Gulabo Sitabo. A rare movie which is as much a melancholic lament as it is a biting satire on the place and its people. A mouldering haveli in Lucknow is where much of the action plays out. A raconteur of the middle classes, Shoojit Sircar has focused his camera largely on the ordinary people and their mundane existences till now.
Mirza Chunnan Nawab – A wizened and greedy curmudgeon whose sole purpose in life is to get the ownership of the haveli. He’s an exemplar of the people who are spending their lives fighting with their families to acquire ancestral wealth. This movie is a quintessence of the materialistic society that we live in.
Baankey – An intransigent atta chakki owner to whom his male ego is his foremost priority, hides his inadequacies with a cultivated air of nonchalance. The film throws you off in more ways than one, most winningly so with its subtle gender play. It’s the women who turn the tables on men. A few of the instances being – when Baankey’s sister tries to take the property matters in her hand, and when his girlfriend calls him “akal se gareeb (lacking in intellect)”. Together the women subvert the conservative institutions from within and emasculate the male ego, deliciously so.
A puppeteer performs at different points in the film. He is a metaphor for men on strings. He is also an exponent of a centuries-old form that is dying. His presence enhances the earthiness of the film while also serving as a commentary on the larger truths that surround Mirza, Baankey and Lucknow.
The people who inhabit the frame in Gulabo Sitabo live on the fringes of the society; they lie for a few pennies and scrounge and save all their lives. All are resorting to desperate measures in the hope of bettering their lot.
The most beautiful part is the ending of the film when Baankey asks Mirza the reason for marrying Begum. To this Mirza replies that, his attraction was his wife’s haveli and her attraction was his youth. This one-minute dialogue exchange ridicules the concept of marriages, where possessions and beauty are the only rationale. Greed, alas, cannot be graded, as the film’s whimsical climax shows us, but some will always profit more than the others.