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Taxing narrative, but charming as usual

‘Gulabo Sitabo’ was released on Amazon Prime since the theatres are under lockdown, and the home viewing does give one the patience to sit through the painfully slow pace of the movie; the director keeps you engaged despite the pace – an oxymoron, which is true in this case

The film is a visual treat to say the least. And in telling the story of an 80-year-old loser of a man, the film also holds a mirror to the society, to real India, the poverty, corruption, and exploitation, which too are characters in the story of life of this man

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Shoojit Sircar, the director who got the national award for his film ‘Vicky Donor’ known for his extremely entertaining films like ‘Piku’ and a powerful courtroom drama like ‘Pink’ has made diverse films. The commonalities in his movies are the charming characters set against amazing canvas of life, place and human emotions, the strong and independent women. For his new film ‘Gulabo Sitabo’ named after a folk art and written by Juhi Chaturvedi, this time, he chooses Lucknow to tell the story of Mirza Chunnan Nawab (superbly played by Amitabh Bachchan). A greedy miserly old man Mirza, lives with his wife, older to him by 15 years, in a dilapidated haveli, waiting for her to die. His wife (Farrukh Jaffer) the actual Begum is the owner of Fatima Mahal. In the haveli are the tenants paying low to no rent and refusing to vacate; amongst them is Ayushmann Khurrana as Baankey Rastogi a mill owner staying in a small portion with his three sisters and mother, constantly at loggerheads with Mirza. The film is broadly about how Mirza tries to gain the ownership of the haveli, an idea he is obsessed with and Baankey leading the rest of the tenants to ensure a place to live.                       

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‘Gulabo Sitabo’ was released on Amazon Prime since the theatres are under lockdown, and the home viewing does give one the patience to sit through the painfully slow pace of the movie. What keeps the interest of the viewers who stick on to watch the film, despite its sluggish start, are the characters; especially that of Mirza Nawab, whose miserly ways border on comical and the on-going clash of words between him and Baankey. Shoojit Sircar’s style of comedy has always been situational, satirical and many a times, dark in its premise. In ‘Gulabo Sitabo’ too, you find this, albeit, the dose of entertainment falls short and the narrative falters and loses steam at a lot of places as the story progresses. That said, there are several glimpses of what makes his story telling a multi-layered process, and his movies always reveal themselves anew with every watch. That has happened for me with ‘Piku’ and I can bet will be the same for this film. ‘Gulabo Sitabo’ is a puppet show popular in the nukkads and gallis of UP, where the narrator tells entertaining stories of two women, often within the family, and known to be always sparring – typically the saas-bahu, or wife and  mistress of the same man, one a bit timid while the other commanding and brighter. The popular glove puppets dressed in shiny clothes are used to narrate interesting stories often bordering on salacious humour and reflecting day to day life. Trust Shoojit to come up with the name for this story of miserly Mirza who marries Begum for the haveli; and the Begum, who is not typical victim, but a woman of spirit in her own right marries Mirza to be able to live in her haveli where she grew up, so much so that she rejects marriage with a person she loves. What does she do when she realises Mirza is plotting to sell the haveli; how does Mirza react and amidst the drama, the lives of normal lower middle class families and their dream of a home, and somewhere along the way, the secular fabric that binds our country – there is so much to the movie – all those layers that implore to be peeled away to reveal life in all its bright, grey and dark hues.     

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The casting is better than the best. I especially liked Srishti Shrivastava as Guddo; reminded one of Smita Patel. Cinematography by Avik Mukhopadhyay accentuates the beauty of the old world Lucknow, which lives on in the crumbling havelis and restored heritage structures of the city of Nawabs. The film is a visual treat to say the least. And in telling the story of an 80-year-old loser of a man, the film also holds a mirror to the society, to real India, the poverty, corruption, and exploitation, which too are characters in the story of life of this man. The film too runs mostly on this man’s seemingly frail but strong shoulders. Amitabh Bachchan is the soul of the film, and Ayushmann chips in with effortless ease. Overall the film deserves a watch, if only for the wonderful cast and a great director.

Stars: 3.5

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