How Juhi Chaturvedi recreates the sights and sounds of Lucknow in 'Gulabo Sitabo'

The writer speaks about depicting her home town, its colloquial speak, humour and that quintessential Awadhi sarcasm in the upcoming Shoojit Sircar film

June 10, 2020 10:03 pm | Updated June 11, 2020 11:41 am IST

When it comes to the depiction of Lucknow, writer Juhi Chaturvedi calls her work in the forthcoming film, Gulabo Sitabo , as “ aatma tript karne wala kaam (soul satisfying job)”. The film marks a return to her roots in the city in an intense, concentrated and profound way. Lucknow is where Chaturvedi grew up, did a course in fine arts, supported her education by working as an illustrator at the local edition of the Times of India before moving on to the world of advertising and Hindi cinema.

Recreating a culture

The film, is about the sights and sounds Chaturvedi grew up with, the people she saw around her, all coming together in a beautiful fit. “Whatever I observed there, in the day-to-day interactions, I have tried to write here,” she says. It’s not about specific incidents and instances so much as what she gathered from years of experiences in the city, about an entire culture coming together. There are memories of specific places. “I had written the Lucknow skyline into the script,” she says. And then there are audio memories as well. The sound of the azaan from the masjid and Hari Om Sharan bhajans wafting from the Hanuman mandir. “The team has done a great job in capturing Lucknow beyond just the city,” she says, “Even things like people sitting idle; the purpose in their purposelessness.”

There is a certain universality to the tale of one-upmanship between an old landlord Mirza and his young tenant Baankey and a haveli (mansion) becoming the bone of contention between the two. It could have been set anywhere. But by setting the film in Lucknow, there was a confidence that a lot more could be done in terms of the habits, the language of the people and the pulse of the place. “There is an ideology, a way of thinking, the normal day-to-day speak, the repartees, the banter, the Awadhi sarcasm which I have used to my utmost advantage. It helped me craft much more authentic characters,” she reminisces.

The bickering between Mirza and Baankey invert the constantly fighting women — Gulabo and Sitabo — of the glove puppetry tradition of the area. The dominant faces are of Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana but Chaturvedi promises there will be women of consequence too. “They may not be heroic... but I feel my women can’t be regressive, submissive or tolerant,” she had told The Hindu in an earlier interview. “You wouldn’t be disappointed with the women in Gulabo Sitabo at all,” she laughs, without giving us anything more away.

Chaturvedi feels the film is not so much about gender as about people who have a certain lowliness and impunity embedded in their DNA.

“It’s in the kind of things they say, things which I have grown-up listening to,” she says. In keeping with her style, the film is character than plot driven. It’s about relationships. “All of us are living in chaos of our relationships, surrounded by people, living in the noise,” she says. But there is also a lot more. “It’s about the whole world around these people,” she emphasises.

Driven by character

She also thinks that there are only finite plots in the world. “Plot is secondary in life. It’s about situations. People who happen to be there, what do they do with it, how do they behave. What is different is how people handle it. There are squabbles everywhere but how people solve them or complicate them further is what matters,” she says.

After an emotional, “extremely heavy” October , it’s back at deploying quirk to some witty effect. According to Chaturvedi, it wasn’t intentional. In fact, she had started working on Gulabo Sitabo before October . It did come as a breather and facilitated a change of mood though. “While writing October I cried a lot; while writing Gulabo Sitabo I laughed a lot,” she says. It also helped her push the boundaries of cinematic humour in her own way. “Humour is the best defence mechanism in personal life as well,” she says. Here it isn’t thrust in to make people laugh uproariously but emerges organically. No wonder then, she asserts, “It’s my most natural writing yet.”

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