There are very rare instances when Bollywood comes up with an intelligent satire that is dark and at the same time, humourous. One of those brilliantly crafted plots is that of Gulabo Sitabo starring Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushman Khurrana in the lead roles. The title of the film is a metaphorical reference to the very famous Puppet Show of Uttar Pradesh that goes by the same name. In that show, Gulabo is a man’s mistress while Sitabo is his wife. The two females are always at the war of words and people tend to find humour in their deeply infra dig arguments. Similar is the premise of this slow-paced yet an enjoyable movie.
The story revolves around a 78-year-old man, Mirza, who is crotchety, off-putting and gluttonous. He longs not for love nor companionship. He has had just one desire- that of becoming the legal owner of a humongous palace-like mansion, Fatima Mahal. He lives there with his ‘begum’ who is 15 years older than him. While his begum refuses to die, he has another dilemma that becomes the reason for stress. Of all the tenants who pay a meagre rent ranging between ₹ 30-70, there is ‘Baankey’ whose contumelious behaviour is the cause for Mirza’s crippling affliction. Baankey’s family, comprising his mother and his three sisters, has occupied one of the rooms and refuses to vacate in spite of several warnings. They stand by the fact that ‘they are too poor’ to pay the rent. The constant squabble between Baankey and Mirza is something that leads to the katzenjammer and often forces the audience to flex their facial muscles.
The story is simple but the message conveyed through layered writing is important. We often forget to notice and appreciate the smaller elements of joy around us and then regret after we have lost them. Well, that’s what Gulabo Sitabo advocates. Begum’s love for her city and her mansion forces her to marry Mirza who is a good-for-nothing-fellow. Even though Mirza is given the privilege to live in the lap of luxury, he wishes for begum to pass away. He even compromises his moral ethics in some way. And then there is Baankey! He misuses the privilege of staying in a rented place that demands just a meagre sum of money and he uses his go-to excuse ‘main gareeb hoon’ to avoid paying the rent. Both the protagonists eventually fall into the trap of the lawyers and the Archeological Department respectively. With everyone waiting to get the possession of Fatima Mahal, the audience realizes the importance of what all the characters in the movie are losing in the process of tending to their greed. It is said that give him an inch and he’ll take a mile. In this case, in place of an inch, the passers-by just get a hint about the property and they watch like hawks, waiting for the right opportunity to pounce and snatch the property from the owner.
A social commentary that mocks the mentality of mankind, Shoojit Sircar’s Gulabo Sitabo is funny on most occasions. Amitabh excels in Mirza’s role. Whether it is his thick glasses or the gibberish dialogues, he fits the bill. The limp in his walk, the constant constricted brows and the frown of frustration make his character come alive. Baankey, on the other hand, symbolizes the poor who strive really hard to overcome the invisible barrier of class stratification. Ayushman exemplifies the character of Baankey with his local Lucknavi dialect and his clothes. His body language personifies the bitterness in his life owing to lack of money and the basic necessities.Vijay Raaz and Bijendra Kala are marvellous in their respective roles. Their mere presence adds humour to the overall ambience. These actors are so adept that they do not need any special introduction. Such top-notch performers they are! Abhik Mukhopadhyay, the man behind the lens, does such a wonderful job taking the audience on a virtual tour of the city of the Nawabs! The colourful tuk-tuks, the aroma of the street-food, the puppet shows, the daily market- all come alive when the camera pans around the city. The dialogues are quirky and carry depth as well. The background score is on-point. Certain instances couldn’t have done without such unconventional music as the scaffold. Gulabo Sitabo uses satire to point out the hideous reality of life. It doesn’t shy away from shouting out loud that greed can lead to misery and loneliness. Thus, Shoojit Sircar’s movie passes the muster when it comes to the purpose and the intention of the film. However, there were certain characters that were left unexplored, like that of Fatima Begum. Baankey’s backstory deserved more attention but the timeframe of the movie didn’t quite permit continuing narrative. Nevertheless, the movie is likeable because of its crude genuineness. It is enjoyable despite its slow beginning. Overall, Gulabo Sitabo is a great movie that acts as an eye-opener. For those who relish metaphorical references and cherish the premise with the least number of characters, this should be your pick.
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