Gulabo Sitabo movie review: Pakau, par muskuraiye, it's Lucknow!
Gulabo Sitabo is, without doubt, the least accomplished of director Shoojit Sircar's films.
On: Amazon Prime
Director: Shoojit Sircar
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Ayushmann Khurrana
This is without doubt the least accomplished of director Shoojit Sircar's films. And yet, to his credit, if you go looking for something that deeply disappointed you, in particular, let alone offended/irritated you, from a filmmaking point of view — there is nothing, really.
Just the fact that there aren't uplifting moments enough to catch your attention, or hold you by the eyeballs, that's it. The picture can be more than a tad bit pakau (boring) therefore, in its pacing, and plot. But you could smile on occasion — muskuraiye, aap Lucknow mein hain, as they say!
There is no doubt that in its lensing and locations, this film is an open (love) letter to Lucknow — the older parts, under the light blue sky, from Imambara, to Hazratganj. So why is it that I don't feel as excited going 'Ganj-ing', guys. Because that lensing is visual alone. There is hardly much beneath, for an insight, to go deeper and deeper into the lives of others.
Honestly they seem fine sketches at best, and caricatures at worst; rather than lived experiences altogether. This is to take away absolutely nothing from the performances, which is top-notch, from top to bottom. Starting with the towering presence of Amitabh Bachchan — perfectly hunched back, droopy shoulders, glancing sideways, doddering, tottering, eating his words…
He's modelled so hubahoo (literally) on a generic old man from Old Delhi, profiled by a blogger on Instagram, that it's hard to bet, that this is actually Big B, or his character Mirza on the small screen. Only some of that credit must (of course) go to the prosthetic make-up (designed by Pia Cornelius). Mirza is shown to be aged 78. Which is roughly the same as Bachchan himself. Clearly the former hasn't aged so well. Or as is so often the case with older folk, that's not quite his real age.
Either way, in a touch of what could be described as magic realism of sorts, his wife is 17 years older still. This lovely old lady, the Begum (Farrukh Jafar), by her very being, is the star of the show. Ayushmann Khurrana, opposite Bachchan, doesn't enjoy the same crutches of a changed appearance, sure; but with a lisp that sits so easily with his rice-belly, he pulls off the bland, Lucknow launda Baankey enough to draw you in.
The issue isn't any of the above, of course. It's about once having been drawn in, having nowhere to go. Bachchan plays the landlord. Khurrana is one of his tenants, who in a stroke of luck, or archaic laws, has never paid rent, for a place where his family's lived all their lives. The two men quibble, and they quibble some more.
And frankly outside of the residents, nobody should care. This is, in essence, a situational comedy that seldom if ever rises above the situation. And there isn't even a sentence of comedy that'll make you laugh out loud. The novelty is in the fact of casting alone.
Watch the trailer of Amitabh Bachchan, Ayushmann Khurrana starrer Gulabo Sitabo here:
Surely there are things here and there to admire. Like that portion when the camera steps into the inner workings of the archaeological survey warehouse — the same way that Sircar's October (2018) beautifully brought to the fore, the back-end of a five-star hotel. Loved how the quarrelling men are Hindu and Muslim, but religion is normalised enough that it doesn't even merit a mention. And that is so, so Lucknow!
The title, I'm told, is taken from a popular folk puppet-series about two women Gulabi, Sitabo, who constantly fight with each other over their husband (if I'm not mistaken). Likewise, Vishal Bhardwaj's last release Pataakha (2018) was about two sisters tearing each other's hair off in every scene. The parable/metaphor of the siblings being India and Pakistan was underlined so often all through the film, that you just lost interest anyway. Felt similarly here. All good — par aage kya?
This is the first mainstream Bollywood film to get a direct release on an OTT platform (Amazon Prime Video). That makes it one among way too many firsts in Bachchan's career — he was also the first Bollywood star to embrace satellite television (Kaun Banega Crorepati in 2000).
Instead of catching this film on a link/screener provider in advance, I got some of my movie-buff friends to stay up until midnight, pretty much bring out the popcorn, and watch it together (like we were at a theatre). Few minutes in, frankly, I was fast asleep. No, it's not that bad of course. Did finish the movie, aaram se, in the morning, on my phone, which is where this ideally belongs!
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