Juhi Chaturvedi and Shoojit Sircar are two of the most distinctive talents in the business. Juhi, the writer, creates some of the most well-defined, rooted characters while Shoojit understands the world she creates and translates it beautifully on screen. This makes for one of the best collaborations in Hindi cinema, creating films that are as unique as their craft. With the success of Vicky Donor and Piku, one would expect them to continue being accessible while exploring new subjects. But with October, it was evident that they function primarily for their material, and would not hesitate to make a quiet, stagnant film even when it stars one of the biggest young actors in the lead.
Their latest – Gulabo Sitabo, which is one of the many to ditch the looming big screen affair to have a direct OTT release, is, in its tone, melancholic like an October, but packaged like a Piku. And it is yet again driven by Shoojit and Juhi. The plot revolves around Baankey (Ayushmann) and Mirza (Amitabh Bachhan) being at constant loggerheads, fighting to benefit from the royal (but now dilapidated) mansion owned by Begum (Farrukh Jaffar). Both Baankey and Mirza come from a phase of life where they are done trying the conventional ways to make ends meet. Their struggle is common and never actually influence each other’s lives, but they find it incredibly easy to lay the blames.
In Piku, Deepika’s character talks to Rana (Irrfan) about choosing between reserving the loving memories associated with a residence close to heart, and being pragmatic about the value it holds. Gulabo Sitabo extends that thread and sets it up in Lucknow – a city also dealing with a reclined past and a fast-paced present.
There are many such themes Gulabo Sitabo lets us explore. But at the face of it, the film is mostly about the constant bickering between the tenant and landlord. There is humor extracted from this banter, and the absurdity of the scene. The screenplay itself though, have very little quirks to keep the chuckles going. Their fight is endless and futile, and we as audience are made to feel this futility through most of the runtime.
But despite that, the film never derails. Little details – like Baankey’s monthly rent of Rs. 30, Begum’s genuine amusement over whether she had an arranged marriage or eloped with Mirza and Baankey’s sister being way more smarter than him – contribute to the whimsy. The accent and dialect – as authentic as it can seem to someone who haven’t been to the city – add wonderfully to the quirks. All the actors – from Amitabh re-establishing his towering talent in deep prosthetic to the wonderful Farrukh Jaffar as his Begum – get their moments to shine.
This is, by far, Shoojit and Juhi’s weakest film. There is a lot that it tries to achieve, but falls short of the brilliance they are known for. Still, there is so much you can take away from this journey. The omnipresent nature of greed, the struggles in fulfilling aspirations and the love which gets compromised in pursuit of bigger things in life.
Overall, Gulabo Sitabo works in its philosophies, but may not deliver completely on the fun.