Gulabo Sitabo

A scene from the movie Gulabo Sitabo
Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana in a scene from Gulabo Sitabo.

Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Ayushmann Khurrana, Vijay Raaz, Bijendra Kala, Srishti Shrivastava
Director: Shoojit Sircar
My ratings: 3.5/5, IMDB & Rotten Tomatoes ratings not available

Background: The world may have come to a temporary halt due to the pandemic outbreak but as they always say in Bollywood “The show must go on”, Gulabo Sitabo (or Gibo Sibo) is the first big multi-starrer Bollywood movie which on 12 June 2020 world-premiered on OTT platform Amazon Prime Video before getting a theatrical release.

After giving us numerous hits and critically acclaimed movies like Vicky Donor (2012), Piku (2015) and Pink (2016) and October (2018), director Shoojit Sircar is back in the ring with a complete entrainment capsule of a socially satirical Hindi drama with a pinch of little dark humour. The film derives its title from the two puppets that appeared at periodic intervals — Gulabo and Sitabo — who seem to be constantly fighting with each other out of their never-ending greed.

With a brilliant star cast of legendary superstar Amitabh Bachchan and the fresh yet amazingly talented Aayushman Khurana, the movie is very strong from the casting angle. Amitabhji and Ayushmann have always been Shoojit’s first choice when it comes to satire and comedy be it Vicky Donor or Piku.

Amitabh plays the role of a cranky, grumpy 78-year-old Mirza Chunnan Nawab who looks after a now-dilapidated 100-year-old mansion, Fatima Mahal (inherited by his wife Fatima begum or Fatto), since he got married. His love for the mansion and greed of its ownership is far more than anything else. His wife Fatto (played by Farrukh Jaffar), who is 17 years older, is in her golden 95, still healthy and not ready to die which Mirza wishes badly every day to get the legal ownership of the mansion!

Ayushmann, who plays the role of Bankey Rastogi, a poor aata-chaki owner with a ‘faulty measuring scale’, has a family of five to support, a mother and 3 sisters, theirs is one of the five tenant families who pay a negligible rent to Mirza ranging from Rs 30-70. The eldest sister of Bankey, Guddo, a witty, smart and verbose girl is played by a well-known YouTube star Srishti Shrivastava who has proven her talent in many web series and comedy videos on YouTube channels like Girliayapa and TVF. Out of all the tenants Mirza refers Bankey as the only ‘blood-sucking leech’ of his life as he pays the least rent and always dominates over Mirza in a constant denial to increase the rent or vacate the house of which Bankey and his family nabbed a portion 70 years ago.

Veterans Vijay Raaz (Gyanesh Shukla, a witty government archaeological officer) and Bijendra Kala (Christopher Clarke who “speaks English only at home”, a lawyer specialised in nabbing houses from tenants) have done justice to their equally important supporting roles parallel to Bankey and Mirza.

A scene from the movie Gulabo Sitabo

Storyline: From the very opening of the film, Mirza and Bankey are shown in a constant feud over unpaid rent and nabbed property by the tenant families. Mirza wants Bankey and other tenants to vacate the mansion so that after his wife’s death Mirza can inherit the full ownership of the old mansion. Bankey’s and other four poor families will never want to vacate the property because of the minimal rent they have to pay. The feud goes to the police station resulting from the witty pranks played by Mirza on Bankey. The archaeological officer Gyanesh sniffs an opportunity and enters into the story; he wants to declare the mansion a heritage site for his own motives.

Gyanesh tries to collude with Bankey and the other tenants and promises them government flats to live in if the mansion becomes a heritage site. But Mirza is no fool and is quick to launch his own secret weapon, Christopher Clark. Clark has his own greed and personal motives for selling the mansion to a renowned builder Mun Munji to make a good cut out of the deal.

Clarke suggests Mirza find other possible heirs of Fatima Begum’s mansion and ask them an NOC for the mansion’s rightful ownership after Begum. Gyanesh suggests that Bankey trick Mirza into getting stone samples from the mansion in order to lab test them to declare it a heritage site. But towards the second half, their dices roll opposite ways as Bankey and other tenants are shown receiving cash as a percentage of cut from Clarke’s builder. Mun Munji, unfavourable to Mirza and Gyanesh, goes back on his promise of government flats to tenants, a fact favourable to Mirza. But suddenly in between all this mayhem some shocking news about Fatima Begum surfaces which leaves the characters and viewers frozen in shock.

The story build-up claims a major chunk of the movie. Although there are no executable comedy punches, the idea of greed, the very spirit of the storyline has a silent and slightly dark satirical humour evenly spread throughout the 120-minute journey. The story is a little slow and sluggish in the first half but the backbone support of Vijay Raaz and Bijendra Kala adds a comical pace to it which binds the viewers throughout the film. In Bollywood, we don’t see too many intelligently made satires but this one navigates that genre skilfully, with a climax that’s surprising and humorous.

Trivia about Gibo Sibo: Prosthetic make-up was used to model Amitabh’s witty nose. He worked really hard on the gibberish tone to well define his ‘Mirzaness’ throughout the movie — with his thick beard, even thicker glasses, crouched shoulders and a limp in his walk.Three-time National Award winner Avik Mukhopadhyay proved his acumen again in cinematography by showing the old-time charm of Lucknow, the dilapidated mansion, cycle rickshaw and narrow lanes. His camera says to you as it takes you through the city, ‘Muskuraiye, aap Lucknow mein hain’. Juhi Chaturvedi is credited for infusing life into the movie with her hard work on the story, dialogues and screenplay.

Every character in the movie is shown having their own vested interests in the mansion for which they try to trick others which is generally seen in real life today as well. Shoojit’s Gulabo Sitabo picks up one of the seven deadly sins, greed, as the central theme and tells a satirical tale through two quarrelsome but headstrong characters.

Shoojit’s message is short and simple: ‘You come from dust and to dust you shall return.’

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