We hear Amitabh Bachchan even before we see him in Shoojit Sircar’s latest directorial Gulabo Sitabo (streaming on Amazon Prime Video). Huffing, panting , a slight groan before he stretches his slouching body to take a bulb out of its socket. What he does with it we get to know in the next scene and why he did it is clear subsequently. Big B, who has a prominent nose and beard, initially grabs our attention but then makes us forget about his towering star quality as he melts into the role of a rapacious old man who someone refers to as “laalchi” in the first few minutes of the film. Avik Mukhopadhyay’s camera moves slowly, taking in the sights and sounds of Lucknow and Juhi Chaturvedi’s writing marinated in local flavours keeps getting better.
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Shantanu Moitra’s enriching score accompanies us as we take in the majestic Fatima Mahal and its penniless residents. The tussle between Mirza (Amitabh Bachchan), who wants to own this property and his tenants who won’t budge, makes up the crux of the story. The most stubborn of the lot is Baankey (Ayushmann Khurrana) who along with his mother and three sisters stay in the haveli as tenants. Khurrana’s Baankey is always angry, his words as much in a hurry to get off his lips as he is to get hold of the property that he indignantly claims to be his. Mirza tries every sly trick to evict them while Baankey fights back with equal vociferousness.
The turf war plays out while the real owner, Begum, is getting her hair henna-ed. Farrukh Jafar is excellent as she keeps to her world where Nehru ji is omnipresent. Her delicate link to the past renders the film with an old world charm where greed makes an imperceptible presence.
The idiosyncrasies and eccentricity prove as much to be Gulabo Sitabo’s strength as its weakness. Chunks of the narrative move on in a lumbering fashion and just as one gets restless an interesting character comes our way, revealing his intentions almost as an act of unburdening.
The women especially are delectable and wield the real power in a world where men are shown shadow-boxing the obstacles to their desired denouement. Be it Baankey’s sister, the acerbic-tongued Guddo (hilariously played by Srishti Srivastava) or his love interest Fauzia (Poornima Sharma) who never lets go of an opportunity to let him know what she really thinks of him or the absolutely fabulous Begum played with a haughty nonchalance by Farrukh Jafar, it’s the women who shine in this film. Vijay Raaz as the dubious archaeologist and Brijendra Kala who plays the lawyer Christopher Clarke like no one else can are also excellent.
Be it Piku, October or Vicky Donor Shoojit Sircar films the everydayness of life with avid pleasure.
In this one too he tries but is unable to hold our attention for as long as he would like. But that doesn’t take away from the dark solid core of the film and the statement it makes on insatiable greed and the ephemeral quality of youth. Gulabo Sitabo has its moments, the characters and their eccentricities stay with us but how much undivided attention can it command when the going gets slightly tedious?
Our rating: 3 Quints out of 5