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Sunday, December 10, 2023

Gulabo Sitabo Movie Review: Shoojit Sircar’s Intellectual & Compelling Dramedy

Gulabo Sitabo, directed by Shoojit Sircar, after much anticipation, releases exclusively on Amazon Prime Video.

The dramedy showcases two slimy scheming foxes in a game of one-upmanship, each attracting other members to their clan and each one with an agenda of his own.

Meet Mirza (Amitabh Bachchan) a 78yrs old landlord, who would move heaven and earth for his most prized possession, an old Dilapidated Mansion in Lucknow.

But this garden of roses comes with its own cluster of ‘pricky thorns’ – tenants.

Amongst them most prominently, Baankey (Ayushmann Khuranna) a shrewd, sly and squatted tenant, who matches Mirza in their ceaseless bantering.

The tone is of a quirky slice of life where Mirza and Baankey are like Tom and Jerry.

As such, it promises to be unique and unmatched, friend and foe, naughty and smart, little and large, all combine to produce chaos.

This venture is quite different for Sircar. Often in his movies, we have witnessed the lives of ‘common’ people.

Here, however, it takes a step further in presenting the stories of those who rummage for any means of utopia, even if it’s a glimpse of it.

Sircar is a pioneer in exhibiting dysfunctional functions of the world – be it an issue or relationship.

Once again, he encompasses this theme in Gulabo Sitabo and it forms a very rib-tickling and yet poignant watch.

From the very first frame, we are transported to the heart of Lucknow, which is known to be the land of Royalty.

Yet in this hustle and bustle of the city, there is a ramshackle palace on the verge of a breakdown.

In depicting this run-down milieu, the director makes this mansion and city like an additional character. The setting of the Haveli is magnificent.

Every detailing, whether it’s the rooms or objects, scream authenticity which is untouched by development.

As such, the titling of ‘Gulabo Sitabo’ is rather interesting as it derives from the traditional glove puppet theatre from Uttar Pradesh in north India.

These puppets are dressed in colourful, shiny clothes and trinkets, named after the two heroines who are represented in the show.

Sitabo is the worn out, overworked spouse; and Gulabo, the scintillating mistress of the same man.

The narration is usually done by the spoken-sung style by the puppeteer seated on the floor.

The storyteller reportedly constructs a semi-improvised plot which is a mixture of raunchy jokes, sarcastic reflections, laced with local humour and songs relating to shared incidents and the transitions of daily life.

Juhi Chaturvedi brilliantly adapts this customary form of entertainment with post-colonial property laws and modern archaeology in India.

Despite the basic premise being dreary, Juhi enlightens it with the intelligent humour and eye-opening insight, which I’ve seen explored scarcely in commercial Hindi cinema.

For this reason, Gulabo Sitabo is special as it makes a gritty and tiresome story of survival, into a compelling visual.

With ‘greed’ as the common motif, the overall product comes across as theatrical (almost Shakespearean) and idiosyncratic.

As such, every character, from the principal to the supporting cast, contribute to the narrative in some way.

The portrayals of these quirky roles are fabulous too. Beginning with Amitabh Bachchan, he steals the show as Mirza.

Despite the astonishing prosthetics and mannerisms of an elderly man, we fully understand his scheming and calculating mind.

Whilst Mr Bachchan is one of the leads, his character is not a hero. In fact, it is quite a grey role which is enigmatic in several ways and unscrupulous.

Although some of his antics are laughable, they surely are not loveable (but I do love the command of Urdu!)

Ayushmann Khurrana is effortless as Baankey. He gets into the skin of a mill-owner and brash tenant with a lisp smoothly.

The bickering rally between Bachchan and Khurrana is delightful to watch. Their one-liners and demeanours with each other are a highlight of the movie.

Moreover, even though both actors are popular names in the industry, they have entirely shrugged off their eminence to mould into these characters… And it’s a job well done.

Another powerful performer in the movie is Farrukh Jafar, who plays Begum – the elderly wife of Mirza and owner of the Haveli.

Her assertive and thorn-tongued personality matches the quirkiness of her husband and of the palace itself. Jafar ji is fantastic.

Bijendra Kala plays the lawyer Christopher Clark, who attempts to help Mirza, Vijay Raaz is the Gyanesh Shukla, the Government officer who supports Baankey.

Both these artists are great too in their respective roles and they play an essential part in the film’s crux.

Generally, I don’t have any criticisms for the film though some may find the pace quite slow and given that it covers a lesser-known aspect of Indian civil law.

But this is exactly why I like Gulabo Sitabo. It is a brave endeavour by Shoojit Sircar to step out of his comfort zone and make such a fascinating dramedy.

Whilst the main plot and trailer make it seem like a story of maladjusted landlord and tenant, I can assure you that this is not the case. It’s more convoluted than that.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5 stars)

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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