Gulabo Sitabo released on Amazon Prime Video recently to great reviews. From critics to audiences to film celebrities, everyone was praising the film online. Not only did Shoojit Sircar’s comedy-drama give us the entertaining jodi of Ayushmann Khurrana and Amitabh Bachchan, it also included well-written witty dialogues by Juhi Chaturvedi, spectacular performances by Brijendra Kala and Vijay Raaz, and a story that brought a smile to our faces. Gulabo Sitabo also “refocused” on the dying of puppetry, reviving the lost glory of the puppet art of gulabo sitabo.
Puppetry used to be a popular art in India and some might say, it still is. Puppetry is beyond just the simple makeshift doll that is controlled by a collection of strings by the puppeteer. In the Indian context, puppetry is a form of theatre. It falls somewhere between storytelling and theatrical plays. Today, this form of art is seen as an Indian heritage. Puppetry shows include narration, drama, live music, and dance.
You may have seen many types of puppets shows in India. They are not very common in this era and some kids of puppetry performances have become extinct, while others are still struggling to survive. Among the traditions that are striving to be alive are string puppets, rod puppets, glove puppets, and shadow puppets.
Gulabo sitabo is a type of glove puppetry. Here, the puppeteer slips a hand into the puppet operating the head with the forefinger and the hands of the puppet with his thumb and other fingers. Glove puppet traditions are seen across the country – from the sakhi kundhei in Orissa to the pavakathakali in Kerala. Uttar Pradesh’s popular glove puppetry tradition is the gulabo sitabo, which is reported to have originated back to the 17th century in Lucknow. While in the South, puppet theatre narrates stories from the epics, gulabo sitabo explores the tales of two puppets Gulabo and Sitabo. While Gulabo is the imposing and domineering wife, Sitabo is submissive scintillating mistress of the same man. They’re both made of paper-mâché and dressed in shiny colorful outfits wearing trinkets. The stories are told through an a capella style narration by the puppeteer, who builds a semi-improvised plot laced with humor and stereotypical jokes about wives and mistresses. The stories range from petty domestic issues to the ups and down of the daily lives shared by the women. In some cases, the puppeteer also uses a dholak and manjira for his performances.
Shoojit Sircar’s movie not only borrows its title from this art form but uses a similar style of storytelling to tell us about its main characters Mirza (Amitabh Bachchan), the overbearing landlord, and Baankey (Ayushmann Khurrana), the overworked tenant. The story revolves around the love-hate relationship and how even in their quarrels, the two men are conjoined in their miseries. The film also runs a gulabo sitabo performance parallel to the story, bringing this age-old folk art into the limelight.
You can watch the gulabo sitabo performance in the film by streaming it on Amazon Prime Video. Don’t forget to read our review of the film and let us know what you thought about it by clicking on the link below.