Gangubai Kathiawadi: Bollywood Movie Review


Based on a chapter of Hussain Zaidi’s book “Mafia Queens of Mumbai”, film “Gangubai Kathiawadi” revolves around the life of Gangubai Kothewali, who rose to fame and prominence, during 1960s and came to be known as the “Madam of Kamathipura”, the famous red light district of Mumbai. The film premiered at the 72nd Berlin International Film Festival and was then released in theaters on February 25, 2022 and is produced by Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Jayantilal Gada and Directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. I never mention before completion of the review, but I will make an exception and say that this is an absolutely beautiful and “must watch” movie for any serious movie enthusiasts. 

This is a biographical film and is loosely based on the life of Ganga Harjivandas, who was born into a reputed Kathiawadi family in Gujarat, in 1938. She had dreams of city life and having found the love of her life, at a young age of 16, she married and eloped with Ramnik Lal to Mumbai. That is when her life’s trajectory changed. Ramnik Lal sold her to a brothel for a paltry Rs. 500 and she was forced to enter the oldest trade in human history.

Ganga eventually emerged as Gangubai and became a powerful brothel owner herself. At a time when feminism wasn’t even a concept, Gangubai emerged as a voice for these women, and she demanded they get equal treatment, opportunities for their children, and legalization of their profession. Alia Bhatt has exceeded all expectations in the role of Ganga, as she evolves into Gangubai. When starring in a biopic, the actor is familiar with the story of the events that took place in the character’s life. But it is only an actor who can put life into the evolution of the character and bring to life their journey. This is the journey of how a young girl with dreams of starting her married life dealt with that betrayal, accepted the fact that there was absolutely no escape for her and to change her circumstances, she needed to change herself and get an upper hand over the life that was thrown at her.

Every dialog that Gangubai says, is uttered with masterful theatrics by Alia. 

When challenging her competitor in local elections, without a shred of doubt about her own potential win, Gangubai says, “ज़मीन पे बैठी बहोत अच्छी लग रही है तू, आदत दाल ले, क्यों की तेरी कुर्सी तो गयी”.

As she riles up her girls she says, “इज्जत से जीनेका, किसीसे डरनेका नहीं,  ना पोलिस से, ना मंत्री से, ना MLA से, ना भड़वो से, किसी के बाप से नहीं डरने का”. 

And “genius वोह नहीं होता है जिसके पास हर सवाल का जवाब हो, genius वोह होता है जिसके पास हर जवाब तक पहोंचनेका patience हो”.

And “अरे जब सकती, सम्पति, सदबुद्धी तीनो ही औरत है तो मर्दो को किस बात का गुरुर”?

Bhansali has said, “That belief in herself and that fight for dignity is what fascinated me” but then his challenge was to extract it out of his actors. Brilliant director that he is, the movie is incredibly emotionally and visually rich, with every scene loaded with meaning. When Gangubai finds a lover, she is skeptical at first and tests him to see if he respects boundaries. And then comes a surreal moment when she simply rests her head on her lover’s shoulder and in that moment her skepticism, the load of betrayal that she has carried for years on her shoulders, melts into deep love and trust towards this man. There are so many moments that portray genuine humanness, whether it is about aggression, betrayal, defiance, distrust, or concern and caring. And there are incredibly powerful dances by Alia to the beat of drums and songs that connect Gangubai to her Kathiwadi roots but also to her present. In the song Dholida, Alia dances with abandon, to the praise of Goddess Amba, powerful and savior of all. One can’t think of anything more apt. The lyrics go…

ખમ્મા, ખમ્મા મારી માવલડી
તું છે જગની તારણહાર
હે, ચોટીલા ના ડુંગરવાળી
ચંડી ચામુંડા બિરદારી

Item number by Huma Qureshi is also fantastic. Ajay Devgun as underworld Don and Seema Pahwa as brothel madam are fantastic. What is guaranteed to make the entire movie a memorable experience is Alia’s masterful performance during the speech she gave towards the end of the movie, where content meets creativity, actor becomes the character, words hold deep meaning and performance manifests it. 

As the person introducing her is about say Shrimati and then stops, apparently struggling how to introduce a brothel owner, Gangubai takes the mic from her and begins,

“कुंवारी आपने छोड़ा नहीं, श्रीमती किसीने बनाया नहीं”

She ends with, “लिख देना कल के अखबारमे, के आज़ाद मैदानमे भासन देते वख्त, गंगूबाईने आँखे झुकाकर नहीं, आँखे मिलाकर हक़ की बात की है भाई”. Looking straight ahead, Gangubai told the women gathered to protect women’s rights, “A few handful of women who cater to the physical needs of men are actually protecting all of you from being attacked. These women help blunt the bestial male aggression and they deserve legal protection and their children have a right to get education and other opportunities”. 

On a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being excellent, I rate this movie 5.

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