Gulabo Sitabo reunites the trio of Vicky Donor – Shoojit Sircar, Ayushmann Khurrana and Juhi Chaturvedi – with the addition of Amitabh Bachchan. Vicky Donor not only introduced Ayushmann to Bollywood, it established Shoojit as a director to reckon with as well as turned Juhi Chaturvedi into a National Film Award winning screenwriter.
Eight years on, Vicky Donor is still considered one of the pioneering films in what we now call 'new age cinema', a genre which has made a star out of Ayushmann. It was the first film for Juhi Chaurvedi as well, who handled a taboo topic like sperm donation with superb sensitivity.
"It was Ayushmann and my first film together. We were newcomers who had nothing to lose, the only thing we had was content which Shoojit believed in. We said, let's try and make something as bizarre as this, work. That innocence drove us to do our best. The film did become an absolute landmark for him and I feel happy that Vicky Donor is always mentioned whenever he has a film releasing," she says.
Giving credit where it's due, Juhi says the actor Ayushmann has become today is thanks to the choices he has made, the grooming he has undergone as an artist and his own life experiences. Working with him again in Gulabo Sitabo, she has watched an evolved actor perform on the sets.
"He has become more understanding of concepts and writing. He writes poetry, and also sings. He is a very sensitive person. Having two kids, his wife Tahira surviving cancer, understanding how the film industry works, all that has added value to his craft. What we all were during Vicky Donor's time, we are better versions of ourselves now," she adds.
Post Vicky Donor, Ayushmann established himself as the middle class hero in subsequent films, while Juhi continued to make heroes out of the middle class man. After Vicky Donor, it was Irrfan Khan and Amitabh Bachchan in Piku, Varun Dhawan in October, and back to Ayushmann and Bachchan in Gulabo Sitabo.
"I find regular people most inspiring, most valuable and contributing to my life. I find them hugely heroic. More than a person who goes and murders someone, who is probably an exception, what matters to me is how on a daily basis, a very average person continues to live his life. What is the motivation? My house help hasn't been working for three months, and some people are not even paying them. Poverty can make a person do anything, but what drives them to lead their life the way they do? That intrigues and attracts me, so my heroes are absolutely regular people," Juhi explains.
Juhi believes that stories are born out of a certain necessity in the society at that time. "There was the need for the angry young man as the hero in the '70s to bring back the confidence in the regular youth. A man who could fight the corruption in the system. Filmmakers like Sai Paranjpye, Basu Chatterjee, Mrinal Sen and Satyajit Ray continued to work with the family stories. They always turned towards the regular working class people to base their films on," she says.
Gulabo Sitabo was born of the same thought process – understanding why, people living with the bare minimum, do certain things, without judging them. "There is a very big world out there, which we are probably not familiar with, where people are living a very limited life and still somehow surviving. The story of this crooked old man came out of this concept, during a conversation with Shoojit Sircar, in February 2017. All our films have been in the middle class, upper middle class strata of the society. This setup is part of our society, but still somewhat new," she explains.
The film is set in Lucknow, where Bachchan plays the aged owner of a decrepit haveli, which he refuses to part with, while Ayushmann plays his stubborn tenant. "Mr Bachchan himself comes from UP, so he knew the character I was talking about. He was able to draw from his own life and experiences to play Mirza. I had Mirza in my mind, and Shoojit said, nobody other than Mr Bachchan. When we described the character to him, he laughed. He was extremely thrilled because of the references he could draw from his own life," she says.
Gulabo Sitabo is streaming on Amazon Prime Video. The huge anticipation is thanks to the fact that every script Juhi has penned so far has been critically acclaimed and has something unique to offer. But the writer is just glad to be able to tell the stories that have affected her and watch them made into a piece of art on screen. "I need to express myself as a writer, I am grateful that my voice is being heard. I do want to connect to the audience, and this is my way of telling people that I am affected by the lessons life teaches us," she says.
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