Getting to know Mishras of Bhopal
A strong script, seamless acting and humour combine to give us a glimpse of everyday life in a household
Gullak 2, all of 25-40 minutes duration, is like riding a roller-coaster of emotions. Not in a typical filmi way with defined doses of khushi (happiness) and gham (sorrow) thrown in equal measure but in how life plays out for us. It has a way of taking unexpected twists and turns, at times during the course of a single day, sometimes in just a matter of hours.
You could start off optimistically in the morning, looking ahead at striking an important business deal but it could suddenly veer towards disappointment, frustration and anger at the duplicity of those you’d have chosen to trust and depend on. And, yet again, at the end of the day, the achievements of someone close to you, can mitigate the despondency and offer hope, something to look forward to the next day.
That essentially is the beauty of Palash Vaswani’s Gullak—the authenticity of its world, genuineness of its characters and the palpable rhythm of life that runs through it. And you don’t need to have watched its first season (one of the most criminally undervalued yet consummately realized series in the Indian streaming platforms) to flow into the pulse and pace of the second.
It doesn’t take long to become one with the Mishra household—Santosh and Shanti and their sons Annu and Aman—that each episode makes us enter through the consciousness of the family’s gullak (an earthen piggybank).
Each episode is built around the everyday anecdotes. From Santosh’s near brush with corruption (politely put as suvidha shulk) to Shanti’s dalliance with diabetes, from the unemployed Annu’s efforts to get a license for a gas agency to his responsibility for kirana (grocery) shopping to Aman getting caught between studying for board exams and watching an Indo-Pak cricket. And then you have all the four Mishras coming together to deal with the politics in the extended family—getting a card that doesn’t invite them saparivar (with family) for a cousin’s wedding.
In all this the gullak makes for a unique sutradhar (narrator), one that is as much a repository of memories as it is symbolic of the financial tenuousness of the Mishras and, in turn, so many similar Indian middle-class families. What’s more, the gullak also comes with an erudite bent of mind uses the choicest of metaphors and turns of phrase in Hindi to make the situations and the underlying quandaries and predicaments tactile. Afterall, it’s a gullak from the literate and artistic city of Bhopal (the series is shot there but doesn’t clearly state the city as its setting).
The desi humour runs effortlessly through the writing, in the caustic wit and the sharp comebacks in the exchanges of the characters. Even in the sign board at the grocery shop which states—“Udhaar mangna bheekh maangne ke samaan hai. Kya aap bhikhaari hain? (To buy on credit is like begging. Are you a begger?).
The comic exists not just to make us laugh but in its larger, admirable disruptiveness. In how it breaks hegemonies of all kinds, brings the hierarchies within the family down to the ground—be they of gender or age. Specially, when it comes to Shanti, who might arduously make dhaniya (coriander) chutney on the sil batta (grinding stone) but is assertive enough to use the kitty party money to buy a mixer-grinder to ease her life. Yes, she might still be using the ‘mixie’ for cooking for the family but never lags in taunting and shaming the three men in her life for not cleaning their cups and plates. She eventually does make them fall in line.
There is the outer world—the naturalness of the clothes the characters wear, their house, the familiarity you feel with its nooks and crannies—the aangan (courtyard), the chhat (terrace), the wash basin, the half-used tube of toothpaste by the mirror, the washing machine from another decade, the small kitchen and the even smaller “stretch your hands and touch the walls” bedrooms. There are the little details—matchsticks used for cleaning ears and also to eat cut fruit and the quintessential pineapple pastries and soft drinks served for a small celebration.
But what’s more significant is the inner world of the Mishra family—the nagging, the grudges, the resentment, the anger, the couple battles and the sibling rivalry, the unfulfilled needs, the constant wants, the thwarted desires and ambitions and yet the simultaneous caring, sharing, resilience, dreams and hopes. There’s a reason why the couple is called Santosh (satisfaction) and Shanti (peace). It’s these very qualities that go lacking at times and create skirmishes and then they come back to play, restore the balance and make the Mishras move on in unity, solidly with each other.
The strength is in the writing—developed by Shreyansh Pandey, written by Durgesh Singh. Special props for the delectable jibe on how Nehru is unfairly held responsible for every problematic issue in the country today. Also, for stating explicitly that in our country boys need to be educated about gender issues to set the imbalance right and for underlining Ravish Kumar’s popularity in the small towns of North India.
Then there are the actors who make the skein of relationships affecting and credible. It feels as though they’d have lived like a real family through the shoot. Geetanjali Kulkarni is as riveting as ever, breathing fire into Shanti with Jameel Khan offering unassuming company as her husband and Vaibhav Raj Gupta (Annu) and Harsh Mayar (Aman) diverting the family dynamics ably as the lively sons. They are also representatives of the small-town aspirations—shopping for Cobra deo and playing games on PUBG. Not to forget Sunita Rajwar’s facetious turn as the cream roll-eating, 500 note-baiting neighbour, Bittu ki Mummy, and Shivankit Singh Parihar as the gullak’s voice, replete with gravitas and common wisdom.
Gullak is like a circle of life in which nothing might happen yet so much does. Endlessly so. It is about the drama in the ordinary, shows the possibility of finding compelling stories in the quotidian. Yes, there are tales even in simple dishes like tehri and the special almond and pistachio rich kheer that’s supposed to get infused with nectar on the night of sharad poornima.
Gullak might be short—five episodes of approximately 25-40 minutes each—but makes for engaging, empathetic and heartwarming snapshots that leave you craving for more. Hope the third season is coming soon.
Gullak Season 2 drops on Sony LIV on January 15