I just had a privileged online peep at the trailer of Shoojit Sircar’s Gulabo Sitabo. In 2.41 minutes, veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan and Bollywood’s rising superstar Ayushmann Khurrana make it binding on you to watch out for this Amazon Prime Video release on June 12. If the trailer can be so quirky and feisty, the characters so down-to-earth and played with such rural realism, then this Juhi Chaturvedi (Vicky Donor, Piku) story is just what the doctor ordered for your post-Covid blues.
They are an old and cussed landlord and an aggressive and impoverish tenant, Amitabh and Ayushmann, and the entire comedy-drama is shot in a rambling and dilapidated haveli in the ancient city of Lucknow. The wily landlord, who rears goats in his compound, wants his reluctant tenant out of the house. And he resorts to means fair and foul to evict him. But Ayushmann, who has nobody and nowhere to go, had dugs his heels in firmly and will not budge.
The trailer gives tantalizing glimpses of their encounters in the narrow confines of the haveli, their showdowns in the courtyard, as push comes to shove in rooms that are so old and in need of repair that the walls come crashing down. The landlord will stop at nothing to rid his Fatima Mahal of the stubborn tenant. Even removing all the electric bulbs from his quarters and selling them. Or trying to lock him out, charge him exorbitantly for parking his bike, raising the rent, and getting all his efforts kicked down.
The backdrop is the historic city of Lucknow. There are fascinating glimpses of the Jama Masjid as the landlord and his tenant take their battle outdoors and into the old cobbled, narrow and twisting streets on their way to court and other authorities. This sets the stage for the talent Vijay Raaz to step in as an archaeological surveyor who wants to investigate what the friction between the two is all about. He adds fuel to their fire. The dialogue is peppy and lighthearted, a spirited exchange that is short of blows, and Amitabh is delightful as the crabby old man while Ayushmann is himself – amazing.
There are tender moments like when Amitabh, in a four-poster-bed, is talking to himself and reiterating how much he loves his haveli, and Ayushmann interrupts him to say, “You have no son, I have no father, forget about selling the haveli, adopt me instead!” Amitabh’s reaction is classic. He mumbles, “It’s my haveli, my land, my desire to sell.” However, Vijay Raaz stymies him, “But the permission for you to do so comes from me.”
Perhaps producers Ronnie Lahiri and Sheel Kumar did the best thing by opting not to keep this cracker of a film in the cans and wait for a theatrical release, but to take it to viewers starved of new and original Bollywood fare by showcasing it on Amazon Prime Video. Amitabh Bachchan, high on prosthetics, is awesome as the cranky old landlord, his shambling gait, his cracked and whining voice, the clothes he is dressed up in, are absolute perfection. As for Ayushmann, he can look like any character, especially the struggling tenant, because he brings a richness to his performance that makes the poverty of his character stand out. The poster of Gulabo Sitabo describe them as “Ek priceless jodi”. It’s true.