The movie prologues with a roadside puppet show somewhere in the dusty old lanes in Lucknow. The story of two puppets – Gulabo and Sitabo references back to early 1950s when puppetry was an eminent source of entertainment for the masses in the newly independent country. The stories of the duo – Gulabo Sitabo goes back a long way in the lanes of Uttar Pradesh, where their squabbles were presented through sardonic humor and hilarious banter. Gulabo Khub lade... Sitabo khub lade... Rangilo khub lade!!!
An enthralling puppeteer’s act introduces us to Shoojit Sircar’s world of Gulabo Sitabo, which revolves around the catch phrase, हमें तो मोहब्बत है इस हवेली से... (I am in love with this Mansion)
A film buff’s dose of a captivating Indian Satire, Gulabo Sitabo, presents, in the most quixotic manner, two sides of the same coin i.e. affection and greed, associated with an ancestral property. Shoojit Sircar’s satire poses a very important question to the audience- Why is this aging piece of property more important than the people that inhabit within in it?
In a rather succinct manner (compared to how long legal proceedings can take place), the movie also delved into some of the crucial aspects of the art law domain, i.e. architecture, archaeological sites and inheritance laws. Gulabo Sitabo has set the narrative for us to have an insightful discussion on the laws relating to these aspects.
A century old dilapidated mansion, Fatima Mahal, is the silent protagonist that becomes the cause of this bittersweet dramedy that unfolds between an insurmountably greedy landlord- Mirza Chunnan Nawab, 78 (Amitabh Bachchan), who married Fatima Begum, who is nearly 15 years elder than him and the heiress of this haveli, and a stubborn tenant- Baankey Rastogi (Ayushmann Khurrana), who has been residing in this Haveli for years.
The daily quarrel between Mirza and his tenants turns into a legal conundrum, when the ASI officer, Gyanesh Shukla, becomes inquisitive about the Fatima Mahal haveli, when he overhears Mirza exclaim that his haveli was more than a 100-years old!
Akin to several legal dramedy, produced by Bollywood, Gulabo Sitabo also takes a populist approach towards law (In the movie, Jolly LL.B. a Public Interest Litigation was filed before a District Court). The legal flaw of treating Fatima Mahal as a site of archaeological importance, led to a situation, where Mirza, ignorantly, dug up various portions of the Fatima Mahal, in search of hidden valuables.
While we more commonly know of the central legislation, the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, the same is only applicable to ancient monuments, and sites of archaeological importance. Relevant to the present case, is the Development Authority byelaws for Conservation of Heritage Sites, passed by the Uttar Pradesh Government, to protect heritage buildings from acts such as redevelopment and even demolition.
Res Ipsa Loquitor! Fatima Mahal is at best, a heritage building.
Among various legal issues, the movie highlights the rights and liabilities of the owners vis-à-vis a property, which is yet to be proclaimed as a heritage building. Until Fatima Mahal was beautified with an ASI property notice, Mirza or Fatima Begum (since she was the de jure owner) could have made Baankey, directly liable for causing destruction of the property and could have sought costs and damages. However, upon its listing as a heritage building, Fatima Begum / Mirza owed a responsibility to maintain the property in its original form.
A building, whether of archaeological importance or not, if is of historical, cultural, aesthetic or any other significance, can be protected as a heritage site, under Indian laws. In the case of Raj Rewal v. Union of India, the Hon’ble Delhi High Court had observed that Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957, which deals with Author’s special rights / Moral rights, applies only to the buildings which have been declared as heritage buildings of national importance.
In the end, Fatima Begum eloped with her childhood lover, only to return to a renovated Fatima Mahal, to celebrate her 95th birthday, clearly establishing that Fatima Mahal had ripened well to qualify as a heritage building, as per the UP bye-laws.
On an ending note, this movie is a true portrayal of how reel drama, metaphorically compared to real greed, can end up leading one into the never-ending vicious cycle of legal battles.
About the Authors:
Urvi Kothari is the founder of Inside the White Cube- a digital collection of art reviews, critiques and general commentary pertaining to the art world. She is an art curator, who opines on the South Asian Art market. She has collaborated with Art Law India to explore the perspective of culture and aesthetics in this confluence of Art and Law.
Malveka Nautiyal is a Third Year B.A. LL.B (Hons.) student at RGNUL, Patiala. She has an immense interest in the numerous facets of Culture and Law. Malveka is an intern with the Art Law India.
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 Section 2(m) of The Development Authority byelaws for Conservation of Heritage Sites - "Heritage buildings" means buildings, artefacts, structures of historical or archaeological or aesthetic or architectural or cultural or environmental significance which are included in a list(s) published by a notification in the Official Gazette by the Government from time to time  Sections 28 and 29 of the U.P. Urban Buildings (Regulation of Letting, Rent and Eviction) Act, 1972  Order dated May 28, 2019 in CS(COMM) 3/2018