Gulabo Sitabo Movie Review: Shoojit Sircar’s Gulabo Sitabo, starring Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana, dropped on Amazon Prime Video on June 12.
Fatima Mahal is no Taj Mahal. It most certainly was built with love, but right now it serves but one purpose – to serve. A hundred years give or take, Fatima Mahal houses Mirza (Amitabh Bachchan) and his Begum, and a bunch of tenants unofficially led by Baankey (Ayushmann Khurrana). Mirza and Baankey’s nokjhok, as the makers told us repeatedly, holds the whole plot together. Yet, it is not the central point of Shoojit Sircar’s Gulabo Sitabo – Fatima Mahal is.
Mirza wants to throw Baankey out. Baankey won’t leave. Mirza decides to sell the haveli instead, if that helps. He has to cross out those extended family members who could lay claim on the property before he sells it. In addition, Fatima Mahal’s 100-year-old legacy has by now attracted the archaeological department. Like little school children, all these atrangi characters flutter around Fatima Mahal, and she simply watches. A brick falls here, a railing drops there, she continues to stand witness to it all.
Greed is an excellent driver. Mirza’s greed, very evident, drove him to marry a woman 17 years older to him. “Aapne unme kya dekha?” and Mirza quips, “Haveli dekhi.” He is 78 now, old, frail, stooping under the weight of his once tall stature, yet his greed doesn’t leave him. He survives on pennies he gets to pick from Begum’s baksa, sells chandeliers for pocket money, Begum squarely tells him, “Apni shakal ab kafi dinon tak mat dikhana,” and he almost happily obliges.
Baankey, on the other hand, runs a chakki (small-scale wheat mill) feeding the mouths of his three growing sisters and a widowed mother. He can ride a bike and buy a microwave, but ghar ka bhada will remain Rs 30 a month. Rent-control areas in any old part of this country, no matter the city – Lucknow or Mumbai or Kolkata – will have such bickering landlord-tenant jodis. In that, Shoojit has yet again picked a subject so simple and everyday, that you would have thought they couldn’t have been made into a full-fledged feature film. Shoojit surprises you yet again. But then, not really.
Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana coming together for the first time was a big deal. But Bachchan’s Mirza trumps Ayushmann’s Baankey. Bachchan’s prosthetic make-up, especially the nose, sticks out like a sore thumb in parts, but the maverick more than makes up for it with his acting and more importantly, his body language. Ayushmann’s Baankey, unfortunately, oscillates between the Punjabi munda that he is and the Lucknavi that he is supposed to be. And then there is the Lucknavi twang. There’s so much diction can do.
Bachchan’s perfect Urdu – from the epiglottis and all – leaves Baankey miles behind him. Baankey, in fact, has a lisp, and we’re not sure if it was a character requirement or was it put to shroud the actor’s shortcoming, especially stark in contrast to Bachchan. Nonetheless, Ayushmann the actor is so resilient that he doesn’t let that bog his performance down.
Unlike Fatima Mahal’s walls, literally crumbling, failing to support its enormous legacy, the supporting cast of Gulabo Sitabo outdo the lead cast. Brijendra Kala as the astute lawyer Christopher Clarke, a property-dispute specialist Mirza seeks the help of, jo khane mein sirf lunch aur dinner letein hai because that’s how ‘English’ he is, is excellent. Vijay Raaz’s Gyanesh Shukla, an archaeology department official adamant to declare Fatima Mahal a heritage site, who suffers from arthritis and pyorrhea, and the occasional character slip, goes beyond what the script might have said. There are legit moments when you know the script could not have written this expression or that hand gesture down; and Raaz adds a dash of masala to this steaming pot of biryani.
Srishti Shrivastava doesn’t need to be introduced as the girl you saw in Gully Boy; she stands on firm ground, at least for us internet-content consumers. She brings her TVF-style madness into Guddo, Baankey’s graduate sister, and Shoojit’s rumbling Fatima Mahal. But Farukh Jaffer as Mirza’s Begum, 95 in the film right now, is par excellence.
Juhi Chaturvedi, credited for story and dialogues, truly deserves credit. Shantanu Moitra’s music adds a certain melancholy that compliments Fatima Mahal’s texture. You will find yourself humming Madari Ka Bandar in the kitchen while you sip that cup of morning tea. Yet we missed Swanand Kirkire’s throaty voice. Tochi Raina and Anuj Garg do a good job, but you can’t but click your tongue. Tch!
Gulabo Sitabo was supposed to have a theatre release. But owing to the coronavirus crisis, went for an OTT premiere instead. It works in Shoojit’s favour that this film renders itself beautifully to small-screen viewing.