploitation of the Ganga river and in the subsequent drafts, its protagonist was envisioned as a Bollywood film buff.

But he was in 'two minds' about the plot idea and it was after he met director Amar Kaushik, that made the Ayushmann Khurrana-starrer what it is today: about a person coming to terms with his looks.

With Ayushmann Khurrana as a young man struggling with receding hairline, Yami Gautam as a small-town TikTok star and Bhumi Pednekar as a girl fighting prejudices against dark skin, 'Bala' opened to rave reviews and fantastic box office numbers last week.

Niren, whose credits include National Award-winning Marathi feature 'Ventilator' and Rajkummar Rao's 'Made in China', said he is overwhelmed with the response to 'Bala'.

'This is such a good high. My phone hasn't stopped ringing, people are writing to me. This is a wonderful feeling,' he said.

The film's journey began when Dinesh Vijan's Maddock Films was developing Pavel Bhattacharjee's original idea about a man in Banaras, who finds out that a company dumping waste in Ganga was responsible for his balding and decides to start a campaign against it.

'I wasn't too kicked about it (original idea) and was still in two minds. Then Amar came on board as a creative producer. When we sat together, he started telling me his experiences as he started losing hair in his early 20s.' Conversations between the two centered around the latter opening up about the 'everyday disappointments' a man with receding hairline goes through, ranging from waking up and checking the pillow for fallen hair or watch strands of hair go down the drain during shower.

'It became about the complex you feel when you step out, this lack of confidence which seeps in because of balding. I knew this is the story. It's a common problem. It's not a city-specific problem, it's a global thing.' Niren, who has written the film's story, screenplay and dialogues, said the process started last October and went on till May this year, with round-the-clock revisions during the shoot.

The idea further evolved into a film about self-love, than just a story about a bald man.

'We thought, the film shouldn't only be about balding. Beneath this, it's about self image and loving oneself. From there we thought we will have two love stories, somewhere you'll feel he might go with Yami or Bhumi but finally the love story is with himself.' 'Bala' is also loaded with Bollywood references, acting as both, a hat-tip to its cultural impact and its critique for normalising stereotypes.

It was important for Niren, who feels he had to call out romanticising of everything wrong in mainstream films. This also seeped in how the character of Bala was shaped.

'We wanted him to be a mimicry artiste. The whole arc was, he mimics someone else and in the end starts doing stand-up where he's playing himself. One becomes a mimicry artiste if you're a film buff. When we started writing, we had two options- either he can do Salman or Shah Rukh Khan, whatever the actor is comfortable with.

'Salman, because we wanted him to be like Radhe from Tere Naam with that iconic hairstyle. But Ayushmann was more comfortable with Shah Rukh so we went with that, then he does mimicry of Ranbir Kapoor, Nana Patekar, Amitabh Bachchan. So, Bollywood was always there.' PTI JUR RB/RDS RBRBRBRB