GULABO SITABO movie review: A Meandering Tale of Greed!

Gulabo Sitabo on the surface may look like the usual banter comedy between a landlord and his tenant, a relationship often thrown in movies as a side note to generate some easy laughs. But here, it is not all laugh and fun. Because deep beneath the surface, the film reveals itself as a introspective look at the futility of all the greed, and what one really stands to gain at the end of it all.  Kya Leke Aayo Jagme , Kya Leke Jaayega croons Vinod Dubey in one of the songs in the movie.

In one scene, the main character asks an expert on what is the value of the prize that they are after. “Priceless” comes the reply.  As in life, the characters here too only learn the true value  when the thing they are after is truly gone. As the film winds down, we find one of the character finds himself losing his past, everything that he held on to all his life, while the other helplessly watches his potential future disappear into thin air as his girlfriend moves on.

In Shoojit Sircar’s world of Gulabo Sitabo, the prize referred earlier here is that of  Fatima Mahal. As glorious and majestic it the name may sound, the real condition of this age-old mansion is deplorable. And yet, everyone seems to be after a piece of this  almost-in-ruins rundown ‘haveli’.  The caretaker of the mansion is the grouchy Mirza (Amitabh) who is handling the things for the real owner of the property, his wife, the Begum (Farrukh Jaffar), who is seventeen years older to him. Ayushmann Khurrana plays Baankey Rastogi, one of the tenants,who has been living with his family for years,  and one who is  hardly able to cough up the paltry rents of Rs 30-70 that is being asked. So, Mirza is determined to get rid of Baankey and hence the two is constantly at loggerheads with each other.

However, with the archaeology department swooping in in the form of Gyanesh (Vijay Raaz) and on the other end, a property specialist lawyer Christopher Clark (Brijendra Kala) coming into the picture, the race for the claims to the dilapidated mansion literally gets out of hands.

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Unfortunately, this game of one-upmanship between the parties involved takes too long to set up. And once in, we keep going in circles for long lengths making its mere 120 mins seem much longer than it actually is. The plot, like the ‘haveli’ in question, is certainly not going anywhere but writer Juhi Chaturvedi uses the space and time to give broader strokes to her characters. It isn’t until the fag end of things when things finally get a move on. But by then, one feel it maybe a little too late.

The real problem is the distance audience have with the characters. Juhi is content letting the characters be as they want to be, not confined to black and whites with no one judging anyone. There is no coloring to make the characters likeable or appealing. So, we are not connected or emotionally invested in that sense to neither Mirza’s or Baankey’s struggles.  Certainly, by design. And yet, when the whole purpose of their rather purposeless tiffs disappears, one is left with a melancholic wave.

Set in the old-world charm of Lucknow, director Sircar draws out a love letter of sorts to the city, with the non-intrusive cinematography of Avik Mukopadhyay, letting us slip into the locales. And writer Juhi takes advantage by bringing in the flavor of the locality and language alive. So many people unfamiliar with the lingo may lose out some of the fun. And the official subtitles certainly do no justice here.

Besides the dialogues, the real strength is in the cast and how seamlessly they get into the skin of the characters. Amitabh spearheads that department with one of his most remarkable of characters in Mirza. Under a prosthetic nose and those thick glasses, hunched, he is hardly the tall, deep baritone voiced superstar that we are used to. He literally becomes the character and is undoubtedly the life of the movie. And surprisingly one with no bones of goodness to him.

Ayushmann puts in a good effort but he never really gets much from the script to chew on. So much so that he has to add something like a lisp to keep things interesting which keeps coming and going. Unfortunately, just did not feel the chemistry required between the lead duo. As always, Vijay Raaz and Brijendra Kala are pitch perfect in their respective roles making them a delightful addition to the proceedings.

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Special mention to the women in the film and the way they are written even though not in major roles. They are not sitting around and waiting for incompetent men to make decisions for them and are more in charge of their own destinies. Farrukh Jaffar as Fatima Begum is a riot with her wit and humour while Srishti Shrivastava puts in a scene stealing act as Baankey’s sister Guddo, one that breaks the stereotypical idea of a ‘hero’s sister’ role in Bollywood.

Gulabo Sitabo works better as a social satire when it is dealing with the citizens vs the govt battle, with the haveli being a stand-in for the nation. We have tenants who are paying rents for 70 years, but still complain of the raw deal they are getting and being denied of basic rights.  The ‘caretaker’ meanwhile is happy selling off assets from the property or even ripping off the tenants for a quick buck.  So much so the tenants are taking about revolting against the ruthless demands and conditions put by the caretaker. And in one of the most hilarious bits, when Mirza is asked why he is hated this much, he states he is oblivious of any ill-feelings whatsoever.

Unfortunately, all of these positives that the movie holds are buried in a rather meandering screenplay. The small fleeting moments have some charm to it (and some even work better the second time around), but it never really comes together as a whole. And that is a pity.

With neither the charm of PIKU, the emotions of OCTOBER, nor the fun of VICKY DONOR, this turns out to be easily the weakest from the Sircar-Juhi partnership.

 

Cast:  Amitabh Bachchan, Ayushmann Khurrana, Vijay Raaz, Brijendra Kala, Srishti Shrivastava and Farrukh Jaffar

Directed by Shoojit Sircar

Music  Shantanu Moitra, Abhishek Arora, Anuj Garg

Now streaming on AMAZON PRIME

Pink Movie Review: Much Ado About Pink?

Pink – A Review

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Directed by: Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury    Written by: Ritesh Shah

Starring: Amitabh Bacchan

Sometimes a film comes that taps into some of the core issues of the prevalent society, issues that have already been hotly debated and discussed. When such a film comes from a producer known for making daring, different films (Shoojit Sircar of Piku, Vicky Donor, Madras Cafe), directed by a 2 time national award winner making his first foray into Bollywood (Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury of Antaheen and Anuranan) and starring a septuagenarian colossus of Indian Cinema who is still an audience catcher (The BigB, enuf said), it is only expected that hype around this movie release will hit the roof.

But when hype hits the roof, opinion on the film (so aptly named Pink) can sometimes get “colored” by a different shade. And so when glowing reviews kept pouring in about a pioneering brave work, and expectations rising ever higher, yours humbly tried to approach the movie cautiously, to watch it with a neutral lens while keeping expectations and emotions in check.

The good news is that the film doesn’t disappoint overall, but one is left to wonder whether the film really deserves all the accolades for its bravura. But more on that later. The plot is pretty straightforward (minor spoilers in this paragraph) – a group of single working girls get entangled in an attempt at molestation by 3 Delhi boys, where one of the girls injures his molester in self-defence. Constituting the first half of the film (and probably the better half), what follows is very urban girl’s nightmare in a patriarchal society, as they get constantly harassed by the boys thirsting for revenge, nor do they get any support from the Police, work-place or near-ones. Suffocated by social stigma, the role of victim and oppressor gets intermingled, as the Girls are accused of attempted murder. It is at this point, Deepak Sehgal (Amitabh Bachchan), a retired lawyer suffering from bipolar disorder with an ailing wife (Mamata Shankar), who has till then been a silent spectator to the girls’ troubles, decides to represent them as their defence counsel (the 2nd half of the film).

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Armed with a theme that has been the talking point of the media and social networks in the last few years, Aniruddha Roychowdhury paces the film well with a 1st half that looks like is a slowly concocted suspense thriller where we find the victims and protagonists being gradually choked by the after-effects of their traumatic experience. From the opening sequence, the film grips you with a gently piercing background score, building up the tension, while the audience wonders what really could have happened that unfortunate night. Amitabh Bacchan (who eerily looks like an aged stalker) seems to be a brooding spectator as the girls’ next door neighbour, till he finally decides to take matters into his own hands. While Pink on a broad level bears some resemblance to the Hollywood film The Accused (featuring a stunning and explosive performance from Jodie Foster), the scenario and response of the characters are quintessentially of an Indian society. While the Accused was more violent, shocking and graphic, Pink avoids being in your face and never shows the actual events but references them through the statements of the defendants. Also, while Jodie Foster’s reaction was more of rage, the 3 girls in Pink are shown more helpless as they are not only up against their assailants, but the encompassing society which does not sympathise.

However, the film’s level falls off in the 2nd half as becoming too preachy and stereotypical. As a consequence of Amitabh Bacchan’s several court room dialogues, the audience is literally force fed the evils of patriarchy and the meaning of consent. Boys shouldn’t construe girls drinking and partying as an indication of being “easy” and ready; the girls also said “No! Nada! Zip”, hence there is no question of consent. It kind of feels squeamish when a film needs to spell out each and every item as if schooling a society with the emotional intelligence of a kindergardener. Some people may argue that given the kind of disgraceful acts that even our urban society can stoop to, this spelling out of everything seems to have become necessary. What’s worth debating though is if the target audience is even reached by such a film, as the film is unlikely to appeal to such people. Which then necessitates that the film at least plays a more generic role in educating the society, but then again it will be watched more by a relatively mature society who are already well aware of such societal malaises prevalent through the media. In that sense, the film is hardly a social zeitgeist as it has been made out to be by various sections of the media.

pink-amitabhThe acting of the film was par for the course. Big B was mostly brooding in the film, with occasional flashes of brilliance in the court room scenes. For an evergreen actor, one can still be appreciative of his performance, if it weren’t for the very similar style of acting that he had earlier showcased (and probably better in Te3n). Someone who has seen Te3n would feel he is seeing the same person in Pink, although the characters are entirely different. One wonders if Mr.Amitabh Bacchan is playing the same thing regardless of character (even if the same thing is still pretty good). The 3 actresses give decent performances at best, with Kirti Kulhari standing out. Dhritiman Chatterjee looked aged as the Judge with the quavering voice (not too sure if that was deliberate).

But what is new and refreshing is the depiction of such themes in the Bollywood mainstream. In a year where we have seen Bollywood mainstream go bold with releases like Udta Punjab, Pink can be another feather in its otherwise pretty threadbare cap. Like the old classic and one of the best courtroom dramas, Anatomy of a Murder (1959), was outright in its time with its frank discussion on rape and sexual themes, it took Bollywood mainstream another 50 years to give the setting for such films to come (while bold themes have been prevalent in parallel cinema like Bandit Queen, Matribhoomi, they weren’t part of a mainstream release). On the creative side, the strong points of the film was undoubtedly the musical score with its blend of piano melody mingled with phases of intensity as if portending the audience of something sinister lurking in the background. The editing was also taut, at least during the 1st half.

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Overall, Pink is another bold release in a line of Bollywood releases vindicating the fact that the mainstream is maturing over the last few years. While much has been said of the film as a social commentary, I would hardly think the film is an eye opener on a facet of society that has been sufficiently put on the scanner. Rather than being a pioneer, Pink is more of a follower of this trend. One also can’t help but feel the irony that in an unforgiving patriarchal society comprising of roguish boys and women who have conformed to such a setting (like the female police deputy), it is finally up to the ageing patriarch, who finally decides to come out of his brooding shell in an attempt to restore some semblance of parity. The movie poster also shows Big B towering over the 3 defenceless girls with a rather dominating gesture. In a theme about women empowerment and liberalisation, this seems rather out of place (The Accused had a female lawyer Michelle Pfeiffer). Eventually, Pink is still part of Bollywood mainstream, and Big Stars still attract big audience.

So, let’s not get ahead of ourselves in showering our praise, but give credit where it’s due. Pink is not a pioneering film per se; there have been lesser known but more pioneering and relevant films depicting such issues outside the mainstream, like Matrubhoomi or even Bandit Queen. While we admit that gender bias and molestation is a malaise in urban Indian society, the inequality prevalent in rural India is of far more alarming proportions. Depicting rural India may not be as eye catching, so films showcasing these issues are socially relevant and deserve more attention. I’ll also be hoping to write a review on Parched (Radhika Apte in a bold performance), a film on gender inequality in rural India that went under the radar due to the Pink hype, if I get the time.

While quoting the title of Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing may seem to be too harsh a statement on Pink, it is nevertheless true, especially given the hype that was build up around the film. Rather let’s just say it’s a relevant film that resonates with the membrane of today’s society.

My rating: 3.0/5 (maybe +0.5 to be generous)

Pathikrit Basu

(a self-proclaimed cinephile)

+919819128637

pathbasu@gmail.com

 

Pink Movie Review: The Film Leaves the ‘Modern Society’ Red-faced

pink-amitabh-bachchan-upcoming-movie-poster-release-date-poster-mtwiki-2016This has been an unusually long dry spell for an average Bollywood lover. Barring an intermittently funny Happy Bhag Jayegi, there has hardly been any film in the last month or so that has managed to register its presence in our minds – forget about leaving an impression. Midst of all the blues, comes director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s Pink – a film with an odd title but an intriguing enough trailer to raise a few hopes. And by the end of its runtime, the film not just exceeds your hopes but also reinstates your faith in the good, old Bollywood and its ability to churn out meaningful, powerful stories.Continue reading “Pink Movie Review: The Film Leaves the ‘Modern Society’ Red-faced”

Wazir: A Quick Review

Wazir PosterAmitabh Bachchan doesn’t need to do any roles in Hollywood. Being in Bollywood, the Big B has already superseded the Big H. Most of the action heroes in Hollywood (read Stallone, Arnold, Costner) still rely on their brawn to showcase their ‘angry young men’ image. While AB has smoothly transitioned from a ‘ Deewar’ and ‘Agneepath’ to a ‘Piku’ and ‘Paa’. His metamorphosis from a superstar to a super-actor seems to be complete with ‘Vazir’. Moreover, one more song in his baritone voice is a treat.Continue reading “Wazir: A Quick Review”

Wazir Movie Review: Quite Watchable Despite a Very Predictable Plot

thequint-2016-01-2ac76806-b41b-47d6-8f77-7d38b8147b36-WazirWazir gets its atmospherics spot on. The chessboard metaphor for real-life shenanigans of loss, longing and revenge is beaming with promise and purpose, the players in the game are up to the task, and the editor on the editing table respects your time for once. But alas, all of this wonderful premise is bogged down by a curiously unidimensional and predictable plot. More on that later. But to begin with, it’s a relief to see a Hindi film with visible signs of a plot after a considerably long time. No, I am not being sarcastic – just look up the list of major releases that you have had in the last couple of months. So, being an eternal optimist that I am, I straightaway declare Wazir to be a decently good omen to begin the New Year. *Touchwood*.Continue reading “Wazir Movie Review: Quite Watchable Despite a Very Predictable Plot”

Wazir Movie Review: A Failed Gambit.

One thing that is undeniable about Bejoy Nambiar is the fact that he is talented. But, a common complaint about his works so far is that they have been visually appealing, but lacking meat. Shaitan for example, started off with a bang, but ran out of steam halfway and fizzled out rather meekly. David was an interesting experiment in storytelling, but fell apart due to the poor writing, especially in the case of Vikram’s plotline. But that being said, both movies had the stamp of a maker, who wasn’t afraid to acknowledge that he possessed his own style. And there is a method to his flashiness, unlike that of a Sanjay Gupta or a Rohit Shetty. So when he decided to combine his visual flair, with the solid writing talents of Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Abhijat Joshi in Wazir, it created a lot of anticipation for the project, but does it live up to the expectations of a discerning audience?Continue reading “Wazir Movie Review: A Failed Gambit.”

PK: Hirani needs Sanju!

Note: When I refer to Raj Kumar Hirani (RKH), I equally refer to his partner in crime Abhijat Joshi.

Rather than the obvious disappointment or anger I have towards a bad movie, I was rather disgusted by PK. It is that movie whose every beat serves a purpose, a purpose of proving a point so obvious, a point so dumbed down, a point already proved last year at the cinemas. It doesn’t have a single moment, which is just out there without any ulterior motive.Continue reading “PK: Hirani needs Sanju!”

PK Movie Review: That’s how Hirani Rolls

After two Munna bhai movies and one 3 Idiots, one knows what to expect from a Rajkumar Hirani film. His cinema inhabits a world where good triumphs over evil without the need for bloodshed violence or even as much as a mother-sister gaali. Problems themselves are not urgent in nature, not in the literal sense, and yet these are existential issues that are tackled, issues that otherwise we overlook in our daily lives. It is this “slice of life” side to his cinema that touches hearts, despite the fact that a lot of his treatment is silly, farcical even.

PK falls in this universe of Hirani fair and square. It is far-fetched, laden with conveniences and liberties that are unpardonable otherwise in a movie. Yet at its core is Hirani magic at work- as he brings up a very poignant issue to the fore with the subtlety on he can conjure.Continue reading “PK Movie Review: That’s how Hirani Rolls”

PK Movie Review (2014): Plan Asinine From Outer Space

Director: Rajkumar Hirani
Rating: *
While watching movies, I often wonder how the germ of the idea for the story came about. It must have started as a thought, and then more ideas added to it. Characters devised around which the story can revolve, scenes and situations imagined and finally dialogues put in. A similar thought struck me while enduring PK. The writers would no doubt have read about the spate of spiritual / religious babas going bust like dot com companies of late. So why not make a movie about it? The movie shall deliver a sucker punch to the concept of organized religion. But wait…hasn’t it already been done by Paresh Rawal in OMG: Oh My God and the play it is based upon? Hmmm, yes. But that’s where a human exposes the sham of blind faith. We shall bring a wholly original twist to it. Import an extra-terrestrial, throw him into the muck and let his naiveté bring out the God fraud.Continue reading “PK Movie Review (2014): Plan Asinine From Outer Space”