Gulabo Sitabo: A light Satire on Greed and Eagerness to Lead a Better Life.
BY JEENANT GROVER
Gulabo Sitabo is a light satire on greed and eagerness to lead a better life. The landlord-tenant quarrels resemble a type of local folk art called Gulabo and Sitabo. Those are the names of glove puppets portraying a pair of squabbling sisters seen on Lucknow streets. Like the puppets, Mirza and Bankey are locked in quarrels over money. Bankey is too poor to pay rent; without it, Mirza does not have enough money to enjoy his home. Gulabo Sitabo is a Hindi-language comedy-drama film directed by Shoojit Sircar in the year 2020, produced by Ronnie Lahiri and Sheel Kumar and written by Juhi Chaturvedi. Set in Lucknow it stars as squabbling men Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana. The film was not released theatrically because of the COVID-19 pandemic but was released worldwide on June 12, 2020, on Amazon Prime Video. Mirza Nawab (Amitabh Bachchan) is an old, stingy man considered a greedy miser by most people. His wife, Fatima Begum (Farrukh Jafar), who is fifteen years elder to him, is the owner of Fatima Mahal, a run-down Lucknow mansion whose rooms are rented out to various tenants, many of whom do not pay the appropriate rent.
Begum leaves Mirza with the responsibility of looking after the property, but Mirza can not wait for the death of Begum so that the mansion can be passed down to him. Baankey Rastogi (Ayushmann Khurrana) is a poor mansion tenant with his mum and three sisters. He works on a wheat mill and while he is happy about most things in his life, including family relationships, he says he can’t raise sufficient money to pay his rent for months. In order to escape paying up, he makes false excuses much to Mirza’s regret. As a consequence, when they cross roads, Mirza nags him to pay his dues. Baankey is frequently upset, and he throws a wall of a collapsing toilet block into an outbreak of rage, angry Mirza, asks Baankey to pay the full cost of repairing it. But Baankey doesn’t pay off, so Mirza tries in every way to make life miserable for him and his family. It is Baankey’s final straw, who vows to take revenge on Mirza; he takes his chance to understand the historical importance of the property as Gyanesh Shukla (Vijay Raaz), an archaeologist working for the government. He soon plans to take it, evict those who live there, and declare it a heritage site owned by the government.
Gyanesh explains to Baankey his intentions, saying that the evicted people will receive alternative housing. Baankey understands that Mirza will eventually lose control of the manor, so supports Gyanesh’s motives. Mirza discovers about the situation and hires Christopher Clark (Brijendra Kala), a local lawyer. Once Begum dies, Mirza plans to transfer ownership to himself so he can evict his tenants and keep the mansion for himself. After a long attempt to trace anyone who could inherit the mansion in Begum ‘s family instead, the last step was to obtain a copy of the left hand’s fingerprints from Begum.
Mirza gets the fingerprints from a sleeping Begum successfully, but it’s the wrong hand. After noticing the disrepair of the mansion, Christopher presents Mirza to Munmun, a rich developer who is prepared to purchase, demolish and construct a modern housing complex on the ground. Christopher claims Mirza is going to get a lump sum of money for that, so Mirza agrees very quickly. In the meantime, unfamiliar to Baankey and Mirza, Begum has learnt that both plans profit from the villa her family-owned for generations. She won’t have any and soon decides to divorce and run away from Mirza marrying her love of youth, selling the villa to the latter for one single rupee to cover it. Sadly, for Baankey and the other tenants, Gyanesh’s alternative housing proposal is a fraud, and Gyanesh brings a few people to name the mansion a historic landmark.
Arguments and struggles begin as the tenants are angry that, as planned, they do not have alternative housing. However then, Christopher arrives with the developers and Munmun and the tenants in a suitcase full of cash. Mirza sees the tenants gathering some money and sitting in the case, demanding his whole money and contributing to more angry disputes and struggles.They are interrupted suddenly when a maid says that Begum is gone. Mirza rejoices secretly, thinking that Begum died and now is his mansion.
However, Begum remains alive and, according to her own secret plan, has run away for her lover by leaving a letter behind to explain how she has wasted their greedy plans by selling the manor for a rupee to her old lover Abdul Rehman. Their life is even more dull or sad, so they both pass out. They are shut down as Begum returns to the mansion to celebrate her 95th anniversary. This gets worse. Begum left Mirza behind an antique chair and he told Baankey that he had sold it locally for 250 rupees. The film ends and shows the chair at a 135.000 rupee price in an old shop. It ends with a film that criticizes the transactional existence of connections. Except that the currency has changed.
They are overwrapped by love from fear of being overwrapped. The message is plain. Gulabo Sitabo does not mean Mirza and Baankey, but what they mean: a human deficiency that drives us to acknowledge the value of everything without knowing its value. It goes further and emphasizes their vanity by showing that regardless of what we think the price is, both an old chair, and an old man are always worth more. Shoojit Sircar, the director, said “Gulabo Sitabo” is a sparkling, lighthearted movie that audiences and their families can enjoy.” He has performed many hits including comics such as Piku and poetic dramas such as October. Mixed reviews have been received. Some have enjoyed the “sweet character and gentle humor” of the film. Others have been more careful to say that humor and satire have not found their way. The Guardian found it to be “an odd maladministration of property management, which makes its stars all but unrecognizable.”
The standard Bollywood fare of “Gulabo Sitabo” does not include singing , dancing or melodrama (and no three-hour running time). It is one of a new wave of indie spirited films and also its release schedule — which goes straight into the sea, rather than waiting for the pandemic to open in films — challenges set dogmas and some dismay in the Indian film industry.
This surely diminishes its film splendor: it is a stunning yet unfussy, shot by Avik Mukhopadhyay, captured in rich rusts and greens. But it also alleviates the strengths of the film. Aside from the star power, it is more chamber work than symphony, more study of character than the blowout in Bollywood. Anupama chopra of Film Companion said, “This film takes time to set up this world which is both timeless and limited. The first hour moves at a considerable pace and in this Gulabo Sitabo is more like the October than the Piku; the comedy is calmer,” she also criticises for it’s pacing. “While the film does good in many ways, and one of the highlights is the premise, its structure takes a fair share of the film and makes it a tad draggy at the beginning.” The Times of India gave it a rating of 4.5 out of 5. In a slightly negative review, Mike McCahill from The Guardian gave 2 out of 5 for him. Unimpressed by the spectacles and stories he says: “Bachchan works hard on his swaddled middle-fashion, but make ups and props do most work, which essentially serves as an actor distanced from the audience. Meanwhile, a weary Khurrana portrays himself as blandly anonymous and reduces an overarching search for pathos to a limp shrug.”