Gulabo Sitabo seems to be a few things – a lumberjack who rents and owns, a strange couple, but he also has remarks about heritage and inheritance.
It’s all these things. But more than a story, it’s always the world that attracts me the most. In my other films I also tried to create worlds. Besides Mirza (Bachchan) and Baankei (Hurran), there are many other characters in the film who have their own story. When I make a film, I take my camera and put it between the characters and show them their world, their problems, their happiness and the little things that are important to them. Gulabo Sitabo is a simple satire about life. It’s a genre I tried for the first time.
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Amitabh Bakhchan (L) and Suzhit Sirkar.
How do you imagine Wednesday and the texture of Lucknow?
In my films like Delhi, Chittaranjan Park, Calcutta and now Lucknow, this place is always a character. I shot something small there once, but it was the first time I really explored the city. Lucknow resembles West Bengal, because during the colonial period the Lucknow-Nawabs settled in Calcutta. Many Nawabi dishes from Lucknow have become an integral part of the kitchen of Calcutta.
I’ve been trying to get an idea of old Lucknow. We wanted to create a texture that contains nothing modern to make it eternal. A small remark for all department heads was that the film must be a conversation we have with certain people. For example, we experimented and used a single lens, so everything is wide angle. You can see the foreground and background, the texture and the details very clearly. In order to get the right texture and give it an authentic look, you have to do research and observe.
You mean Bachchan and Hurran when you started writing the screenplay?
We were talking about Mr. Bachchan, and he knew it when we wrote. But Ayushman came aboard later. While writing the script, we discussed the age of the character, and only after blocking the script did it occur to me to suggest Ayushman Juha and Ronnie (Lahiri, producer). They both took the idea. I found the pair of novels and verse. In satire, we need stupidity. They both have it.
You found Hurrana after filming her first film, Wiki Donor (2012). What changes have you noticed?
It was a long hole, but we still had contact. This film is not in the usual UP groove we’ve seen. The grooves had to be perfectly machined. Ayushman grew up as an actor and understands many of the subtleties of acting. We worked a little on the character and it was nice to have him back on set.
The most important aspect was that he felt comfortable in the presence of Mr. Bakhchan, who is more than life as a person. He’s not the same on set or as a character, but it takes some effort to make the person in front of him feel comfortable. In this film there is not only a lot of interaction between the characters, but also a lot of collisions between them. They were supposed to be real, so we had to encourage them.
Does this name refer to the traditional puppet theatre of Uttar Pradesh?
Yes, Gulabo-Sitabo is an old puppetry art that has existed for hundreds of years, but is slowly fading away. Gulabo and Sitabo are two figures of the puppet theatre. Jiuhi and I thought, now that we’re making a film in Lucknow, why not accept this idea of languishing art as a metaphor and pay for this ode.
Why did you choose direct digital publishing?
That’s a first for me. Its effectiveness only becomes clear when the film touches the screens, and I’ve seen the effect. If the lockdown hadn’t happened, the movie would already be in the movie theater. It was to be published in January and then had a date in April. Uncertainties began to arise. The film has been in production for about four months, and as my producer Ronnie says, we’re not a production company for many films. We make a movie, the costs are written off, and then we move on to the next one.
I also had an unpublished experience with Shoebite, and it took me almost seven years to do something else. So I knew I had to move on.
Do you think it’s going to be a distribution model?
Cinema is my love, and we all have a pure love of cinema. That’s why we make movies. But now we are adapting to new platforms. The movie’s not going anywhere. We want to see movies in the cinema. Cinema and digital will coexist. I won’t have all these experiences until after the twelfth grade. June, after seeing my movie on the internet, then as soon as I see it projected on the big screen. The truth is that without Amazon Prime Video, I wouldn’t have had such a great release and the film would have been shown in 200 countries. Your offer was interesting.
Did the blockade affect your other projects, such as Sardar Udham Singh?
We have announced a new release date of 2021 for the lockdown. We took this decision because of a bottleneck in the queue for release. Anyway, now it’s sinking and sinking and it’s getting worse. We don’t know when the theatres will open, how they will work, or when the audience will return to the theatres. We are waiting for a message from the Producers Guild of India and the Association of Film and Television Artists. We are currently working on a post-production of Sardar Udham Singh based on the local environment. It’s slow, but we’re making progress.
Udita Junjhunwala is a writer, film critic and festival programmer in Mumbai.
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