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Gulabo Sitabo review: Amusing, biting tale of greed getting the better of you

Release Date: 12 Jun 2020


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Sonal Pandya

Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana play two unlikeable foes who happen to be landlord and tenant in this unusual Shoojit Sircar film.

The Gulabo Sitabo of the title of Shoojit Sircar's latest appear briefly in the beginning and at the end of the feature. The two puppets fight with each other, much like the lead characters Mirza Chunnan Nawab (Amitabh Bachchan) and Baankey Rastogi (Ayushmann Khurrana). The constant bickering goes on to such an extent that both parties are pushed to the brink in this biting satire by Sircar and writer Juhi Chaturvedi.

The miserly, glum Mirza lives with his wife Begum Fatima (the delightful Farrukh Jaffar) who is the owner of Fatima Mahal, a battered but grand mansion in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. The mansion hosts a number of families living there for decades, including Baankey's. The frustrated young man, with little ambition, resides with his widowed mother and three sisters. Not a day goes by that the cantankerous Mirza and Baankey don't clash for some petty reason.

When a bathroom wall comes crumbling down, it sets off the dominoes for a larger plan neither of them could have seen coming. The greedy Mirza thinks of money all day; he steals any items around the mansion to be pawned for cash, while Baankey barely makes enough for the family to survive. The elderly man keeps thinking of the day when his begum will die and he will inherit the mansion. Goaded by his friend Pandeyji, Mirza enlists the help of a lawyer, Christopher Clarke (Brijendra Kala), to help him sell the house.

Ayushmann Khurrana and Vijay Raaz in Gulabo Sitabo

Unwittingly, Baankey gets entangled with the pompous Gyanesh Shukla (Vijay Raaz) from the city's archaeological department who thinks the 100-year-old mansion has great historical value. Mirza pursues his quest to sell off the house and make a load of cash, and Baankey dreams of acquiring a flat for his family. Both are determined to succeed at their goals.

Sircar's quirky comedy uses the first half to establish the world that Mirza and Baankey reside in. Once we get familiar with them, we see them clearly, warts and all. Bachchan's Mirza has him hunched over as he manoeuvres himself in and around Lucknow, working on his scheme to get Fatima Mahal. Lost in prosthetic nose and long white beard, Bachchan even changes his voice to be raspier and lower in pitch. His Mirza is both tragic and loathsome.

Baankey, meanwhile, is more naive then he lets on. Khurrana shows the character's bluster, but in the end, there is a vulnerable side to him that emerges after all.

Chaturvedi's script also introduces a number of other characters who get lesser screen space but make their mark nevertheless. Raaz and Kala are standouts, but the female characters from Jaffar's spunky begum to Baankey's girlfriend Fauzia (Poornima Sharma) and his younger sister Guddo (Srishti Shrivastava) all show up the men. They deserved more appreciation from the men in the lives.

The film perfectly captures the old world charm of Lucknow, especially with the Urdu words woven into the dialogues. Fatima Mahal is one of the mansions that could exist only in cinema, and despite its broken-down state, Avik Mukhopadhyay's camera captures it almost lovingly. You would get why one man could be so obsessed with a pile of old bricks. Shantanu Moitra's playful original score adds to the constant volleying between the two characters.

Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana

But despite the milieu of Lucknow, the pace of that world moves along much slower than you would expect. After a point, you are just wondering what's next. Thankfully, the fitting end is both amusing and biting, proving once and for all that you can't let greed get the better of you.

Gulabo Sitabo is the first Hindi film to arrive directly on a digital platform owing to the closure of theatres because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and watching the film now in the safety of our homes made me miss the theatre even more. Gulabo Sitabo is now available on Amazon Prime Video.

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