Gangubai Kathiawadi REVIEW: Alia Bhatt is magnificent and deliciously reckless as Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s heroine

Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali

Cast: Alia Bhatt, Ajay Devgn, Shantanu Maheshwari, vijay raaz, Indira Tiwari and Seema Pahwa.

Bollywood Bubble stars: 3.5 stars

gangubai kathiawadi movie review ratings

Sanjay Leela Bhansali has a unique ability to teleport us into his world of cinematic brilliance and with Gangubai Kathiawadi he does exactly that. Set in Kamathipura, a busy lane in Bombay, notoriously known as the ‘red light’ area, Bhansali takes us through the journey of Ganga (played by Alia Bhatt). Like many others, Ganga is lured to Mumbai in the pretence of fulfilling her big Bollywood dream and sold off for a mere 1000 Rs to Sheila (Seema Pawa), a matriarch of the lane. After resisting for over a week, Ganga is forced to shed her earlier identity to become Gangu, with her innocence and dreams snatched away from her. From Ganga to Gangu and later Gangubai, Bhansali narrates the tale of Gangubai with empathy, resilience and absolute courage.

Through Gangubai, Bhansali gives us a glimpse into the dauntingly difficult world of sex workers. While in many countries, the sex working industry has been given a legal status, India is yet to reach there. Gangubai Kathiawadi, the Mafia Queen (as adapted from a book), is one of the first women to raise her voice, seeking justice for sex workers. She even met the then Prime Minister (Jawaharlal Nehru) for a brief 15 minutes to discuss the matter, as we are told. Was Gangubai a hero? No? But, she also was not a villain. After being elected as the President of Kamathipura, she reiterates a few rules under her ‘raaj’.


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One, to never be afraid of anyone. Second, to satisfy the customers for the right price. Third, to live with respect. After being robbed off of her dream to be a big Heroine, Gangubai fuelled the rage in her to understand the grievances of the women of Kamathipura and use shrewd techniques for their betterment. She was educated, smart, empathetic and yet shrewd. Bhansali tells her story exactly like that.

Alia Bhatt is gorgeous as Gangubai. There are moments where she shines bright, especially her transition from the innocent and gullible Ganga to being the president of Kamathipura, Gangubai. The shift in body language, voice modulation and use of costumes and makeup is unmissable. There is a sense of vulnerability she brings to Gangu without overtly victimising her. She is reckless yet strong, she is fire and ice both. Gangubai is not an easy role to pull off, but Alia does it convincingly. Although, in the end, she did seem to lose a little grip of the body language, in surrender. Was it intentional, only Bhansali can tell.

Ajay Devgn in a guest role plays Rahim Bhai, who turns Gangu’s brother. His assistance and support strengthens Gangu’s demeanour in Kamathipura. Ajay is a delight to watch in limited scenes but it did seem like a wasted opportunity. Vijay Raaz as Raziya is powerful and unmissable.

Shantanu Maheshwari makes his debut in Bollywood with the film. Apart from having two songs with Alia Bhatt in the film, Shantanu has his moments to shine. He plays the good-boy delightfully and convincingly. One of the absolute favourite scenes from the film features Shantanu and Alia as they coddle and flirt at the back of a car, with Gangu suddenly holding his hand and patting her head. The desperation to be heard, to be seen, to be loved, and not seen as an object was so heart-breakingly beautiful to witness. It is the sheer magic of Sanjay Leela Bhansali that can make such a heart-aching visual seem so powerful.

Seema Pahwa  shows her versatility again. As Sheila, she is disgusting and yet ends up having some lighter moments in the first part, thanks to her character. Jim Sarbh as a journalist is a value addition.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali uses his personal magic wand to create and capture each frame magnificently. The larger than life projection of the world is done with utmost honesty and it reflects on screen. The pace of the movie in the first half did seem slow and it takes you a while to warm up to the story, but once in, you are hooked. This is a film where the second half is much stronger the first. While the first half establishes her and her journey, the second half focuses more on the politics of the area.

Bhansali movies are nothing without its music and yet again, the two romantic tracks fill your heart with overwhelmed feelings. The camera lenses, the vocals, the lyrics, everything tugs at your heartstrings in ways, that is inexplicable.

Bhansali delivers as promised, a film that yet again shows his strengths and ability as one of the best film makers in India. As for Alia, as Gangubai, she is magnificent. This shall remain one of the best roles in her career.

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