4 min read
After giving the world well-crafted movies like Vicky Donor and Piku, the Shoojit Sircar-Juhi Chaturvedi duo is back with their latest comedy-drama set in the old city of Lucknow. In their latest satire, Gulabo Sitabo, Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana romance a dilapidated haveli.
Gulabo Sitabo: Amitabh Bachchan with Ayushmann Khurrana (courtesy primevideo.com)
Set in present-day Lucknow, Gulabo Sitabo is a social satire about two impossibly peculiar human beings – Mirza Chunnan Nawab, who lives in a dilapidated mansion and one of the tenants, Baankey Rastogi. The mansion may have seen many dramas unfold over a century of its existence, but still has a final act left as the drama of the battle of ownership unfolds, with a priceless lesson to teach.
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Ayushmann Khurrana, Vijay Raaz, Brijendra Kala, Shrishti Shrivastava, Farrukh Jafar
Director: Shoojit Sircar
IMDb rating: 6.8
The story revolves around Fatima Mahal, a 100-year-old ramshackle mansion, and its residents. Mirza (Bachchan), a miserly, grumpy old man, is the self-proclaimed owner of the haveli. His wife, Fatima Begum (Jafar), the actual owner of the mansion, rents out parts of it to various tenants for a measly rent. One among these tenants is Baankey (Khurrana), who neither pays the rent nor agrees to leave. Mirza loves the mansion and yearns for complete ownership so that he can throw out all the ‘parasites’ (tenants) and live peacefully. He resorts to stealing small items like bulbs and cycle bells from the tenants and selling them to earn some petty cash, as he feels he is not being fairly compensated for having to tolerate the tenants who have been squatting in his beloved mansion.
Baankey, on the other hand, feels that it is his right to live in the mansion as his family has been living there for decades. He refuses to pay rent on the pretext that he is too poor. He lives with his mother and three sisters and owns an ‘atta chakki’ (a small flour mill). He is an ordinary man, struggling to make ends meet and does not have the patience to deal with Mirza’s constant nagging about rent and other petty demands for money like parking fees for his bike.
The movie, though initially slow, picks up some pace with two new characters, Gyanesh Shukla (Raaz) and Christopher Clarke (Kala), both with vested interests in Mirza’s and Baankey’s dispute. Gyanesh is an officer in the archaeological department who wants to prove that the haveli is a heritage property that should be sealed whereas Christopher is a lawyer who deals with cases of property dispute and wants the mansion to be sold to a wealthy contractor.
Somewhere between all this drama, we get a glimpse of a traditional street puppet show of Uttar Pradesh, in which two glove puppets, Gulabo (a flustered man’s wife) and Sitabo (the man’s mistress), bicker continuously. Mirza’s and Baankey’s relationship seems to mirror this play because they too are constantly at each other’s throats. The movie’s name is inspired by this fading Lakhnavi art form.
The dilapidated state of the haveli, the small alleyways of Lucknow with many old buildings, art forms like puppeteering depicted in the movie are all indicative of the decline of a remarkably beautiful culture.
The role of women in the movie is quite notable too. Though not in the foreground, the women in the movie are more liberated and powerful than most of their counterparts in the real world. For example, Mirza’s wife, Fatima Begum, lives a full life at the ripe old age of 95. While Mirza waits for her to die, she leaves to be reunited with her former lover, not caring about anyone else. Then, there is Baankey’s mother, who insists that her son drops out of school to earn money after husband’s death so that her three daughters can be educated. Baankey’s sister, Guddo (Shrivastava), is educated, street-smart and bold. She takes matters into her hands when issues spiral and her brother fails to stand up for the tenants. Thus, the female characters in the movie are strong and their boldness is portrayed with a subtlety that is commendable in an era of forced feminism.
Amitabh Bachchan takes on the role of the grumpy old man with ease and is terrific, as usual. Ayushmann Khurrana, who can usually portray an ordinary character very well, sadly lacks his usual spark. Vijay Raaz and Brijendra Kala shine in their respective roles. Farrukh Jafar is an absolute delight to watch and Shrishti Shrivastava does an excellent job.
Juhi Chaturvedi has penned a beautiful story about greed, poverty and a hunger for worldly possession in this witty, intelligent screenplay. Shoojit Sircar’s ability to subtly include hard-hitting life lessons in his movies gives wings to the story.
With greed and poverty-driven desire for a materialistic life as the central themes, Gulabo Sitabo is an appealing tale. The banter between the lead characters is entertaining; even though the pace of the movie is draggy at times, it will not fail to keep you hooked till the end. Amitabh Bachchan steals the show (along with the lightbulbs of his tenants) and will leave you mildly amused and thoroughly entertained with his performance. In brief, watch the movie for some amazing performances and a well-written story.
Viewed and reviewed by The Review Owl.