The nawabi world of Mirza and Baankey in Shoojit Sircar's 'Gulabo Sitabo'

Lucknow lanes: Filmmaker Shoojit Sircar on the sets of Gulabo Sitabo

Lucknow lanes: Filmmaker Shoojit Sircar on the sets of Gulabo Sitabo  

The filmmaker on creating a new visual language for the upcoming comedy and why it’s his most difficult film till date

For a filmmaker who has journeyed from Kashmir in Yahaan to Delhi in Vicky Donor and October, from Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka in Madras Cafe and from Delhi to Kolkata in Piku, Gulabo Sitabo has been about pitching his tent in a new city — Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh. According to Shoojit Sircar, though it hasn’t just been about the shift in geographical location alone. It’s also about moving along with a highly evolved set of characters into an absolutely unfamiliar territory. “The creative journey was about getting in to the world of Mirza [Sheikh, Amitabh Bachchan] and Baankey [Sodhi, Ayushmann Khurrana], to try and be as authentic to it and present it as truthfully as possible. That was the tough and the difficult part,” says Sircar.

You can sense the excitement in Sircar’s voice, on the other side of the telephonic conversation, as he talks about the new visual language that he was prompted to create in Gulabo Sitabo. It’s what set his creative juices flowing. “I live on these challenges,” he emphasises. In that sense, Sircar calls Gulabo Sitabo his most difficult film till date. But, of course, he means that in a good way. Deep inside, cinema, for him, is about evolution than a stasis, about moving somewhere, towards something new. And, the cinematographer for the film, only aided and abetted in that. “Why not shoot in wide lens?” Avik Mukhopadhyay asked him. So the film has been shot with a single lens. “Everything is broad and open,” describes Sircar.

Gulabo Sitabo is one of the most-looked-forward to films premiering on the streaming platforms in the time of the COVID19 pandemic and lockdown. But, for a film that promises to have such a unique visual grammar and flair, wouldn’t the streaming world be a step down? Sircar says that the decision was taken after weighing all the pros and the cons and he is happy with that, “Cinema is not going anywhere... I have nothing against adapting with the times and moving on.”

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Partners in creativity

Sircar also holds his screenwriter and long-time collaborator Juhi Chaturvedi responsible for having helped him find a new cinematic language. It’s primarily, because the film is not plot-driven but led by the two quirky characters. “It was about taking the camera right inside the world of these people,” he says. These are not your towering, larger-than-life individuals. “Another challenging part about the film was that the characters are so simple that you may not even notice them,” he says. There are other new things he has tried. Pure satire, for instance. “But it [the humour] is not about playing to the gallery,” he asserts.

Gulabo Sitabo evolved from just the germ of a basic idea that Chaturvedi and he agreed upon – a film about two people who are fighting all the time. And then it progressed bit by bit. The duo, were not sure whether it would eventually turn out into a film. What they did know was they wanted Bachchan in it, again without knowing whether he would agree to come on board or not. The age of Baankey, the character that Khurrana has played, was not quite clear in the beginning. They kept debating about it. “Eventually what we have done, has been done with integrity. What we wanted to do and the way we wanted to do it. We have not compromised on that,” he says.

In Ray’s footsteps

Gulabo Sitabo also marks the first pairing of Bachchan and Khurrana together. Whether it’s Khurrana who returns to work with Sircar after Vicky Donor in 2013, or Bachchan who worked with him in Piku in 2016, for Sircar any actor-director relationship is all about trust. Bachchan, he feels, completely understands him and his team and tries to deliver and be there as much as possible, asking for a third take if not happy with his performance. “He has done lots on his own,” says Sircar, when it comes to Bachchan’s interpretation of Mirza. The spell of the recent dizzying success notwithstanding, he had hoped Khurrana would be the same actor who he had worked with seven years ago. As the discussions started they found themselves on the same page. It was like a family coming together at the shoot, which is how Sircar likes to film. “I work with a very close-knit crew in which everybody is known to each other,” he says.

Coming up next from him in 2021 will be the biopic Sardar Udham Singh starring Vicky Kaushal. Post-production work on it has halted for now and Sircar is keeping himself busy watching documentaries and reading non-fiction, while giving pre-release interviews when we talk to him last week. During the lockdown, the most absorbing for him, has been taking lessons in housework. Our conversation veers back to talking more about Gulabo Sitabo’s setting. “Wherever I go [with the film], I explore everything,” he says. Even if it’s an ICU in October. “I don’t hide anything. I like to give a 360 degree view of where we are,” he says.

Lucknow was not an unfamiliar zone, for someone born in Kolkata and brought up in Delhi. “The Jama Masjid, Chandni Chowk area, the alleys and streets in Old Delhi are quite similar. Kolkata also has a nawabi cuisine and culture,” he says. But the biggest high was to film in a city where Satyajit Ray had shot Shatranj Ke Khiladi back in 1977. “I even made sure that I stayed in the same hotel [Clarks Avadh] as he did,” he laughs, hoping that his Lucknow resonates in the nawabi city and the rest of the world alike.

Gulabo Sitabo will drop on Amazon Prime Video, June 12.

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Printable version | Jul 4, 2020 12:20:47 PM |

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