'Gulabo Sitabo' movie review: A rather bumbling affair
Gulabo Sitabo, streaming now on Prime Video, is a lot about the things that Shoojit Sircar's films have come to be known for: the simplicity and charm of daily life, for instance. At the same time, it fails on some other, perhaps more important aspects of his movies. This one might be the director's most unemotional and ineffectual outing till date. Here's our review.
It all starts and ends with a haveli, a century-old, dilapidated mansion in the heart of Lucknow. Mirza Nawab (Amitabh Bachchan), a 78-year-old stooped and bearded man looks after the mansion. He spends his time doing two things mainly: annoying and fighting his tenants and waiting for his wife, Begum (a terrific Farrukh Jaffar) to breathe her last so he finally inherits the haveli.
Mirza is not the most likeable of characters. He is the sort of man who'd sell his tenants' bulbs and cycle bells, when he runs out of money to eat paan. But others around him aren't too behind. Among his tenants, Mirza has a keen disliking for Baankey Rastogi (Ayushmann Khurrana), a shrewd, sly man who resides there with his mother and three sisters.
Mirza has no interest in calling Baankey a tenant, while the latter has zero plans of moving out. Hence, the two are perpetually at loggerheads. But they aren't the only ones interested in the haveli. A government archaeology officer (the ever-reliable Vijay Raaz) wants to seal the haveli for restoration, while a lawyer (Brijendra Kala) tries to help Mirza sell off the hot property.
Pacing is not Gulabo Sitabo's stronghold. The film uses a lot of time, almost a half of its runtime, in creating this world of quirky characters and introducing you to them. It tells who they are and what they do, but rarely what they want to say. And even after it takes so long to build up, it ultimately leads up to too little.
One can perhaps deal with slow pacing as long as they are connected with or invested in the characters. But unfortunately, in Gulabo Sitabo, almost none of the characters is likeable: they are selfish, sly and uncaring. Since things move too slow and the characters are not endearing, you may end up losing patience with them, just like they do with each other onscreen.
It is understandable where Gulabo Sitabo intends to head. It is supposed to be a commentary/satire on personal and systemic greed that ultimately takes away what one already has. But the screenplay just isn't sharp enough to do justice to those intentions.
Mirza, an old yet supremely materialistic man, is a tough character to understand, and thus also hard to play. He openly admits he didn't have a child so that he could solely inherit the haveli. Amitabh Bachchan carries him with persistence and prosthetics, but apparently not a lot of pride. This makes part of the performance feel staged rather than natural.
In Gulabo Sitabo too, Ayushmann Khurrana ticks most of the characteristic boxes that people love to see in his characters onscreen. So, he does his usual thing and he does it well. Undoubtedly, he is good at it, but perhaps does too often of it.
Gulabo Sitabo is a rare mishit from Sircar and writer Juhi Chaturvedi. It first takes too long to build up its aura and then leaves you feeling dissatisfied. Even as Bachchan and Khurrana offer respite through their strong performances, they can only impress you but cannot keep you engaged or invested in this bumbling and middling story. Final rating: 2.5/5 stars.