For a densely populated country like India, the ratio between a landlord and his/her tenants are one-to-many. Landlords are often seen bickering with the tenants over rents, services provided, conditions of the house etc.. The tenants are equally despondent while dealing with the landlord, over increased rentals and ever decaying conditions of the house. They say, just like a marriage, the relationship between a landlord and the tenant is also psychological. One of them is psycho and the other one is logical, but it ain’t clear who is who! Director Shoojit Sircar’s ‘Gulabo Sitabo’ is a black comedy about a landlord and his game of oneupmanship with his tenants. It is a very interesting concept for the days we are living in, especially in the last few months, where many landlords and tenants are equally suffering due to ongoing lockdown. But don’t even think for a second that this is a sob story. If at all, it is a story about people with eccentricities and their ways of dealing with life. 

Mirza Chumman Nawab stays in a dilapidated mansion ‘Fatima Mahal’, owned and named after his ailing wife Fatima Begum aka Fatto. Bankey is one of the many tenants of the mansion, who has been living there for years, for a meagre amount of rent. He regularly misses out on paying rent. Mirza, on the other hand, compensates with stealing bulbs, cycle bells and other assorted items of the tenants. Amidst this tussle, Gyanesh Shukla, an employee of the archaeology department sets his eye on this mansion, to get it restored as a heritage property. So he enlists Bankey’s help in it, promising him a house in return. Even Mirza has his own agenda, as he seeks prospective buyers for the land, on which the mansion stands. In this game of oneupmanship, who emerges as the winner, forms the crux of the story.

Set in the charming old-world Lucknow, the princely state of the yore, ‘Gulabo Sitabo’ talks about the idiosyncrasies of people. Mirza is a 78-year-old, geriatric miser, who despises his tenants. The fact that the mansion is owned by his wife and he has been relegated as a mere caretaker, eats him from within. Mirza is often found stealing things from the mansion and selling in the market. Per his own admission, the only thing that he ever desired was the mansion. Baankey is a much younger man compared to Mirza and is the sole earning member of his family that has three sisters and his mother. His earnings come from a flour mill yet the cheapskate in him doesn’t allow him to pay the rent citing abject poverty. These are real people, their characters have been etched out from common folks that reside in small-town India. Just see the way, Mirza gets a gush of blood to the head when he tries to contemplate the amount of 5 lakh INR offered to him. Or look at Baankey, when his ex-girlfriend mercilessly teases him by asking about organic flour, while getting out of a swanky new car. As an audience, one does relate to these people because they behave just the way the ordinary folks would do under adverse situations.

Director Shoojit Sircar and writer Juhi Chaturvedi weave the story about a concept that’s quite prevalent in today’s India – land grabbing. Real estate mafia is known for either poaching unclaimed lands or intimidating landowners to give ups their property. Here we see a different aspect of it. Gyanesh Shukla, the all-knowing man from the archaeology department, who seemingly wants to convert the mansion to a heritage building, has a hidden agenda. It’s a sly remark about many government offices and agencies which operate out of historical buildings in India. The characters that roam around Mirza and Baankey are even memorable ones. Fatima, the ailing wife of Mirza, knows about Mirza’s kleptomania but she keeps mum. Baankey’s sister Guddo, is a young, determined and headstrong woman, who doesn’t mind having her flings on the rooftop or visiting the nearby lodge for a casual one night stand, to get her job done. The lawyer Christopher Clark, who always talks in English and for food, takes only ‘Lunch’ and ‘Dinner’. The mute servant Shaikhu, who is the man Friday for Mirza. These are some of the colourful characters that are going to stay with you, even after the movie is over.

It’s a pleasure to see Shoojit’s actors in works, especially when they are Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana. Seamlessly imbibing into their respective characters as hunchbacked Mirza and lisping Baankey, these two are on the top of their game. So is the ever-brilliant Vijay Raaz. Just like his character Baankey, he’s the man for all seasons. What an actor! Srishti Srivastava as Guddo, Farrukh Jaffar as Fatima, Brijendra Kala as Christopher Clark and Nalneesh Neel as Shaikhu have performed astoundingly. In fact, everyone in the ensemble cast has done great work. After all, when you have an ensemble this good, the film is bound to get better in every aspect. Shantanu Moitra and Anuj Garg’s music, especially the background score by Shantanu Moitra is poetic. Avid Mukhopadhyay’s lenses capture a relatively unknown face of the scenic Lucknow. Juhi Chaturvedi who also has written the quirky dialogues gives an air of authenticity to the typical characters of Lucknow. At a running time of two hours and four minutes, the film is crisp, thanks to the razor-sharp editing by Chandrashekhar Prajapati.

‘Gulabo Sitabo’ is just like a slow-cooked gourmet meal. One has to enjoy it, by savouring its flavour. Take your time, settle down, put aside that smartphone and enjoy the ride. It’s one hell of a film.

‘Gulabo Sitabo’ now streaming worldwide at Amazon Prime.

Running time – 2 hours 4 minutes. Parental Guidance – U


The Cinemawala Rating: 3/5

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