An Jo on GULABO SITABO


On GULABO SITABO and the battle between crumbling traditions and modernity

Beneath the comic musical-beats of GULABO SITABO, there carries a twang of pain for every beat. There’s a reasoning for everything here; why Amitabh was chosen? Why was he made to be a hunch-back? Why was he lisping on about his famous movie ‘Deewal’?

In perhaps one of his most unadulterated movies ever, coming close on the heels of October—that had a bad actor to begin with—Shoojit takes the finest actor-star the Hindi film industry has ever seen, and pits him against an actor who is known to own small-town-actor roles.

This is a film about people not letting go. The irony that Shoojit and writer Juhi Chaturvedi want to focus on is not just the so-called ‘older’ people, but the younger ones too! And that’s Ayushman’s Bankey Rastogi. He’s happy paying 30 rupees rent per month compared to the other tenants’ rent amounting to 70 rupees in an old dilapidated ‘haveli’ in Lucknow. He approaches Bankey asking him to pay 50 rupees per day for parking his bike, an amount greater than the house-rent! What kind of a logic is this? Amitabh’s Chunmun Mirza Saheb—remember, this name is uttered as a full name only in the last scene; and he is terrific there, as he says: ‘Ya I know my name is Chunmun Mirza Saheb, why are you saying the same thing?’

The film is set-up almost like Sai Paranjape’s KATHA, except that KATHA had more mischievous and some-what less tragically-oriented interferences with day-to-day life interactions amongst the chawl-folks. There’s a hilarious scene when Bankey wakes up in the morning and screams: ‘अरे यहाँ लुमीनिूम की हंडियन पड़ी थी, मिर्ज़ा के चप्पलें पड़ी थी, दो बकरियाँ बांड पड़ी है, साला हमारी ही बल्ब मिला निकालने के लिए! [Of all the aluminum vessels, of Mirza’s chappals, of the goats tied here, only my house’s bulbs were available for stealing!] The Begum [Mirza’s wife, played by a fine Farrukh Jafar; 17 years older than Mirza], comments that what’s the big deal with bulbs? Not as if your property has been stolen! To which Mirza replies: ‘इनकी जायडाड़ोवाले सूरत कहाँ??’ [‘Does his face look like the face of a property-owner?’] And it’s okay and everyone goes back to their ‘so-called’ normal lives. I mention this for a specific reason, since Shoojit/Juhi set-up this ‘play’ if I may call it so, well into the first reel of the film. And then that thread knits the scenes through-out the film, the difference being the battle between a ‘haveli’ and a ‘property’ is played out.

I do not want to write much about the story; since everyone already knows about the folk-lore of GULABO-SITABO; a battle between a younger mistress and an older wife trying to ‘own’ their husband. Suffice it to say, Mirza is the older wife [Sitabo] and Bankey, the younger mistress [Gulabo], and the priceless-husband, the mansion, ‘Fatima-Mahal.’ So, let’s just say, it is Tom and Jerry incorporated [shown in the film as well where Bankey’s younger sisters are enjoying the show.]

The movie, mainly then, is about that struggle everyone and mostly ones in a nation like India are facing: Should we re-visit our heritage, reflected through the crumbling walls (or crumbling traditions) and pillars of something like ‘Fatima Mahal’, or should we just go on with the compartments built on the life-is-a-journey-always-on-the-wheels and one should learn to evolve? Malls and multiplexes were the new ‘in-things’, right? The single-screens that used to give us the pleasure of watching movies without any English-speaking/transliterating ‘je-huzoori’ by the usher or the person selling us fried peanuts or ‘batata-wadas’ or ‘cutting-chai’ is gone. [And if not, the CV-19 will take care of their complete annihilation.] There’s a dialogue between Mirza and his lawyer, the ever-dependable Brijendra Kala’s Christopher [not very different from Christopher Columbus as in Hindi parlance, focusing on property dealings, and the reason perhaps his character being named so – ‘Jaana thaa Japan, pahaunch gaye Cheen!’] Christopher keeps referring to ‘Fatima-Mahal’ in the court-corridor/his-office as a property and advising Mirza to sell it before the ‘Archaeology Society of India’ stamps it a national heritage. Mirza keeps responding to him: ‘Kab se aap property property bol rahe hain, hum bata rahen aapko yeh haveli hain, is mein kiraydaar/log rehete hain.’ Now, that’s one telling statement.

With regard to the performances, Amitabh, again, even with a hunch-back and a prosthetic nose, stands tallest as the cantankerous, curmudgeonly intolerable Mirza. He plays a 78-year old man with nothing to look-forward to, but just a crumbling mansion, a metaphor that speaks to his character. He plays that old-man with hardly any irredeemable features, desiring for his own wife’s death [a love-less marriage nonetheless]; locking toile; stealing bulbs [but hardly a bright bulb himself.] He uses his famous ‘hain’ at the right moments, with such a low-pitched voice and deliberately twisting to ‘haaain’ and ‘haan’, it’s hard to imagine who else could have played this character! What’s noticeable is the way he twists it from his mega-hit movies to suit the purpose demanded here. His right ‘chappal’ is torn, he buys a new one, but still keeps the old, left-one stacked in his arm-pit! His mumblings, his curses and his slight-rise-in-anger in certain scenes is conveyed by him with a measured depth, respecting the character’s age. It’s hilarious and painful to see him fall down and get himself-up when he understands how money is multiplied and tries to understand its value. [Again, as I talked about Shoojit/Juhi’s brilliance, Mirza asks for property rates and calculations from a ‘gol-gappa’ vendor, when the camera-man’s glare is right across a bakery named ‘Modern’s Bakery and Store’.] He still doesn’t get it, mind you; that difference between the ‘value’ of money and how it can meaningfully be useful to one’s life; his life. While this is a haunting performance, one shouldn’t forget that he has already played these kind of performances that capture the human emotions, comprising the 7 sins, quite beautifully, without needing any kind of prosthetics, in SAUDAGAR and PARWANA, and many other films!

Khuraana as Bankey plays the perfect foil to Mirza, and it is a joy to see him threatening a lisping Amitabh when the latter tells him, ‘Hamale aur Hamale haveli ke beech aana na.’     [Don’t step between me and my mansion.] Or his nonchalant, matter-of-fact reply to his live-in-wheat-mill-store girl-friend, Fauzia, that if she were to marry him, she would have to share a ‘jainnt laatrine’ with Mishraji’s family. And then there’s a microwave-oven in his home to heat up ‘biriyani.’ Cannot say much more on the dichotomies/ironies captured here but, there it is.

All the other actors, Vijay Raaz, Bankey’s sisters, Sri Prakash Bajpayee’s Pandeyji, Shrishti Shrivastav, have done a fabulous job here. And of course, how can one forget the double-sided ‘sutradhar’ of this film, Nalneesh Nail’s ‘Shekhu.’

Where I felt disappointed a lot was when Shoojit finally decided to ‘ease-up’ and went over-board with the climactic scenes regarding Shaukat Aapa’s birth-day celebrations, nick-named, ‘Fatty’. That scene was a too-much-in-your-face decrying the contradictions between modernity and traditionalism that Sarkar and Juhi captured so honestly till then. But then, that can be forgiven, with three brilliant scenes; which prove the intent of Shoojit and Juhi: a) The azaan and temple-bells musically play in unison when-ever there’s Mirza walking on the streets of Lucknow;  b) Bankey and Mirza, sitting astride, for once, honestly bare their hearts and talk as to why Mirza married Fatima and what was it that she saw in him, and c) Begum leaving a dilapidated house to Mirza, inspite of all the quibbles, where the only ‘property’ that Mirza carries away painfully is a ‘khandaani’ chair, that he sells for 250 rupees, and it ends up in some auction house in Bombay for it to be consumed about for a vulgar amount, but lowered in value.

And as I mentioned before, this is again that contradiction regarding the human of letting go versus sticking-on; and that’s what eats us up.

Note:

Gully Boy: NANGA HI TOH AAYA THA KYA GHANTA LEKE JAAYEGA

Gulabo Sitabo:

क्या  लेक आयो जग में, क्या लेके जायेगा?

क्या लेके आयो जग में, क्या लेके जायेगा, ओ बंधु

क्षण भंगुर काया, तू कहाँ से लाया?

गुरुवन समझाया, पर समझ ना पाया

ये साँस निगोड़ी, चलती रुको थोड़ी

चल-चल रुक जावे, क्या खोया, पाया?

क्या लेक आयो जग में, क्या लेके जायेगा?

क्या लेके आयो जग में, क्या लेके जायेगा, ओ बंधु

क्या लेक आयो जग में, क्या लेके जायेगा?

क्या लेके आयो जग में, क्या लेके जायेगा, ओ बंधु

ओ मन सुन जोगी बात, यहाँ माया करती घाट

आतम भी तर समझात, मूरख ना समझे बात

है ईश्वर तेरे साथ, काहे मन मा घबरात

हो राम सुमिर दिन-रात, कष्ट समय कट जात.

 

21 Responses to “An Jo on GULABO SITABO”

  1. The Begum [Mirza’s wife, played by a fine Farrukh Jafar; 17 years younger than Mirza]

    It’s 17 years OLDER.

    To me and many, Begum is the scene stealer in this movie even though Amitabh’s is the best performance!

    Like

  2. sanjana Says:

    I was just waiting for this from you. Good to read this and going through all those tragi funny moments.

    Like

  3. Super review Anjo.
    Re.- c) And Bankey leaving a dilapidated house to Mirza, inspite of all the quibbles,
    I thought Begum left a dilapidated house to Mirza .Am I missing something here ?

    Like

  4. tonymontana Says:

    An excellent piece with a lot of to-the-point observations

    Like

    • Thanks Tony.

      Like

    • Big B is the best star actor ever.
      However i think in recent times, and only in small budget movies like Paa or Badla or Gulabo Sitabo he tries too hard. He is not as natural as he is in a larger canvas or set up. He hams more, and sometimes overacts compared to other equally competent actors like Amrish Puri or Sanjeev Kumar or BigG of 70s (Mili, Bemisaal, etc). Compare those natural acts of equal actors you will know what i am saying.

      Take Teen for example which is adapted from 21.
      Kavin Spacey was more chilled out and relaxed. Amitabh in Teen was tensed, and came across as trying too hard.

      In a movie like Badhaai Ho, a Gajendra Singh will do better than Amitabh as latter would try harder, attempt to ace acting, leave a mark etc which on the other hand needs a more relaxed actor who doesnt need to prove anything to anyone.

      Like

  5. Updated!

    Like

  6. Don’t know why but GS also reminded me of the Munshi Premchand’s story-” Pardha”.

    Also copying excerpts from my earlier comment here –

    The only saving grace is the towering Bachchan’s performance, I mean the nuances that he brings to the character of UP Miyan is so perfect, and I have seen quite a few in my life. He reminded me of one of our employee who looked exactly like him with towel wrapped around his head all the time , bent but proud.

    Re. the employee , would like to add that he used to be a well to do khandani person, and due to bad times was with us, my dad gave him proper respect ( called him Khaaan sahab ) and made sure that others including us kids gave him the respect that he deserved .

    Ever since I watched Gulabo- Sitabo, I keep remembering the similarities between Mirza and the employee I knew.
    Exactly as Mirza, he would shoo away the roadside kids who would assemble at our Karkhana , he would always be kadak and shouting at other employees in my dad’s absence but was very quite when my dad was present . my dad would send us to take rides in our Trucks Only with him around.
    He made enough money, but his only problem was ( as told to me by other employees ) that he had two families ( wives ) to feed.
    Bachchan’s performance somehow has really touched me and reminded me of the loving Khaaan (N silent) Sahab.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. ** Sreehari Nair on GS**

    This is not just Amitabh Bachchan’s finest performance in the last 30 years; it’s also a performance that puts the Bachchan hysteria to shame.

    The angry young man is, here, a grumbling old fool, and the template-to-chronicler journey feels like an evolutionary leap.

    For this role, he has quite literally made the journey, from Mumbai, the city responsible for the Bachchan template, to the state of his birth, where, one assumes, he must have spent hours as a child, studying and swallowing human frailties.

    Playing Mirza as a cantankerous type would’ve been easy, and it would’ve been a source of great fun too.

    But Bachchan, together with Chaturvedi, has interpreted Mirza as someone who is slipping without his being aware of it — and this is what gives the character its tragic underpinnings.

    We can perceive that Mirza’s fights with his tenants aren’t just driven by greed; they’re also the old man’s nourishment. And it’s when, toward the end, he’s left without an enemy, that he truly becomes a doddering fellow.

    Someone who specialised in giving blood to our fantasies has transformed into an innkeeper of our most private thoughts — and, for a loyal audience, there’s a certain shock that comes with this realisation.

    A legendary actor like Chaplin, in the latter part of his career, had tried to play against his star persona, and ended up becoming arch, self-serious, and uninvolving.

    Amitabh Bachchan — though he has been at it for some time now — has, in this picture, achieved the perfect synthesis: he has found the Epic inside the Ordinary.

    Mirza is not a man who can be called upon to dispense justice, but a man who stands outside his wife’s room waiting for her to kick the bucket.

    And yet, he’s individualistic, his peevish acts coalesce lightly, and his past comes to us bit by bit: He gets formed in our head, partly by our memories of the star we could never touch, and partly by the stench of those old men and women we’ve intimately known.

    https://www.rediff.com/movies/column/gulabo-sitabo-is-amitabhs-finest-performance/20200630.htm

    Like

    • I have not been able to find courage to change my star image of Big B and watch this movie.
      Audience feedback is strictly average and amongst the weakest of Ayushmann movies in recent years.

      Like

      • Naveen, man, Bachchan might have pleased everyone from Ray to Desai to Sircar to Baz, but pleasing you is a different ball-game altogether! You didn’t like BADLA coz it reminded you of AB in KBC, and now you don’t want to see him as an actor. That’s again your prerogative. But AB should soon start of ways to please you!! LOL.

        Lighter notes apart, I do not agree with Srihari that this is his greatest performance ever, even within the restricted parameter of ‘last 30 years.’ Those, for me, would be KHAKEE and NISHABDH. Though I am glad that AB’s metamorphosis as a senior actor is rightly compared to Chaplin’s!!

        Like

        • Big B is the best star actor ever.
          However i think in recent times, and only in small budget movies like Paa or Badla or Gulabo Sitabo he tries too hard. He is not as natural as he is in a larger canvas or set up. He hams more, and sometimes overacts compared to other equally competent actors like Amrish Puri or Sanjeev Kumar or BigG of 70s (Mili, Bemisaal, etc). Compare those natural acts of equal actors you will know what i am saying.

          Take Teen for example which is adapted from 21.
          Kavin Spacey was more chilled out and relaxed. Amitabh in Teen was tensed, and came across as trying too hard.

          In a movie like Badhaai Ho, a Gajendra Singh will do better than Amitabh as latter would try harder, attempt to ace acting, leave a mark etc which on the other hand needs a more relaxed actor who doesnt need to prove anything to anyone.

          Like

          • BTW, i am one of the biggest fan of Big B since childhood and these observations are purely from the lens of Big B’s hugest fan and from an expectation to see more of natural Big B of Khakhee than a laborious Big B of Paa

            Like

      • You are missing the forest for the trees here Naveen. It is fine that you — or any of his fans — do not want to see AB in character roles. But you have to remember that he started off as a ‘pure’ actor and then stomped onto super-stardom. If he’s going back to his old days, that’s something to be appreciated about.

        World-over, artists have suffered from the ‘star’ syndrome. I think AB is the only actor in India who has managed to break it past his prime.

        Like

        • I agree and concede that as his fan i am selfish when i say.
          However i also think Amitabh is not suitable for all kids of films as he tries too hard affecting his natural screen presence and charm. Fault might lie with his directors as well as we no linger have Hrishikesh Mukherjee to tell him to relax. All his directors are his fans now. They respect him.

          I still feel Baaghban will remain along with Khakhee two of the best Bachchan movies. He should not attempt anything below that. Paa was the beginning of his unusual experimentation. 101 not out, Teen, Gulabo Sitabo are for more relaxed actors. Amitabh is relaxed in Baaghbaan or Khakhee set up but note in these.

          Like

  8. So I tried to watch GS again, but stopped it within 20 minutes, naa ho paaya.
    Watched Sarkar and SarkarRaj together – Maza aa gaya .

    Like

  9. ok, now that this has been the first big release directly to the platform, how would it’s success for failure be measured? What are the metrics? Since 7 big movies are supposed to be released on the idiot box, how’s this going to work out?

    Like

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