Gulabo Sitabo Hindi Movie Review

Feature Film | Comedy, Drama, Family
Gulabo Sitabo offers a look at small lives in Lucknow, and it is a respectable entry in Shoojit Sircar's varied filmography. It may not be a great achievement like the director's other films, but there is much to admire in this parable on man's greed.
Jun 13, 2020 By S. Mullappilly

Gulabo Sitabo is named after a show where two puppets Gulabo and Sitabo are constantly quarrelling. The movie is presented as prolonged bickering between its characters, especially between Baankey (Ayushman Khurrana) and Mirza (Amitabh Bacchan). Director Shoojit Sircar's film offers up a small parable with minor lessons along the way. It shows mankind stoops so low to get what they think is rightfully theirs: land.

The character of Mirza is an embodiment of this low moral standard in society. He looks up from the ground mainly to confront another man. That man is mostly Khurrana's Baankey, a tenant in his old, dilapidated bungalow who exploits Mirza by not paying him more rent. All of the characters in this film are trying to take advantage of one another.

The central conflict in Gulabo Sitabo is that Mirza wants to own his mansion by kicking out the tenants from there, and Baankey would not relent so easily. This offers us some of the film's winning moments, especially one where Baankey blames Mirza for not maintaining the old mansion after demolishing a part of its shared toilet. The explanation he gives for the act is hilarious, "I have only touched it with my feet".

The building is too frail to last, and Vijay Raaz's archaeological officer Gyanesh Shukla uses this as a basis to try and snatch the property away from all of them. The film becomes more interesting with Shukla's and Christopher Clark's arrival. Vijay Raaz with his usual deadpan humor is a hoot as the officer, and Brijendra Kala as the attorney named Clark is also in form here.

One thing common among all of them is greed, and Sircar cleverly shows the characters as they are instead of judging them. This allows us to study these characters and better understand their worldview. Take for instance the scene where one of Shukla's archaeology team members is so hell-bent on putting a notice board at the property the first time she arrives there. She explains the act as a fun part of her job, and even takes a photo by standing in front of it. The fact that these bungalow residents are so poverty-ridden hardly ever matters to her.

Sircar's movie coasts along at a slow pace with these clever pieces of writing, but it never really reaches the towering heights of his earlier works. The film's labored pacing is an issue. Unlike in some of Sircar's earlier films, with this pace, he does not work up a sense of melancholia that eventually overwhelms us. The payoff of the movie does not have a jolt-to-the-system effect that we expect it to have.

Anyhow, the film offers an interesting microcosm of lives in Lucknow, and it is a respectable footnote in Sircar's varied filmography. Cinematographer Avik Mukhopadhyay captures the cracks and holes in Fatima Mahal, and he portrays an inhabited world marred by aging. There is none of Lucknow's stunning cityscape in Gulabo Sitabo, and for a good reason.

The best thing about the movie is its characters and equally impressive performances. The chameleon-like Amitabh Bachchan easily slips into the role of the weary Mirza like only he can. The actor plays him as neither a likeable figure nor as someone you would want to punch on the face the next time you meet him on the streets. Giving him fine company is Ayushmann Khurrana as Baankey Rastogi.

Khurrana hides a vulnerable side to Baankey under the facade of his usually cocky persona. That Khurrana seems confident in front of a towering performer like Bachchan is a testament to his growth as an actor. Bachchan's performance and the fact that his face is partially covered under a headscarf may have helped Khurrana to treat him as the character, not the star. Then there is Farrukh Jafar as Begum, the movie's underwritten role yet one that offers just as many laughs as every other character.

S. Mullappilly