Film Review: Gangubai Kathiawadi

Film Review: Gangubai Kathiawadi

Starring: Alia Bhatt, Shantanu Maheshwari, Vijay Raaz, Indira Tiwari, Seema Pahwa, Jim Sarbh, Ajay Devgn, Varun Kapoor, Huma Qureshi

Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali

From the buzzing streets of Kamathipura, a red-light neighbourhood in Bombay, Bhansali rolls the cameras against the gritty backdrop of sex workers in post-independent India in his latest cinematic spectacle. Broadly based on the non-fiction book ‘Mafia Queens of Mumbai’ by Hussain Zaidi, this motion picture depicts the rugged tales of survival in the brothels of India.

A gullible young girl in her 20s with aspirations of making it to Bollywood, falls into the trap of her deceiving lover Ramnik (Varun Kapoor). Promising to get her closer to becoming a movie star, the fraud trafficks Ganga into prostitution for a mere Rs 1,000 – the cost of her trust and her freedom. Daddy’s little princess, with each breath of regret, succeeds in becoming the queen reigning over the notorious district.

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Out of every door that shut and every client that left her room was born Gangubai (Bhatt), nee Ganga. Fiery eyes and a fearless soul dominated her innocence, transitioning the protagonist into a powerful boss lady in the midst of this lustful debauchery.

Overcoming challenges either during her political campaigns or her personal traumas with grit and determination, Gangubai turns activist to voice the bitter truths in the lives of sex workers. She breaks the social stigma by enrolling her daughters in a school, a failed attempt at modernising society with a blatant attempt at equality. Eventually, Gangu has the spotlight on her to magnify the plight of thousands of women in this trade before then Indian Prime Minister Nehru.

Overflowing with chutzpah, Alia Bhatt has taken a leap of faith in her career, adding another feather in her cap. A noticeably mature actor can be witnessed in her throughout the film.

Superbly complementing her role were the characters essayed by Ajay Devgn, playing the underworld don Karim Lala; Seema Pahwa as Sheela Mausi, the brutal pimp; Shantanu Maheshwari as Afsaan, Gangubai’s romantic interest; and Indira Tiwari enacting her soul sister Kamli.

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The versatility with which Vijay Raaz portrays a transgender mafia goon showcases the breadth of his talent. His casting could never have gone wrong. And my all-time favourite Jim Sarbh, who plays the part of the so-called journalist Amin Faizi, couldn’t have been more of a treat to watch.

Bhansali’s directorial prowess is well reflected in the decorated set pieces of heroic and heart-breaking moments, making this a delightful pick from the recent crop of Bollywood releases.

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