Gulabo Sitabo Movie Review: A little restless but ultimately riveting
Amitabh Bachchan-Ayushmann Khurrana's Gulabo Sitabo proceeds at its own leisured pace, but Shoojit Sircar's authentic and amusing gaze at the relationship between tenant and landlord keeps you hooked!
Director: Shoojit Sircar
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Ayushmann Khurrana, Vijay Raaz, Brijendra Kala
The names of nearly all the Shoojit Sircar films are justified by their stories or their characters. He named one of his films Vicky Donor because it was about a Delhi boy, Vicky, who becomes a sperm donor. Madras Cafe derived its title by real-life incidents and what went behind the assassination of one of India's Prime Ministers. When he announced Gulabo Sitabo, one really had to understand what it meant.
As his new film opens, we see a puppeteer introducing his two puppets as Gulabo and Sitabo. Sircar has derived the title from real-life people this time around. It's the story of a tenant and his landlord, and it's appropriate for a film of such nature because, after all, both the tenant (Ayushmann Khurrana as the lisping Baankey) and the landlord (A cantankerous Amitabh Bachchan) want the other to be his puppet and do exactly what he wants and wishes.
The relationship between these two people derive the most disgust and disharmony, but Sircar treats the subject with light-hearted humour and keeps the pace deliberately unhurried. When Priyadarshan tackled a similar subject in 2001's Yeh Tera Ghar Yeh Mera Ghar, he added his style of comedy to the narrative, but in the hands of Sircar, the story becomes comparatively light-hearted and amusing in spurts. Just like all his films, the characters feel real and even stars like Bachchan and Khurrana are treated with authenticity.
Watch Gulabo Sitabo trailer right here:
Most of the action unfolds inside a dilapidated haveli called Fatima Mahal. Both Baankey and Mirza want to overpower each other with their tricks and treachery. An archaeologist and a lawyer get involved (Vijay Raaz and Brijendra Kala, dependable as always). The entire film has been shot in Lucknow, and cinematographer Abhik Mukhopadhyay's lenses add the right texture to the story. We sense Mirza's helplessness and Baankey's rising frustration due to the haveli's crumbling condition. There are shots of broken walls and mucky toilets, and yet, there's something sprawling about this place.
Maybe that's why Mirza is waiting for his wife to die so that he can legally own Fatima Mahal. He didn't even bear a child to avoid giving a property share. Baankey, on the other hand, lives with his three sisters and a mother. They too derive their own means and methods to continue occupying the space without giving extra rent. The scenarios and situations are all real, and especially continue dominating the small-towns of India, what Khurrana's films like to be called - The Heartland. And writer Juhi Chaturvedi writes crackling characters that sparkle with their brisk performances.
This isn't a two-men showreel, Farrukh Jafar as Begum (Mirza's wife) and Srishti Shrivastava as Guddo (Baankey's sister) enjoy their moment of glory and are a step ahead of the two men, and both of them have reasons to develop a strong sense of dislike for them. Watch out for the scene where Mirza asks the doctor about Begum's ailing health. Bachchan is a fantastic comic, but we haven't seen him in such a space for years. He gets some marvellous lines to chew on and he delivers them with the kind of deadpan demeanour that you're immediately amused.
Also amusing and charming is his relationship with his wife. He's 78, she's 95, she doesn't remember how they got married, he wants to get rid of her. It would be great to see their back story and how the twain met. In a scene, she brings cotton candy for him and he stands in silence as if shocked and surprised to see how she still loves him despite her copious bickering and blabbering.
And talking of deadpan demeanour, this is exactly what Khurrana does too! He's the Angry Young Man or should we say the Angry Young Tenant. But his outbursts are meant to elicit laughs or at least smiles. Gulabo Sitabo proves the biggest of comedies are born out of other people's tragedies, especially in the world of cinema. But unlike some of Bachchan and Khurrana's most savoured and successful films, this isn't a film for all the people, but it does tell the brutal truth of a lot of people.
And Sircar clearly isn't interested in the monetary gains by bringing two stars in the same frame. There's no trace of vanity in their characters or their performances; they are two charmless people defined by their ordinariness. Who cares then how much money the film could have made had it released in the cinema halls? And how does it matter where one sees it when all we want to experience is - A Priceless Jodi!
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