Shoojit Sircar’s latest on-screen tale, tells the story of an archaic haveli amid colorful Lucknow. His storytelling as always is impeccable and his latest star in the film is a topic of much discussion. No, I’m not talking about Amitabh Bachchan or Ayushmann Khurrana, but the fictitious haveli this story centers on – Fatima Mahal.
Directed by: Shoojit Sircar
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan as Mirza, Ayushmann Khurrana as Baankey, Vijay Raaz as Gyanesh Shukla, Brijendra Kala as Christopher Clark, Srishti Shrivastava as Guddo and Farrukh Jaffar as Fatima Begum
Run time: 124 minutes
Release date: June 12th, 2020 (Available exclusively on Amazon Prime)
An eccentric landlord Mirza and his tenant Baankey are constantly trying to outmaneuver each other when it comes to the fate of their tattered residence – Fatima Mahal. While Baankey tries to get away with paying peanuts for rent, Mirza wants to evict his tenants. Enter a government agent and a real estate lawyer. The plot thickens as multiple forces play a game of cat and mouse, trying to get possession of Fatima Mahal. Who will end up with it, once and for all?
Gulabo Sitabo is a perfectly charming and amusing story, at the center of which is a tattered old haveli – Fatima Mahal. While a down-to-earth cast and sensational storyline nail this feel-good movie, it is the haveli itself that attracts attention.
As an architecture and design enthusiast, I have come to observe movies from its art direction and shot designs. For most people, the set of Gulabo Sitabo may seem like an ordinary broken-down mansion, but from a designer’s perspective; you can see the incredible detailing that must’ve gone into its creation. Fatima Mahal is central to the plot of the movie, which makes it the star character. Production designer Mansi Dhruv Mehta is to be credited with the film’s art direction, who worked on other films by Sircar such as October, Piku, and Vicky Donor to name a few.
The fragility of the dilapidated Fatima Mahal (or Mahmudabad Palace in real-life) comes not only from its natural exhaustion over time but the little details added by the production team. For a haveli to look like it could collapse any second, those extra touches of exposed bricks, chipping plaster, and broken tiles needed to be added. While the exact time frame of the movie has not been mentioned, you can tell from the structure, it has a traditional Lucknowi influence to it and maybe existed for over six decades. To wear down a structure is much harder than shooting in new and polished buildings. This weariness was brought out beautifully through blue paints, contrasting the bricks and the yellow fading paint. Broken windows, old scooters, and tied down farm goats were all attributes that added to the antiquated personality of Fatima Mahal. The cluttered and stuffy interiors of the Mahal occupied by Mirza and his wife, Fatima Begum tell us that at one time, this haveli must’ve been a grand sight to witness and the family had a rich aristocratic ancestry.
Something that stood out to me in the décor of the haveli was how subtle and faded all the furniture was except (spoiler!) the wooden chair with bright green cushioning that Fatima Begum left for Mirza as her parting gift.
Subtly, I feel Fatima Mahal’s rundown condition is a reflection of the people residing in it – each with big dreams and ambitions but a life infected with poverty and greed. Survival seems to be at the core of their actions; survival of the characters and the haveli, being interlinked. Architecture does that to you in a story. It has the power to create a believable illusion of the world in which the story is set in.
The city of Nawabs – Lucknow is wonderfully captured throughout the movie. The audience gets a glimpse into the rustic and historic appeal of Lucknow with its packed lanes and old-world charm. While most of the scenes are within the haveli, whatever parts of the city have been documented in the movie, feel authentic. The Western Kaiser Bagh Gate is one prominent structure showcased in multiple scenes of the film.
The movie was unexpected and charming all at once. From the hilarity of the quirky characters to the charismatic Fatima Mahal and Lucknow’s fascinating street life, the movie is perfect for designers, architecture enthusiasts that love historical structures and some good old family time.