One line: Gulabo Sitabo is avoidable for most of the people. The film will speak to its select audience, who won’t be able to avoid it. The film is far from perfect, but the world of the film is something that draws you in slowly but surely. I’ll need another couple of times to see this film, and although I know the film isn’t for theaters, such textures and tones on screen would have been magical.RG’s Blog Take on Gulabo Sitabo
If you’ve come here, you already know the premise of the film. The landlord Mirza is someone whom everyone hates, and who loves his haveli ‘Fatima Mahal’ (mansion). The tenant ‘Baankey’ doesn’t want to let go of this haveli too. And this is the crux of the story, explained in the beginning about the fight between the two: Gulabo Sitabo. It’s almost a folklore kind of tale. Yet, it has a taste and treatment that I’ve not seen in Indian films. It almost reminded me of Three Colors Trilogy. It’s a sepia-toned film that is strictly for a section of audience, and thankfully it has released on OTT with plenty of subtitled options – because this film is for a specific audience all over the world, and not for even the hardcore parallel cinema lovers at times.
Why is it so different? The treatment. It’s almost as if the film is playing in a different world, yet it marries the problems and intricacies of the current world. The film is full of heart, yet it speaks of melancholy, and of some very basic emotions. It speaks about people who’ve left emotions altogether. Be it the tenants or the landlord, or the lovely Begum, this film has characters so immersed in their own world that they’ve forgotten the art of interaction.
The film talks about some very important topics. The government offices and how they operate, the issues of long-standing tenants and the almost incomprehensible laws and judgments with regards to the same, while also giving a clue on to the worlds of royal families and their present status. The fact that Fatima Mahal isn’t an only building is a thought to ponder. There are countless such mansions in India with rich heritage and history associated. Yet, they’ve been in shambles. Some have residents, at least had till a few years back while their owners still lived, while others are mere ruins. The luckier ones get a tourism plate on them and survive by serving the chalkboard of promises for young lovers, and their abode for moments of passion. Yet a few get turned into resorts.
There’s so much going on in this film, there’s so much layering, and so much depth, that we forget the writing also has some crisp dialog and a beautiful storyline. The flaws, however, start here. The film suffers from incomplete story arcs. Perhaps that’s the crux of the story, that it is a cycle and nothing is complete in itself. That, however, needed a better representation, if it was the case. Take, for example, Patakha, a folklore kind of a story of two sisters – and how the climax showcased exactly what it was. Gulabo Sitabo also suffered from incomplete ends from the ASI’s story, the builder’s story, while the best part of it was Begum herself.
Some of the performances are endearing. Amitabh Bachchan seems to have given in his everything to the role. A scene where he almost draws a circle while walking on the road stays fresh. His body language speaks. His face, covered with prosthetics, isn’t a good idea personally. For a character like his, the nose is the most important part of the face. His nose is so heavily done that there is no scope of movement. It looks dead. And hence the character loses some charm. A nose that can enact (well noses do, and Amitabh knows that better than most) is much better than an artificially elongated nose to make it appear crooked. Even the forehead seems to carry very similar expressions owing to heavy prosthetics. Let’s go back to ‘Saand ki Aankh’ – a film dumped for its prosthetics. I had made a point during the film that more prosthetics often mean that the characters can’t emote as well. Here’s the example of the same. Perhaps finding the right balance is key?
Farrukh Jaffar as Begum is so charming. The way she speaks some of her dialog like ‘phir kuchh din apni shakal mat dikahna’ (Don’t show your face for a few days) so naturally is the real fun. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that she lights up the screen every time she is on the screen. She is 87 in real life. Kudos to her work, really.
Ayushman Khurana, the slice-of-life film actor, seems to have disappointed. The problem is that we’ve seen this work of Ayushman plenty of times. And with not enough meat in his character – mostly being a one-tone guy, he doesn’t really add anything special to make it go extraordinary. Perhaps the writing has disappointed him, and perhaps the others had such meatier and beautiful roles, including his sister Guddo played by an effortless Srishti Srivastava. Even the rest of the family, especially the sisters, are so fresh and chirpy. Even Mishra Ji plays his part beautifully.
ASI Officer played by Vijay Raaz just catches on. It’s the second film of Vijay Raaz and Ayushman together that I’ve seen in a couple of days, the other being Dreamgirl, and I’m amazed how he differentiates the seemingly similar looking characters. Also, his delivery is just class apart. Same can be said about Brijendra Kala’s Advocate character. The first thing when you see Brijendra Kala on screen is a smile, an affectionate smile. And then, he makes you laugh (only in comedy).
Overall, Gulabo Sitabo is in some way a heavily-layered dark film that can easily be avoided. It is for a small audience. The film is also a reminder of Shoojit Sircar’s first film ‘Yahaan’. That film also had a tone that is carried throughout, and there was peace in the tone of a film on Kashmir, tackling plenty of issues on the backdrop of a love story. Here, the tone is of melancholy, but on the backdrop of so many issues and relations and people, that it almost appears too crowded for melancholy. To be honest, I wasn’t impressed by the film for the first half-hour or so and wanted to avoid it. But then, somehow, the magic started happening. I almost fell in love with this world, a flawed world. The basic lesson from the film, though, comes in the form of ‘greed’. Writer Juhi Chaturvedi is someone I’m awe-inspired by, because of what she has managed to do in films like October, Piku, and Madras Cafe. Her writing is always layered and almost textured. Perhaps it also comes down to the combination of writer-director, but they bring tones and textures on screen very subtly and artistically.
One line: Gulabo Sitabo is avoidable for most of the people. The film will speak to its select audience, who won’t be able to avoid it. The film is far from perfect, but the world of the film is something that draws you in slowly but surely. I’ll need another couple of times to see this film, and although I know the film isn’t for theaters, such textures and tones on screen would have been magical.