Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Ayushman Hurrana, Vijay Raaz, Brigendra Kala.
Warden: Sirkar Shojit
Only a few actors can stand up to Amitab Bachchan when they are compared in an environment. Amitabh Bakhchan, with his protruding nose, the rough Chihuahua of his beard and the constant expression of crab, is always a force to be reckoned with, but Lucknow is doing well. Every area in Gulabo Sitabo overlooks the city with its dilapidated arcades and delicate villas that demand attention, even when the glorious days are over.
Gulabo SitaboWatch the trailer
The city shares this quality with Mirza Amitabha in Gulyabo Sitabo; what they have lost in age, they want to make up for with perseverance. This is one of the corners of the city we’re talking about in the film – the half-disappeared Hasili, Fatima Mahal, with its flaky paint and crumbling walls. But age, as we’ve just discovered, is a number. The building is the true love of many, including Mirza, who gives this romance such perseverance that it is only given by time. On the other hand, he could be confused by the daring Baanky (Ayushman Hurrana), whose love is ephemeral, and the offer of the LIG apartment.
Shojit Sirkar with a wide-angle lens, as a tribute to Mirza, Baanka and their true lover, assembles a cat with a dog arguing over a Hasili. If films could be condensed into protocols, Gulabo Sitabo would be the story of an unfair old man. Mirza of cursed expression, of course, old man. The owner of the building is actually more of a janitor with his wife, Runaway, who is the real owner. Not that he really cares, he’s a gentleman of the tenants, who are a bunch of recalcitrant people with Baankey as their unelected leader.
Mirza’s goal in life is to become the owner of the building and to free him from Baanka and his family who have not paid their rent for several months. Baanke’s claim that his family has lived here for seven decades coincides with his successive insults, turn after turn.
Writer Juhi Chaturvedi makes Lucknawi zabaan incense and vinegar seep in as Baanka and Mirza beards sell. The constant bickering, imbued with local humour, is also an allusion to the inspiration for the film – the traditional Gulabo Sitabo puppet theatre, in which the young and the puppy Gulabo fight against the old but equally noisy Sitabo. They are usually presented as sisters-in-law or rival wives of the same man.
According to tradition Mirza and Baanke fight like an old married couple, their threats are empty, like the forgotten corners of some Hadili. When Mirza asks a tenant to pay for parking bicycles on the grounds, Baanky threatens to beat him up with local students. Mirza avenges herself, and when he’s burned, it’s all hair and bullying.
A domestic dispute soon becomes a spiral when people from outside the house get involved. Vijay Raaz, archaeology officer, and Brigendra Cala, as Mirza’s lawyer, mix it all up. They have their own views and our duel, which in itself is far from perfect, becomes the toy of the big game. Gulabo Sitabo – hitherto essentially a domestic drama – now becomes a satire on personal and institutional greed. Mirza’s greed finds its parallel in the circus around the Archaeological Service of India, which is digging for gold in Unnao in 2013 after a visionary has had a dream.
As director Sirkar left his comfort zone in Gulabo Sitabo. As a bourgeois storyteller, he has always focused his camera on ordinary people and their everyday existence. A worthy heir to great men like Khrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee, he has always found beauty in his native Cotydian.
Contrary to the peak or even October, the people in Gulabo Sitabo live on the fringes of society; they lie down in front of a few kopecks, sneak out and save their lives. Just like the house they live in, their life needs a desperate paint job. It makes them delicate, but they don’t go well with wolves. Unfortunately, greed cannot be appreciated, as the bizarre coronation of a film shows, but one will always make more profit than the other.
Director of photography Avik Mukhopadhyay managed to capture this imperfect and unequal world in his lens. Often co-author of Sirkara, his camera novels Hare, no less than Mirza, show us the truth that even the characters are not ready to see. The songs of the composer Chantan Moitra are part of the story, but it is his background music we will keep, as well as the music of October.
Some people might complain about how slow the movie was, but it worked for me. It allows us to go to Hasili and get to know his strange characters, some of whom do not even enter into dialogue, but give the film the feeling of being a living being.
However, no one brings more eccentricity to his performance than Bakhchan. You can still see Mirza’s brain working behind the prosthetics; his eyes shine when he thinks of a particularly tricky way to get the tenant into trouble. The promenade and the porch will make you feel each of its 78 years. He faints in two scenes in which – while imagining himself – he calculates the wealth that awaits him. The word that many people use for Mirza – tukcha – is difficult to translate into English, but it perfectly sums up the hieroglyphs. The nearest one’s probably cheap. Can such a man have a love affair more than life? Maybe, but there’s no happy ending for Mirza, and that’s a good thing.