By Prerana Panja
The Director-Screenwriter duo Shoojit Sircar and Juhi Chaturvedi have delivered a host of eccentric films together, from Vicky Donor to their most recent collaboration, Gulabo Sitabo.
Gulabo Sitabo is the first major Bollywood film to have a direct OTT release in this pandemic. Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurana play the characters of Mirza and Baankey respectively. Mirza and Bankey bicker like an old married couple and can’t stand each other a minute, however, they share one true love for the haveli, Fatima Mahal which stands strong in all its dilapidated glory.
Mirza is an old man filled with greed to the brim and is married to the Begum, who is a decade and a half older than him and is the owner of the Mahal in question. Mirza’s only aim in life has been to inherit the Mahal after his wife dies and views the tenants of the haveli as parasites who refuse to leave. Bankey, a fatherless man is one among the many tenants owns and runs an atta chakki and earns a meagre earning and is expected to take care of his mother and his three sisters.
Bankey along with the other tenants till date pays a meagre rent of Rs.30 owing to the Rent Control Act. The historical abode plays the central role in the film and what initially seems like a domestic drama soon spirals into something much larger when third parties start to take interest in the property.
For an actor to hold his own in front of an actor like Amitabh Bachchan is no easy task but Ayushman Khurana doesn’t disappoint and is a joy to watch. Amitabh Bachchan too essays the role of Mirza with unimaginable perfection, from his dialect to his posture and body language. The prosthetic nose, however, doesn’t feel convincing from time to time and distracts you from the performance. The two actor’s chemistry shines on the screen and is hard to miss. Their performances feel effortless and complimenting.
Apart from the lead characters, the supporting characters of Inspector Pratap Vijay (Vijay Raaz) and Lawyer Christopher Clarke (Brijendra Kala) will have your eyes glued to the screen.
Sristi Shrivastava, who plays the role of Bankey’s sister Guddo has also given a stellar performance. Guddo is a stark contrast to how we are made to believe small-town women are compliant and submissive whereas she is the complete opposite being a woman who is vocal and rebellious in nature and honestly sassier and smarter than her brother Bankey. Her unpredictability is refreshing.
Cinematographer Avik Mukhopadhyay skillfully captures the essence of Lucknow, UP and the haveli in all its dilapidated glory. We see the arches, the long corridors and the courtyard with peeling plaster on the walls giving character and dignity to the house.
Writer Juhi Chaturvedi does justice to the characters as you feel their presence even when they aren’t in the frame. She also portrays the city of Lucknow differently than how we’re used to seeing Uttar Pradesh on screen, she shows us that Uttar Pradesh has more than it’s criminal reputation and the people of Lucknow are much like others in the way they live their lives. Her use of the slowly fading Hindi-Urdu-Awadhi language in which Lucknowi people converse and bicker is spot on and will leave you mesmerised. She makes use of sly taunts and empty insults that the characters throw at each other which are guaranteed to give you mild chuckles but over time it starts to feel unvarying and doesn’t deliver the same results. The first half is a fun ride but the second half of the film feels a bit slow-paced. This is a departure from how we know Juhi Chaturvedi and her writing. The humour is quieter and characters and their company might be fatiguing. But hold on and keep watching because the story has certain jump-starts which will keep you engaged.
Director Shoojit Sircar and Chaturvedi showcase the rawest forms of human nature skillfully disguised in humour. The humour will make you laugh but will also tug at your heart in a matter of seconds when you notice the melancholy hiding behind it.
Another aspect of society that Sircar portrays beautifully is how small-town residents often fall behind in the race of modern times. He shows this in the last two scenes where we leave the dusty gullies of Lucknow and we see a modern bridge and another when Mirza sells his favourite chair, which the Begum left him for a paltry Rs. 250 which is then shown to be placed in an exquisite gallery to be sold for lakhs.
All in all Gulabo Sitabo is worth a watch but perhaps is also an acquired taste and might require more motivation than usual to sit through the film due to the slow pace. In a theatre setting this is easier to achieve as a film ticket promises a commitment but with OTT platforms, the urge to skip to another content is hard to resist, but stay put, give the film a chance.
Check out the trailer for the film here :
The film is available for viewing on Amazon Prime Video.