Actors: Amitabh Bachchan, Ayushmann Khurrana, Vijay Raza
Director: Shoojit Sircar
Star Rating: ****
With cinemas closed for the foreseeable future, it was only a matter of time before Bollywood studios began distributing their movies direct to streaming platforms. Delaying release dates indefinitely seems a gamble many cannot afford. Director Shoojit Sircar’s Gulabo Sitabo takes the lead by becoming the first major Hindi release to premiere across 200 countries and territories on Amazon Prime Video.
Best described as a modern day fable, the movie welcomes you into a world where two conniving foxes engage in a game of one upmanship, each one attracting other members to their clan and each one with an agenda of his own. Veteran Amitabh Bachchan plays Mirza, a 78 year old landlord who would move mountains for his most prized possession – a rundown haveli (mansion) in the heart of Lucknow. His plans to make money from the property are thwarted by his meddlesome tenants, the most prominent being Baankey (Ayushmann Khuranna). A shrewd squatter, Baankey matches Mirza in their endless squabbling.
Like Tom and Jerry, Mirza and Baankey engage in cat and mouse tactics. They are unique and unrivalled, friend and foe, scheming and smart – a combination that produces chaos. To confound matters, Mirza’s domineering but ailing, elder Begum (wife) refuses to die, thus delaying his inheritance of the haveli. Added to the mix are a local property lawyer and archaeologist (Vijay Raaz), each with their own interests in the crumbling building.
Almost unrecognizable under a ton prosthetics, Bachchan is an utter delight to watch. His portrayal of a frail but difficult man, whose greed knows no bounds, is pure entertainment. Matching him step for step is Khurrana, with the verbal dexterous performance and physical transformation for which he is often recognised.
What could have been a slow grinding drama about two oddballs is lifted to a higher plane by the magic combo of director Sircar and writer Juhi Chaturvedi. Having made the critically lauded Vicky Donor, Piku and October, Gulabo Sitabo is another feather in the duo’s cap. Sircar’s quirky storytelling skills and Chaturvedi’s knack at creating unique plots and engaging characters underpin one of the Hindi film industry’s most creative parnerships. Long may the affiliation flourish.