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Gulabo Sitabo Review: A languid and sweet ode to an old way of life

Gulabo Sitabo, Amitabh Bachchan, Ayushmann Khurrana, Shoojit Sircar, review, Bollywood, Amazon

Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana enliven Shoojit Sircar's paean to an old way of life

By Ambica Sachin

Published: Fri 12 Jun 2020, 2:43 PM

Last updated: Sun 14 Jun 2020, 6:33 PM

Much like the traditional storytelling of yore, Shoojit Sircar's Gulabo Sitabo, starring Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana in the lead, unravels at a deliciously languid pace. At the same time the movie, that released on Amazon Prime today, paces itself with such a steady rhythm that you are hooked to the tale of the cantankerous landlord, Mirza Sahib and his belligerent tenant Baankey Rastogi from the word go.
Set in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, the story devolves around a dilapidated mansion, Fatima Mahal that is coveted by all who come in contact with it. Its crumbling exterior and paint starved walls belie the real worth of the building, which houses a motley crew of tenants who pay a measly sum of Rs30 to Rs70 as their monthly rent.

The decrepit haveli belongs to Begum (Farrukh Jafar) a formidable woman who in spite of her aged demeanor still has her wits about her. The scene in which she asks Mirza, whether he is her lawfully wedded husband or the lover she eloped with is gold.
Amitabh Bachchan as the aged Mirza, slips under the skin of his character with such finesse with his prosthetic nose and his hunchback that you tend to react instinctively when you see him fumbling around. He, of course, is waiting for her to croak so he can finally inherit the dilapidated haveli he has been waiting to lay his hands on.
'What did you see in her,' Baankey asks Mirza at a crucial point in the movie. 'Her mansion', he says matter-of-factly. 'Then what did she see in you?' 'My youth.' The absolute confidence with which Mirza says it despite the fact that both are privy to the letter Begum has left behind explaining her actions, is so packed with utter self-belief, that you laugh out.

Gulabo Sitabo gets its name from a famous traditional puppet show, which has two characters bickering with each other ceaselessly, much like Mirza and Baankey. Their constant skirmishes, much like the Tom and Jerry cartoons playing on Baankey's television, enliven their daily drudgery.
While Bachchan and Khurrana are spot on, even the women manage to leave a mark despite their sporadic appearances. Be it the Begum, reminiscing about her lost love or Baankey's sister Guddu (Srishti Shrivastava) and her lusty trysts behind the water tank or his girlfriend Fauzia who is forever taunting him for his lesser intellect, they all are so impactful. Sircar's women are never feeble and that is a pleasure to watch.
Vijay Raaz who introduces himself as "archaeology" and Brijendra Kala, the English-speaking lawyer stand out in a movie where every character plays his part most skillfully.
Cinematographer Avik Mukhopadhyay's camera lovingly embraces every sun-dappled nook and cranny of the haveli with as much warmth as the panoramic views of old Lucknow.
Composer Shantanu Moitra infuses the background score with an upbeat tempo that soon turns plaintive when the plot meanders to sensitive territory.  Writer Juhi Chaturvedi is able to inject the dialogues with the typical Lucknowi tameez, that the city and its culture comes alive even to one not well-versed with its ethos. 
Gulabo Sitabo juxtaposes greed with sentimental attachment in such a manner that it never feels judgmental. And that is the beauty of the story. There is no moral posturing or clear-cut black and white in this story where characters are motivated by their own inner desires, be it money, a roof above their heads or a sentimental love for the place where one was born.

Gulabo Sitabo is a paean to a crumbling society, a way of life that's fast disappearing and subsequently the story of a mismatch of people desperately seeking to hold on to their reality. 
The story no doubt centers on the consequences of greed, but what do you do when greed is an inherent part of one's character and existence.
What I liked best about the movie was the concept of trying to hold on to a symbol of one's childhood, a nostalgic though perhaps impractical view of a world where one is able to act on one's sentiment. That is not a luxury that Mirza or Baankey have. While the latter has not much at stake, the former grudgingly deserves our sympathy. After all he is just someone driven by his own needs, a quest for a sense of belonging or a need for material acquisition in a world, which gives great currency to money. And can one find fault with him for that?

The twist in the end is so deliciously wicked, that even as the irony of the situation hits you, you are left wondering if even Mirza knew the real worth of what was bequeathed to him, would it all have been too much for him to take? Because he is a man with little means and much less wants. He's unable to look beyond that - at a world fast changing where he is just a relic of the past, and while he is happy with the 10s and 20s that he can lay his hands on, lakhs is a concept  his little mind finds difficult to grasp.
In the end Gulabo Sitabo is a tragic look at a set of people, with a myopic world view, desperately trying to clutch on to their immediate surroundings. Isn't that something we are all guilty of in this fast-changing world we find ourselves caught in? 
Gulabo Sitabo
Director: Shoojit Sircar
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Ayushmann Khurrana, Vijay Raaz, Brijendra Kala, Srishti Shrivastava, Farrukh Jafar
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 

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