By Joginder Tuteja
Director Priyadarshan had once famously said that his films are basically ‘comedy of poverty’. Especially after the success of Hera Pheri, this started making sense as well. Now in a way, Shoojit Sircar’s Gulabo Sitabo could well be paying an ode to this genre, though it is more as a ‘dramedy of poverty’.
The core backdrop is in fact somewhat similar. In Hera Pheri, it was about the clash of landlord Babu Bhaiyaa [Paresh Rawal] and his ‘muftkhor’ tenant Raju [Akshay Kumar]. In Gulabo Sitabo, the set up has Mirza [Amitabh Bachchan] and Bankey [Ayushmann Khurranna] being exasperated with each other. They are all perpetually broke. Mirza needs to sell off bulbs and chandeliers from his ‘sau saal puraani haveli’ to make ends meet, Bankey doesn’t even have a measly 30 rupees to pay off his monthly rent.
Well, the conflict is real, though at the core of it all, things are rather innocent. No one really means big harm to each other. When Mirza sees Bankey’s little sister unwell, he forgets all about his rent. When Bankey sees Mirza stepping out in sun to get custody of his house, there is a bit of genuine concern in there somewhere.
Yet, they begin and end their days with taunting each other, especially about their poor status. Mirza doesn’t believe Bankey is ‘khandaani’ by a distance, and Bankey believes that it is about time Mirza moves on from the facade of being a ‘nawab’.
The premise could well have made for a rollicking comedy, the one which is over the top with several slapstick movements thrown in as well. However, the world as imagined by writer Juhi Chaturvedi and as visualized by director Shoojit Sircar is different. They keep it all subtle, and realistic. There aren’t any overtly high or low moments in the film. It all stays static, even though there are opportunities galore to make things a lot more dramatic, courtesy an archaeology officer [Vijay Raaz] and a lawyer [Brijendra Kala].
The men in fact have quite some screen time in the film which is spearheaded by a living legend for over half a century and a star who has seen seven theatrical successes in a row already. While Big B still manages to make the biggest impact, with several meaty scenes to his credit, surprisingly one sees Ayushmann rather sparsely in the film with his scenes scattered here and there. There are glimpses of brilliance that the actor throws occasionally, the kind that he is known for now with his current star status. However, one would have expected a lot more of him.
There are no such complaints around Amitabh Bachchan’s presence in the film though. Right from his body language to his mannerisms to the way he brings on emotions around his frequent amazement at all that money can buy to his makeup, there is a new Amitabh Bachchan that one gets to see. That said, at least for the first 30 minutes, it is tough to comprehend some of his dialogues, though courtesy the film’s release on OTT, there are subtitles to help the cause.
There are subtleties at play though in this dramedy that moves at its own fine pace for those two hours. It takes long to comprehend the relationship between Amitabh Bachchan and his 95 year old wife Farrukh Jafar, who actually has a major role to play in the narrative, till there is substantial duration of the film that has passed.
Also, you aren’t much convinced about the intentions and actions of Vijay Raaz and Brijendra Kala, especially around whose side are they really on. Moreover, for all the self assurance that Ayushmann’s sister (played by Srishti Shrivastava) comes with, it borders on being overdone. The pre-climax and the climax, though surprising indeed with a major twist, puzzles you too.
Still, what remains with you is the ‘dramedy of poverty’ that both Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurranna find themselves in. Tragic as it may seem, especially with the kind of after lives that both the characters are faced with, you do realize that the fable of the ever-squabbling Gulabo Sitabo did fit in well into the overall theme of their life and times.