The Puppeteer has the final call in Gulabo Sitabo! – Movie Review

Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Ayushmann Khurrana, Vijay Raaz, Brijendra Kala, Shrishti Shrivastava, Farrukh Jafar

Director: Shoojit Sircar

Based on the glove-puppet UP folk tale of two women Sitabo ( the wife) and Gulabo the (mistress) who are constantly bickering,  director Shoojit Sircar places his main protagonists Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana in a space where they are constantly at loggerheads with each other. The main character in the film is a dilapidated haveli called Fatima Mahal, that Amitabh’s character Mirza covets ( it belongs to his wife, who is 15 years older to him, whose death he awaits) and Baanke’s character played by Ayushmann who is his illegal tenant for several years.

Amitabh Bachchan, the actor, surrenders to the character of Mirza, in gait, expression, voice and demeanour. He plays the avaricious Mirza who leaves no stone unturned to grab the haveli, including sneaking into his wife’s room to get her thumbprints on the land’s documents, when she is asleep. Ayushmann holds his ground as Baanke, constantly engaging in verbal duels with Mirza. Their constant altercations are a big highlight of this slow-paced film. Baanke’s sisters are shown to be smarter than him, especially Shrishti Shrivastava, who plays the spunky, liberated and opinionated Guddo.

While goats bleat in the background in the mornings and cats mew in the nights, Shoojit Sircar and his cinematographer Avik Mukhopadhyay, create an RK Narayanish world that you are led into – the other tenants, the government officials,  the gulleys and archways of Lucknow, the old crumbling haveli with its broken balconies and dark, dingy, over-crowded rooms, the broken furniture, the antiques, etc. All this, enhanced by the fantastic background score,  the well-chosen lyrics of songs, inspired by literature and folk themes and lyrics that describe characters – ‘achkan ke dhaagon pe latke hain budhau’ for instance. The film’s music has been composed by Anuj Garg, Shantanu Moitra and Abhishek Arora who have given a folk touch to the film’s album. Dinesh Pant, Vinod Dubey and Puneet Sharma have penned the lyrics.

The beauty of the direction is when the real struggle for the existence of a common man is made so real that it becomes laughable. Greed is portrayed without judgment and human follies including a  sense of false pride is expressed in fine detail that makes you smile. Brijendra Kala who plays Christopher Clark, a lawyer who specializes in disputed property cases, prides himself of speaking English at home- and that he has ‘lunch’ and ‘dinner.’ Gyanesh Shukla (Vijay Raaz) calls himself archaeology, is an archeologist who covets the haveli to seal it and create a museum.

The film is about an almost dead aristocratic culture and its remnants and how today’s commercial world tries to encash on it, either due to need or greed. There is an underlying pathos in the film where you see poverty and the struggle of tenants who fear losing a roof over their heads. The beauty in the writing by Juhi Chaturvedi is that no character is judged and the women characters are shown smarter than their male counterparts. T

The twist in the film is when the puppeteer has the last call. As you watch the real-life puppeteer Mohammed Naushad in the film, you also learn towards the end of the film, who is that one character who holds the strings, the actual madaari. You will need patience to watch who delivers the final blow. Watch out for the 87-year-old actor Farrukh Jafar who plays Begum and MMirza’s wife in the film. Jafar played Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s grandmother in Photograph and actor Rekha’s mother in the 1981 film Umrao Jaan and was seen in Peepli Live too. She’ s fantastic.

Watch Gulabo Sitabo for being a piece of art like Shoojit Sircar’s October. Its pace shouldn’t deter you!

Rating : 3 out of 5


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