She is a master in painting everyday characters with great detail on screen and for "Gulabo Sitabo", Juhi Chaturvedi's choice of brush was satire as the writer says when one cannot change the reality, a "chuckle" is good enough. The film follows a bickering duo - an elderly landlord Mirza and his young tenant Baankey - who try to outfox each other in their attempt to stake claim on the dilapidated mansion at the centre of the story. The film started streaming on Amazon Prime Video from June 12.
Directed by Chaturvedi's frequent collaborator Shoojit Sircar, the film, starring Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana, explores the life of people living a hand-to-mouth existence unapologetically. "We have chosen the landlord and tenant's relationship to explore that emotion. It is a story about regular, everyday people and how and what all they are doing to sustain themselves in a life, which is not privileged," she said.
The "October" writer believes humour is a mechanism to overcome obstacles.
"Gloom on a film is a very powerful reality and it can be expressed and it is very impactful. It pierces your heart and you stay affected by it.
"At the same time, satire is a wonderful and creative form of expression and I am driven towards satire, wit. Maybe reality is so harsh that your soul only craves for a chuckle that 'let me just laugh if I can't change anything about the situation'," she told PTI in an interview.
Citing the example of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic across the globe that has affected tens of thousands lives, Chaturvedi said this health crisis is a reality that's not pleasant. "Right now whatever is going on in the world is extremely harsh, cruel, there is gloom everywhere, but in all of this we have found our defense mechanism to deal with it.
"For me, finding that humour or voice in writing is my defense mechanism to be able to deal with reality and humour helps me do that," she said.
"Gulabo Sitabo" was initially set in Delhi but the team eventually decided to base it in the writer's birth city Lucknow. "When you are mounting a project you mount it anywhere, but when you are creating a world there is a difference. We come from the school of creating a world and so experiences are deeper and rich. There is no room for compromise," she said.
"The Lucknow that is there in my memory... the characters and all of that, I want people to experience it with as much fun as I had while writing. Hopefully, in these times people will find something to laugh and think about," she said.
Both Bachchan and Khurrana have previously worked with Chaturvedi and Sircar in the past. The writer said there have been instances when she could visualise an actor for a certain character. It happened with Bachchan as Mirza as well as Bhashkor Banerjee in "Piku".
Even for Irrfan Khan's role as Rana Chaudhary in "Piku" and Dolly Ahluwalia as Khurrana's mother in "Vicky Donor", she had imagined these actors playing the part. "Sometimes you know in the beginning who will play the character, sometimes you realise later. It works as long as the writing doesn't get corrupted and you are not writing towards a pre-decided actor. It is about authenticity," she said.
In "Gulabo Sitabo", Bachchan looks unrecognisable as Mirza, and Chaturvedi said the reference for the look came from her own understanding and a portrait of an old man by a Russian artist provided by film's cinematographer Avik Mukhopadhyay. "In Lucknow or old parts of the city, you will find these people, an elderly man with a beard, a skull cap, little poor, little dirty, broken jhola, specs... it is very normal as I have seen them.
"It wasn't difficult for me to write what Mirza would look like. In the case of Baankey, who is a regular next-door-guy, we wanted him to look not noticeable. We wanted everyone to look authentic so that it feels that someone from the street has been put on screen," she added.