The release of this period drama was long awaited and the film absolutely doesn’t disappoint. Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali weaves the story of a small town girl who becomes an integral part of Kamatipura, Mumbai’s red light district, beautifully on screen. ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’ is based on S Hussain Zaidi and Jane Borges’ book ‘Mafia Queens of Mumbai’ and running about two-and-a-half hours, the movie takes us through how women in brothels converge from all parts of the country and form a bond that is unlike any other.
Ganga (Alia Bhatt), an innocent girl from Gujarat, flees to Mumbai with her paramour, Ramnik, in the hopes of becoming a Bollywood actress. With stars in her eyes, Ganga doesn’t realise how life-changing this move would be – she instead ends up becoming the queen of Kamatipura, with a 4000 women force behind her. The red light district transforms not just her personality but her outlook on life and Ganga vows to change the world’s view about brothels and the women who struggle to survive there. However, Ganga – who becomes Gangu and then Gangubai – finds her path ridden with difficulties, obstacles and loss as she sets out on this path.
As the movie unfolds, questions arise as to whether Alia Bhatt can pull off a role that transforms and goes through various phases of life in the film. What is wonderful about the narration is that it not just shows us the evolution of Ganga to Gangubai through powerful dialogues and minute changes in the character’s look but how Alia Bhatt has breathed fire into the role making it her own. By the end of the film, one is convinced there is no one else who could have essayed this role as vividly as the Bollywood star has. And that is what makes ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’ a superb watch.
Set in the 50s, there is plenty to remind us of that era through the film – Ganga’s love for Dev Anand, the umpteen movie posters, the quaint movie theatre, and the cafe where they all often meet for a good meal. Even the way the film has been shot reminds us of chapters in a book where Ganga moves from one situation or challenge to another. Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s stamp is strongly etched in every scene too – be it the pretty and colourful visuals, the emotional moments or the production value of the film. While he takes us through Gangu’s life, he doesn’t dwell too much time on any particular moment but makes sure that no moment is left untouched either. As with all Bhansali films, the songs are well-choreographed and beautifully picturised.
‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’ is clearly an Alia Bhatt film. The actress, who has been seen in romcoms and some fluff films, pulls off this role with pure authenticity. Be it the lingo spoken in the red light district, the mannerisms of a kothe-wali or the gradient changes in physical appearance, Alia aces them all. She exudes confidence and strength on screen as the woman who wants to change the lives of brothel women by chasing power and showing men she can’t be toyed with. The actress may be small-made but she packs a powerful punch on screen with her performance.
The casting for the film has to be mentioned undoubtedly. Ajay Devgn makes an impressive cameo as Rahim Lala while Vijay Raaz as transwoman Razia Bai shines. Jim Sarbh and Seema Pahwa also add a lot to this film as the journalist and kothe-bai respectively. The music score by Ankit and Sankit Balhara adds value to the film.
Gangubai’s extempore speech at Azad Maidan is the crux of this entire film and her own existence in a way. Essaying Gangubai and her struggle for women’s empowerment and rights flawlessly, Alia Bhatt will win not just hearts and accolades for “Gangubai Kathiawadi’, but plenty of awards too.