Producer Dinesh Vijan: Bala is an original film, I have nothing to explain
The Maddock Films founder and director Amar Kaushik on the plagiarism charges against Bala, using humour sensitively, and the ‘Kanpuriya’ flavour of the film
Last year, director Amar Kaushik made his feature debut with Stree. The film was a blockbuster and revived the horror-comedy genre in Bollywood. A sequel was teased, though Amar signed on to direct something entirely different for his next. His new film, Bala, is a comedy about a man suffering from premature balding. Ayushmann Khurrana stars as the titular Bala/Gaurav Rawat, a salesman who is embarrassed about his hair and is adopting every possible remedy to grow back his mane. Bhumi Pednekar and Yami Gautam play the female leads, with supporting turns by Saurabh Shukla, Abhishek Banerjee and Jaaved Jafferi.
Amar was initially attached as a creative producer in Bala. However, over multiple meetings with potential directors, he realised the personal touch he could bring to the film. “I had gone through a phase of premature hair loss and faced similar ridicule,” he says. “People would make fun of me behind my back. Slowly, I understood the social stigma attached to other physical attributes, from skin-colour to height to body shape. These attributes are brought up to damage your self-confidence and pull you down in life. No one ever talks about the good qualities of a human being.”
The trailer of Bala packs several jokes about a man struggling with hair loss. Amar assures the film is entertaining without being insensitive. “If you look at Stree, it had a lot of humour and yet the message shone through. Similarly, comedy is just one of the elements in Bala. My effort with any film is to tell a story honestly while keeping the proceeds entertaining. As a filmmaker, you cannot always shout and preach to your audience. You have to enter their system and explain yourself in a relatable way.”
Stree was set in Chanderi, Madhya Pradesh. Bala sets base in Kanpur, one of the largest cities in Uttar Pradesh, known for its textile and leather industries. Amar moved to Kanpur when he was 10 years old and is well-tuned to its local flavour. “My father was a ranger in the Indian Forest Service, so we moved around a lot. My debut short film, Aaba (2017), was set in Arunachal Pradesh, where I was born. While working on Bala, I wanted to give it a distinct ‘Kanpuriya’ treatment. We have brought out the local lingo, customs and landmarks. The famous Ghanta Ghar crossing is glimpsed in the trailer. As a kid, I would sneak out and sit under a railway bridge. I have many memories attached to that structure, which we have used in the film.”
Bala was accused of sharing a similar storyline to Abhishek Pathak’s Ujda Chaman, which was released last week. Plagiarism claims were also made by two other filmmakers separately. Producer Dinesh Vijan, who has bankrolled Bala under his banner Maddock Films, says he trusts the audience to gauge a film’s originality.
“I have seen the South Indian film (Ondu Motteya Kathe) which Ujda Chaman is based on. We have nothing similar to that film,” Dinesh says. “I believe that when the dust settles, people will see our film for what it is. Bala is not just about a bald man and a dark girl. It’s a film about loving yourself. I have nothing to explain other than we have made an original film. I can say on record that Bala is one of the best films we have made.”
Maddock Films hit it big with this year’s Luka Chuppi. They also produced Arjun Patiala and Made In China. Their slate for 2020 includes Angrezi Medium, Shiddat, Mimi and Imtiaz Ali’s untitled next. Dinesh is also reuniting with the Badlapur-duo of Sriram Raghavan and Varun Dhawan for a biopic on Indian war hero Arun Khetarpal. Additionally, the company is extending its horror-comedy universe with Roohi Afza, Munjha and Stree 2. Dinesh says, “Maddock is a filmmaker-driven company. As a studio, we do not believe in multiple film deals. We believe in finding and developing exciting content, and providing them to our directors. That’s our only math.”