With magnificent sets and a dramatic tone, Bhansali brings out the grim reality of prostitution in India.
Inspired by S. Hussain Zaidi’s book The Mafia Queens of Mumbai, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Gangubai Kathiawadi, starring Alia Bhatt, is a polished take on prostitution in India.
It is the story of the transformation of Ganga Harjivandas, the daughter of a barrister from Kathiawadi, into Gangubai of Mumbai’s infamous Kamathipura. Ganga leaves her home for Mumbai to become an actress. Instead, she ends up in a brothel when her lover Ramnik Lal (Varun Kapoor) sells her for Rs 1000. From how she is forced into prostitution to how she emerges as the leader of sex workers in Kamathipura is well knit in the course of the movie.
The movie through Gangubai’s story asks the question of how prostitution is seen in society. The deep-rooted issues of girl trafficking and forced prostitution are the larger problems the movie deals with.
Young girls standing in doorways and beckoning customers, is Kamathipura’s reality, as depicted by scores of movies before this. Whether forced or by own will is a story only they can tell. The film is in line with that depiction. But the direction slips a bit in places. It is tough to keep Bhansali away from creating a rose-tinted narrative.
Sets decorated with pastel hues look like anything but a red light district. The director seems to have polished the raw edges with romantic picturization, thus taking away the real and offering what seems distant. Bhansali’s penchant for excess is, however, balanced out by Alia’s acting skills.
Bhatt’s is the centre in the movie. Vijay Raaz brilliantly plays the role of the antagonist (Raziabai) but the character has not been explored to its full potential. The segment of rivalry between Gangubai and Raziabai ends as soon as it starts. It is as if Bhatt’s character had it all too easy with Raaz’s character not holding much ground.
The brooding Rahim Lala, played by Ajay Devgan, is promising, but gets very little screen time. Shantanu Maheshwari who plays the role of a local tailor has done a fairly good job. Seema Pawha playing the role of the madam of the brothel is a break from the usual characters she has been seen playing. Jim Sarbh’s character does play an integral role in the movie despite little screen time.
The dialogues do not hide the truth of this profession. A few speeches do seem to get an unrealistic and exaggerated response. The broad bindi look in the latter half of the film brings out the mature Gangu, in contrast to the timid Ganga we saw in the beginning. Alia being cast for the role brought a lot of apprehensions that she would look young for it. Despite a lot of being effort put into the
Sanjay Leela Bhansali has created a larger-than-life character through the petite Alia Bhatt. The movie despite its many drawbacks, is worth a watch.