Gangubai 1_edited.jpg

Gangubai Kathiawadi: Larger than Life

Gangubai Kathiawadi is the story of young, naïve girl, who elopes with her boyfriend with starry hopes of becoming a Bollywood heroine. But she ends up in the clutches of Sheela bai, who runs a brothel in the red-light area of Kamathipura. But unfazed by adverse circumstances, Gangubai emerges strong and fights for the rights of the sex workers. A review by Dr Ramandeep Mahal.

‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’ depicts Ganga's ascent to power and renown from a modest small-town girl in Gujarat to the uncontested queen of Kamathipura in Mumbai. It is based on S. Hussain Zaidi and Jane Borges' hard-hitting book 'Mafia Queens of Mumbai.' Personally, I would rate the film 8 out of 10.

A true, terrible, and dramatic scene depicts women invitingly standing at the threshold of a brothel in the busy streets of south Mumbai's red-light district Kamathipura. Set completely against this grim background of Mumbai, director Sanjay Leela Bhansali's film 'Gangubai Kathiawadi' portrays the tale of numerous young women who were sold to brothels for a few hundred rupees, primarily through the eyes of its protagonist Gangubai (Alia Bhatt).

A naive Ganga is persuaded by her own boyfriend Ramnik (Varun Kapoor) to elope with the promise that he would pave the way for her to make it as a Bollywood heroine somewhere in the early 1950s or 1960s. Ganga, who later renames herself Gangu and subsequently Gangubai, becomes the heroine of Kamathipura instead. Kamathipura becomes her home over time, the brothel girls become her family, and Kamathipura her personal realm. Her quest, however, is riddled with obstacles, adversaries, and a societal stigma that brings out the warrior in her.The film's charm resides in how it depicts Gangu's character evolving through several periods of her life. The storyline further takes its time to develop, even slowing down at times, yet it does so without losing its punch, thanks to intense discussions and poignant scenes.

Even in a little part as Rahim Lala, Ajay Devgan makes an impression. The remainder of the supporting actors, including Seema Pahwa, Vijay Raaz, and Jim Sarbh, give it their all but don't have much of a chance to shine. Shantanu Maheshwari, who plays Gangu's love interest, gives a strong performance, and the bittersweet scenes between Gangu and him are among the film's highlights.

In the trailer for Gangubai Kathiawadi, Alia Bhatt's character is shown delivering a 'bhashan' (speech) in front of a large crowd. She wants sex work to be treated with the same respect as any other career, and for the children of sex workers to have equal access to school. The pre-climax sequence in the movie pretty much sums up what the movie is all about. It demonstrates what this larger-than-life lady desires above everything else.

The ladies get ready for a busy day (night) at work-applying lipstick, tapping loose powder on their faces-looking like living mannequins on the brothel's gates, enticing customers- an excruciatingly painful scene. "Grahak ko tumhara chehra nahi chamdi chahiye," (the customer is interested in your body not your face) adds Seema Pahwa, who plays a cruel and boorish Sheela Bai. Sheela Bai goes through the dark, gloomy and dismal hallway filled with women sleeping on the ground or sharing tiny beds to wake Gangu up, adding, "iss dhande mein time nahi hota." (there is no time to sleep in this profession). These scenes reveal that Bhansali is not only attempting to celebrate Gangu's triumph, but also to depict the bleak history that she, and many other women have experienced.

The whole flashback sequence into Ganga's past is heartbreaking and fantastic at the same time. Each frame in this piece speaks to you as if attempting to communicate something we don't always want to hear. There are some scenes in the movies that stand out and strike the proper note. A scene in which a group of girls are attempting to compose a letter to their families by hurling sentences at each other, constructing a happy world in their imagination, is just heartbreaking.

Bhatt's almost-childlike frame and face undergo a dramatic and perplexing transformation for this role that is both impressive and insufficient, her work and the result of teamwork. Her pronounced make-up, hairdos, seemingly marginally expanded facial structure, and maturing demeanor distinguish her from the baby-faced actor we meet at the start of the film as the camera closes in on her in the second half. Gangubai or Ganga's walk, smile, and posture all improve. However, it comes as a surprise when she says it's been 15 years since she arrived in Kamathipura, because her skin appears unaffected by the passage of time, whatever else has changed or hasn't.

 
Flower

Dr. Ramandeep Mahal, is Asstt Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Maharishi Markandeshwar University Mullana, Ambala