Mirza, the owner of Fatima Mahal, the picturesque ruined mansion at the center of the Hindi film “Gulabo Sitabo” (streaming on Amazon Prime), is waging a long and grumpy war with tenants whom he regards as pests in his house. He steals their light bulbs, cuts them off and locks them in spare bathrooms when the common latrines become unusable. A quick blow of frustration was all it took to make a hole the size of a person in his wall.
The main object of Mirza’s hostility is Baankey, who lives with his mother and sisters in a few overcrowded rooms and pays the grandfather rent 30 rupees (less than a dollar). When their battle escalates – who will pay to fix the bathroom wall? – a little lawyer gets involved. Also poking around: a government archaeologist, who has his own plans for Fatima Mahal.
Located in the old Lucknow, the modern world first introducing only a few objects (a motorcycle, a mobile phone), “Gulabo Sitabo” is both a slightly allegorical riff on the forces and counter-forces of modernization Indian and a character-based comedy powered by two Bollywood stars.
In a corner, the heavyweight champion: Amitabh Bachchan, the angry young man of Hindi cinema who has become a great old man. Curled up and mumbling, his famous face hidden behind a bushy beard and a prosthetic nose of a hawk, Bachchan plays Mirza with the delicacy and attention to detail of a character actor.