The movie tries to tell the tale of the ultimate downfall of the once privileged and powerful class in a comic way. The story is hinged on Mirza (Amitabh Bachchan), the character who is so layered that one would be left in a love-hate relationship with him after watching the movie. Mirza is greedy, unethical, dishonest but at the same time vulnerable and emotional. The life of Mirza lies in the Haveli (old mansion) that he lives in, it is called Fatima Mahal after his wife. He technically doesn't own it but breathes with it.
Infact, the Haveli, in the course of the movie becomes a character on its own. It is the beloved and desired entity of many. There are many contenders for its possession and its glory days have ended yet there is a breathing air that runs through its empty hallways and walls. The love for the Haveli in Gulabo Sitabo can only be compared to the love expounded in Garam Hawa by the old woman for her ancestral haveli. The fact that the physical space and solid structures hold such importance in people's identities is something that the movie beautifully narrates and depicts.
Mirza throughout the movie gets into unsolicited and unwanted tussles to simply command the authority over every corner of the dilapidated heritage haveli. The life of Mirza revolves around these tussles and the mission of his ageing mind is to evict the generation old tenants who occupy some rooms in it. Bankey (Ayushmann Khurana) is one of the most difficult of these tenants and keeps locking horns with the Mirza. The situation goes out of hand when a toilet wall collapses under Bankey's hit and the situation reached the authorities. This is where the intriguing part of the movie comes to the fore, where the intervention of the outside authorities make the events take an ugly turn.
I do not write films for Box-Office, says Juhi Chaturvedi
The two protagonists, Mirza and Bankey, keep at each other's throats but still make do with each other, their relationship works organically till the authorities swoop in and drastically change the dynamics of the situation. The two players from the outside are the government body, Archaeological Survey of India and a private builder.
The Archaeological Survey of India is depicted in a questionable fashion where their officers are running at the fancies of political leaders. The other player in the Mirza, Bankey and Haveli politics is a private builder, who wants the land of the Haveli for one of his project. These intrusions reveal the corrupt and dingy dungeons which run under and inform the realities of our world. Mirza and Bankey both are fooled and exploited at various levels by these players. The movie attempts to reveal the vulnerability of the honest people, both Bankey and Mirza, who are continuously played around like puppets.
Another, very interesting attempt that the movie tries to make is to place the Muslim culture and Muslim identity at the heart of the movie and the Indian nation. This wouldn't have been relevant in different times but in the present political scenario the assertion of Muslim Mirza as the owner and holder of an old heritage structure in India is something that needs to be appreciated. The movie shows the tussle between the tenant and the landlord yet the clash never takes a religious angle. The visuals in the movie depict a Muslim community and culture beautifully weaved in Indian ethos.
Overall the film is slow paced and takes its time to grow on the viewer. There is an eerie feel of nostalgia of a bygone era which must have had a glorious run. And somehow the element of comedy gives way to a sense of ultimate loss and gloom which pervades all other emotions.
Two intriguing scenes stand out in the movie and they include the one in which Mirza is dragging his beloved antique chair through empty corridors of the Haveli and the other is him sitting at a tanga. The last scene is also very intriguing as it exposes the hypocrisies of consumerist world where the material worth of something is utterly disconnected from the emotional value it must have had for someone.
The story of Gulabo Sitabo and the journey of the Mirza from a landlord of a huge Haveli to a rikshaw puller is told in such a way that the viewer could have an idea about the possible paths which could have been taken by the miserable life of Mirza to make him reach from one point to another, yet it tells that tale in the least hurtful and most funny manner. To elaborate without giving bloopers it can be just said that the ASI or the Private Builder could have been more important players in the downfall of Mirza. In reality these factors play actual role in exploitation of the vulnerable.
It also leaves a message that ASI and similar government bodies need to be more humane and should have more consideration for the human emotions attached to structures they conserve.