A gender-gauging review of Shoojit Sircar’s Gulabo Sitabo starring Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana, premiering on Amazon Prime on 12 June 2020
By Bharathi S Pradhan
Columnist, Critic & Author
Women On Top
In a war between tenant Baankey Rastogi and owner’s husband Mirza, who wins?
Or, how does the one-upmanship between two roadside puppets, Gulabo and Sitabo end?
Baankey with his mother and three sisters have been tenants of Fatima Mahal forever and they won’t move out. Or allow a hike in the rent.
Avaricious and penny-counting Mirza drools at the thought of being sole owner of the neglected but sprawling property.
Nonagenarian Begum, 17 years older than husband Mirza, hovers slimly between life and death, looking disconnected in her zenana. As Mirza reveals early, she’d once tried to elope with someone called Ahmed Rehman but settled for Mirza, a willing ghar jamai.
Mercifully, in neither Baankey and Mirza’s childish battles nor Baankey’s chemistry-less romance with Fauzia, do writer Juhi Chaturvedi or director Shoojit Sircar allow the narrative to slip into a communal discourse.
If they’ve taken care to avoid that overused turn, they’ve also lavished much effort to ensure that they make a ‘women on top’ statement. Like Baankey’s sister Guddo is sharper, better educated and wiser than him and she’s feisty to boot. And Begum who has little time for greedy Mirza, is no fool.
On a gender scale, Gulabo Sitabo would fetch 8/10 for the director who gave us PINK and Piku.
As a film for the whole family, it’s a clean two-hour watch.
Whither The Mehndi?
There are a few unexpected moments like the time Mirza tries to get Begum’s thumb impression. But writer Juhi and director Shoojit would have done well to sprinkle the frivolous battles between Mirza and Baankey with much more wit and banter. There are other tenants too but they’re reduced to the shadows making it more a personal clash between Baankey and Mirza.
Most unacceptably, Begum is introduced with a domestic help applying copious amounts of mehndi in her hair. Begum’s admonishments with every stroke of mehndi, try hard to provide a light touch. But the effort seems laboured especially when Begum is shown with gleaming silver hair all through without a trace of mehndi anywhere in it. Whither the mehndi?
Government officials and private lawyers are cardboardish, rather obvious with their hidden agendas that don’t come as a surprise.
When you look at it, the creative team has been sophisticated in using the metaphor of puppets and in courageously not adhering to conventional elements. Like there is no romance, Baankey and Fauzia’s trysts are without spark. And the importance of an emotional connect with its main characters is given the heave-ho, they don’t stir you in any way.
But Amitabh Bachchan’s Mirza is consistent though there is a fleeting shot of his clean foot when he’s buying a pair of chappals which is out-of-sync with the rest of his shabby getup.
Ayushmann Khurrana is upset and angry all through without a single light moment, not a single smile. Something to take you along with him would have worked better.
But the build-up until the twist in the tale is interesting.
Shoojit has been lucky for Gulabo Sitabo, the 1st major Hindi film that bowed to Covid times to premiere on an OTT, is tailormade for home viewing with the family. For general viewing, it rates 6/10