Review: Gulabo Sitabo is a Perfect Balance of Heart and Humor

‘Gulabo Sitabo’ opens with the local titular puppet show that it draws its inspiration from. With what follows, in its 120-minute runtime, the film harps on the exaggerated mental preoccupations of its caricature-like characters and shows how their lives are no less than a puppet show. Complementing these are its architectural backdrops of Lucknow that draw a stark contrast between the world outside and the downtrodden haveli in which it is set.

At first, ‘Gulabo Sitabo’ gives you the impression that its comedy will solely be driven by the gimmicky insults that the two main characters, Baankey (Ayushmann Khurrana) and Mirza (Amitabh Bachchan), keep throwing at one another. And even though Amitabh Bachchan looks almost unrecognizable with his crude beard, and naggy tone, while Ayushman Khurana, as always, perfectly nails his character, their whip-smart jibe against one another is only hilarious for a while. But just when this approach of the movie starts to run dry, new characters are added to its fore and it completely flips your expectations, giving you a more subversive flavor of modern satire.

Gulabo Sitabo Plot Summary

The film begins with the cat-and-dog jeer of Baankey and Mirza, who absolutely despise one another. Mirza pretends to be the landlord of an old rusty haveli while Baankey, whose family has lived as tenants there for seven decades, refuses to comply with Mirza’s false leadership and pay the same rent as others. The day-to-day squabbles of the two men take a completely different turn when one day, Baankey ends up kicking down the wall of a public toilet in the haveli. In the events that follow, an archaeological department official and Mirza’s lawyer further raise the stakes of the battle of wits between the two protagonists and lead it to a bigger scheme.

Gulabo Sitabo Review

The whole dramatic construction of the film rests on the foundations of the haveli that is being depicted. In the film’s universe, the haveli becomes a character in itself. And as tarnished and sickening as it may seem to you as a viewer, in the eyes of the characters, it is an absolute treasure that none of them are willing to give up on. Speaking of the characters, it is their Lakhnavi-style banter that initially gets a few chuckles out of you and keeps you deliriously entertained. But it’s not until Vijay Raaz’s character, an archaeological official, is introduced that the film actually starts taking its satire quite seriously. From being just a bland comedy about two men relentlessly grilling one another the film—without giving up on its ridiculous charm—slowly prepares you for its serious conclusion.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, Ayushmann Khurrana and Amitabh Bachchan aptly play their respective roles and bicker like there’s no tomorrow. And no Bollywood fan would expect anything less from them. Amitabh Bachchan not only adopts the personality of his unsympathetic character but also perfectly portrays Mirza’s physical mannerisms that very well come in tandem with his depicted age. Ayushmann Khurrana’s role isn’t any different from what he’s usually used to portraying on-screen so, as always, his talent works well with his well-written character. But apart from the two main leads, it’s Vijay Raaz who steals the show in almost every scene that he is featured in. The criminally underrated actor delivers each punchline with the right amount of pathos.

Although the film’s primary satirical themes revolve around humanity implicit in greed, there are moments when it delivers critique to real-life incidents as well. One such scene is where it ridicules the Unnao gold treasure incident of 2013, wherein a local seer had dreamt that tonnes of gold was buried under his village. And its scenes like these that highlight the film’s clever writing, making it pretty evident that it does not heavily rely on the dry humor that solely comes from the dialogues of its characters.

All in all, Shoojit Sircar’s film does not offer the kind of comedy that would give you fits of laughter throughout its runtime. It is, instead, driven by the performances of its cast, well-written script, and a gleeful setup. And although its narrative later adopts some very serious themes, it never becomes too preachy as it always manages to take this seriousness into a satirical territory. Like most comedies, it has its own moments of hit-and-miss gags, but its perfect balance of humor and heart makes it an enjoyable one time watch.

Rating: 3/5

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