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Rising Sun Films and Kino Works’ Gulabo Sitabo is the story of an old man, Mirza (Amitabh Bachchan), who believes himself to be the owner of a mansion, and his tenant, Bankey (Ayushmann Khurrana). Mirza can’t stand Bankey because he is quite a motormouth. On his part, Bankey also hates Mirza with a vengeance. Bankey is only one of the many tenants of Mirza.
While Mirza would do anything to have Bankey out of his mansion, more so because he refuses to increase the rent, Bankey is fed up of Mirza not spending a rupee on the upkeep and maintenance of the mansion. One day, a frustrated Bankey kicks the toilet wall which breaks because it hasn’t been repaired since ages. Mirza wants Bankey to bear the cost of repairing the toilet wall but Bankey won’t budge. According to Bankey, Mirza should be carrying out urgent repairs to the entire mansion. A government archaeologist and a lawyer enter the scene.
Archaeologist Gyanesh Shukla (Vijay Raaz) wants to help Bankey and all the other tenants or so he pretends. On the other hand, lawyer Christopher (Brijendra Kala) is hired by Mirza to have the mansion transferred in his name. For, the mansion is actually registered in his Begum’s (Farrukh Jafar) name. For the transfer, Christopher asks Mirza to get an NOC from his aged Begum and her relatives as the mansion is her ancestral property. What happens to the mansion, to Mirza and to Bankey forms the crux of the drama.
Juhi Chaturvedi has penned a story which is based in Lucknow. It is a story about ordinary human beings. While Mirza is a wily old man waiting for his wife to die so that he can have the property transferred in his name, Bankey is hoping that he can either have the part of the mansion in which he lives with his family, for life, at the meagre rent he has been paying or be given a house elsewhere in lieu of vacating the mansion. The story is nice but only upto a point. Since it is basically about crooked people, there is no real white character or hero in the drama. That’s one minus point of the story for the Hindi film-going audience which has grown up on seeing a hero in every story. Juhi Chaturvedi’s screenplay unfolds with arguments between Mirza and Bankey, which are entertaining and enjoyable. Their oneupmanship evokes laughter at places and smiles at others. However, the laughter and smiles reduce once the archaeologist and lawyer enter the scene. After that, the interaction between Mirza and Bankey is reduced a great deal — and that, in fact, is the biggest drawback because the confrontation scenes between the old man and his young tenant are the best part of the drama. What then remains for the audience to really enjoy is the acting of Mirza and Bankey.
In a way, the screenplay, therefore, can be divided into two portions — the first portion which is quite entertaining, and the second portion which is engaging in parts only while being long-drawn and boring in other parts. Overall, the screenplay is written in a manner that the viewer sometimes gets the feeling that he’s watching a television serial — and this has nothing to do with the real characters or lack of larger-than-life characters, ostentatious sets and lip-synch songs. Another point about the screenplay is that it is slow-paced and class-appealing, more so because it moves on a single track only. There are a few sub-plots but they are sketchy and come as asides in the film. Since there is just one track, the drama becomes tedious and sometimes even boring after the first few reels. Even the climax leaves you with a feeling of sadness and depression rather than one of exhilaration and elation, which the Hindi cinema-going audiences are used to.
Juhi Chaturvedi’s dialogues are very good and entertaining.
Amitabh Bachchan is fabulous as Mirza. His acting is remarkable. He plays the scheming old man with such conviction that it is a delight to watch him perform. His gait and walking style add tremendously to his character. His act of losing balance and falling down whenever he hears a good or bad news is hilarious and adds to the comedy. Special mention must be made of his make-up and prosthetics (Pia Cornelius). Ayushmann Khurrana is fantastic in the role of Bankey. He plays the Lucknow-bred lad to perfection and entertains with his natural performance. It is sheer pleasure to watch him stand his own in front of the towering Bachchan. But it must be added here that Ayushmann does not get as much scope as the viewers desire in the post-interval portion. Vijay Raaz leaves a fine mark as archaeologist Gyanesh Shukla. Brijendra Kala is lovely as lawyer Christopher. Farrukh Jafar makes her presence beautifully felt in the role of Mirza’s Begum. Her dialogue delivery brings a smile on the viewer’s face. Srishti Shrivastava is first-rate as Bankey’s firebrand sister, Guddo. Poornima Sharma has her moments as Bankey’s girlfriend, Fauzia. Nalneesh Neel (as mute Sheikhu), Tina Bhatia (as Dulahin), Mohammed Naushad (as the puppeteer), Archana Shukla (as Susheela), Ananya Dwivedi (as Neetu), Ujali Raj (as Payal), Sunil Kumar Verma (as Mishraji), Azad Mishra (as Sayyad), Uday Veer Singh Yadav (as Munna Saxena), Shri Prakash Bajpai (as Pandeyji), Poonam Mishra (as Mishrain), Jogi Mallang (as Munmunji), Trilochan Kalra (as Sinha), Behram Rana (as Abdul Rehman), Zia Ahmed Khan (as Doctor), Devendra Modi (as the kafan shop owner), and the others lend perfect support.
Shoojit Sircar’s direction is very good but he caters more to the class audience than to the universal audience. He has recreated the Lucknow look, feel and ambience beautifully. Music (Shantanu Moitra, Abhishek Arora and Anuj Garg) is not of the popular variety. Yet, the songs have their own appeal for the elite audience. However, the masses will not approve of the music. Lyrics (Puneet Sharma, Dinesh Pant and Vinod Dubey) are in synch with the mood of the drama. Shantanu Moitra’s background music is pretty impactful. Avik Mukhopadhayay’s cinematography is lovely. Mansi Dhruv Mehta’s production designing and Pradip Jadhav’s art direction are splendid. Chandrashekhar Prajapati’s editing is crisp.
On the whole, Gulabo Sitabo is a film with limited appeal. It will be liked by the elite but not as much by the masses. Its viewership on Amazon Prime will, of course, be huge because it’s the first big star-cast film to be premiered on an OTT platform due to the lockdown closure of cinemas. In cinemas, the film would have probably netted Rs. 65-70 crore.
Released on 12-6-’20 on Amazon Prime Video in more than 200-plus countries, with subtitles in various languages.