Set in Lucknow, a 100-year-old haveli (mansion) Fatima Mahal is in a dilapidated condition but home to many families who pay a meagre sum of Rs 30-50 as rent. The mansion is lorded over by a miser Mirza Chunnan Nawab (Amitabh Bachchan) who is always in a tussle with one of his tenants Baankey Rastogi (Ayushman Khurrana). Their fights, arguments and constant bickering is the crux of the movie that takes you into a world of chaos. The title of the film too has been inspired by two constantly fighting puppets- Gulabo and Sitabo – and is a perfect metaphor for the story written by Juhi Chaturvedi and directed by Shoojith Sircar.
78-year-old Mirza's lifelong dream to own the property which is under the possession of his wife takes a different turn when he tries to evict Baankey and his family from the mansion. Both Mirza and Baankey squabble throughout the film when an official of the archaeological department and a lawyer plan to get hold of the mansion by fooling Mirza and Baankey for their own hidden agenda. In fact, everyone has an agenda. Mirza is greedy so much so that he decided not to have kids as he might have to share the property. But Baankey is also no less than him. He also tries his best and acts smart to get away from paying a decent rent.
Amitabh Bachchan gives a stellar performance with his prosthetic makeup to fit into Shoojith’s pale, old Mirza. His flawless body language- the way he walks, the never-smiling face, sparkling eyes, and the energy- draws your sympathy but at the same time annoys you for his behaviour. But it is amazing to watch Bachchan act as Mirza.
Just like how Ayushmann Khurrana has nailed all the unconventional roles he has ever done; the actor has again done justice to his character Baankey. He sinks into the skin of the character of a man from an economically down strata with lots of responsibilities. This is the first time that the duo is sharing screen space together making it a flawless performance. When it comes to women characters be it Begum, Fauzia or Guddu, they are head strong. The film has a solid cast that helps it stand apart.
The dialogues in Gulabo Sitabo mixed with Lakhnawi Zubaan (local tongue) are spot-on. The film has also captured the layers of life through some wonderful quirky characters like Baankey’s sister Guddu (Srishti Shrivastava) and archaeological officer played by Vijay Raaz. But the film crumbles when the cat and mouse game of Mirza and Baankey and their constant banter loses its depth after a point. The dispute moves on but not the film. The writing is not the best in Gulabo Sitabo and it fails to keep you hooked but later struggles to climb back to the plot in the second half.
At the same time, Sircar has captured even the minute details like the colour of the film it is set in, the backgrounds, the numerous old buildings in Lucknow, the nawabi world, and some very relatable characters one might have crossed paths with. Cinematographer Abhik Mukhopadhyay’s camera has etched Lucknow’s old charm capturing the cycle rickshaws, old narrow lanes, street vendors and pretty havelis.
Shootjit Sircar's Gulabo Sitabo is a social satire on how greed takes your life to unimaginable situations you would never opt for. And it definitely drives home a point. The film is simple but you will definitely fall for those peculiar characters in it.