Star Cast: Alia Bhatt, Ajay Devgn, Vijay Raaz, Seema Pahwa, and ensemble.
Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
What’s Bad: That it ends.
Watch or Not?: It is Sanjay Leela Bhansali making a movie for himself. His ode to the era and the things he holds close to the heart. Watch it for Alia Bhatt giving her career-best performance as turning into the Madame many thought she could not.
Available On: In Theatres Near You!
Runtime: Around 157 Minutes.
Based on Hussain S Zaidi’s novel Mafia Queens Of Mumbai, the film follows the life of the then President Of Kamathipura, Gangubai Kathiawadi, the movie is about her journey from the time she was forced into prostitution till the day she gave thousands of ladies in her business the gest and right to live life unapologetically and not be ashamed of who they are.
The beauty lies in the moments, the hearts ache by the words, and the time passes only on his command. Sanjay Leela Bhansali, is a filmmaker who makes movies for himself more than others. His eyes look for grandeur and aesthetics in everything and every time his leading lady flips her hair, you see it. Gangubai Kathiawadi is about a woman who is forced into the darkest of the businesses but she rises like a phoenix wearing the purest of the colours (White).
The maverick filmmaker who made the last three magnum opuses on a grander scale, brings back the opulence after 4 long years but in a more contemporary zone. Here is a Bhansali who isn’t using a themed font in the credit rolls, or multiple songs to his rescue by making it a narrative from one song to another. He is telling a story by making his leading lady lift a whole lot of weight with a lot of trust on her.
This is the first time the filmmaker makes a biopic with only one actor leading it (Black had Rani Mukerji and Amitabh Bachchan in equal parts). The world is built around her and not with her, so it’s her show. Enters Gangubai Kathiawadi! Writers SLB and Utkarshini Vashishtha (Ramleela & Sarbjit), in the very first scene, make you realise that this isn’t a story that wants you to pity Gangu, she is introduced at a very strong stage in her life. It is unlike all other SLB openings. The camera is zoomed in to a girl being dolled up for her first day in the flesh market. Soon you are made aware this isn’t Gangu, but someone else.
The screenplay after once sets up who Gangu is in the present time, decides to take you back when she was pushed into the business. A daughter of a well-known Barrister, elopes to Mumbai with the dream to become an actor. Bhansali takes good first half to set the story and make you comfortable with his world. The pace is indulging, he doesn’t expect you to be in a rush. Gangubai Kathiawadi is in its moments more than the scenes. This isn’t the Bhansali using drama and extravagance to enthrall you. He rather goes subtle to convey emotions and when Gangu bursts out it gives you goosebumps.
The structure this time is more of a play. Scenes fade in and out, and even feel disjointed at places. But as said, the heart of the film is in the moments rather than bigger sequences. Be it the game of cards between two lovers, a woman forced into the flesh market applying makeup with dead expression, a daughter calling her mother after 12 years, or a group of s*x workers writing a letter to their fathers, Bhansali makes sure you feel all those emotions and much more.
Bhansali and Vashistha use metaphors like the SLB of yore did. Two beautiful scenes describe how Gangu died twice before she died for real. The first time was when Ganga became Gangu, and the other when Gangu stepped into politics. In a heart-numbing scene where Gangu takes a decision for her lover and he stands just below her house, she sits on a swing and starts crying, but she covers her face with her pallu, because she cannot be seen weak, even to herself, take a bow, you magician! The transition and transformations look beautiful.
The script, unlike the book, limits her business to booze and doesn’t get into drugs. But that doesn’t create any void. The only complaint is the lack of time invested in showing how the bond between Gangu and Rahim (Karim) Lala strengthened to a point that he was ready to fight the world for her.
Alia Bhatt is surely taking home many awards. Simply her career-best performance, she blows life into a historical character like she was born to play it and be a Sanjay Leela Bhansali heroine. She is a firebrand in scenes where she is supposed to break free, but observe her in the silences. In a song sequence, when her lover tries to get physical, she stops him and rather tells him to caress her. Men have always used her physically, but none gave her affection, care, and intimacy, which she craves the most, uff! She uses her physically, dialect and even transforms her aura to become the Madam Of The Brothel. She proved every single naysayer wrong.
Until her next best, I want to remember Alia dressed in a white and red saree, with open curls as she walks through a pool of people looking at her with wide smiles and affection in their eyes. She pulls Jim Sarbh to her and kisses his forehead, she looks at her lover and joins her ‘altha’ clad hands. She sits down and looks at the camera with a reignited hope. Reminded me of Shabana Azmi from Godmother. It is about a woman who is fighting for her right to exist and rule her world. When society doesn’t give it cordially, she knows the trick to make them do it.
Vijay Raaz in his brief role is the second best actor to grace Gangubai Kathiawadi. He plays a eunuch without falling in the trap of stereotyping. He doesn’t overdo the effeminacy like we are used to seeing in the films. He lifts the screenplay with his performance and when he face-offs with Alia, it’s a treat to watch.
Ajay Devgn plays Karim Lala with his gangster attitude. It comes naturally to him and helps the film to have a dramatic character. Seema Pahwa deserves this role and many others like this one. She isn’t just made for comedy and she proves that to the entire industry. Jim Sarbh is adorable and perfect in his cameo this time.
PS: Huma Qureshi deserves to be in the SLB universe. In a small appearance she looks so breathtaking. Petition for Bhansali to cast her in something please.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali pours his heart out after years and evolves as a filmmaker. Like Saawariya, he pays an endearing homage to the film legacy he holds close to his heart. There is a reflection of V Shantaram’s style of filmmaking in his approach. He places Gangu near the posters of Mughal-E-Azam and Chaudvin Ka Chand. Multiple Dev Anand references. You know how dear these things are to him. As said, he makes movies for himself. He chooses the most difficult colour to deal with this time. The metaphor of an s*x worker wearing the colour of purity is strong and clear.
Love is delicate in his universe and so are the dialogues by Prakash Kapadia, his longtime collaborator. There is poetry in the bleakest of the moment. Be it Gangu asking her lover which shade of white suits her, to asking for her rights on a stage in front of thousands, there is poetry in every word uttered and it never feels overdone. Addressing a crowd Gangu says, “Hum Dil Me Aag Chehre Par Gulab Rakhte Hai. Mitake Tumhare Mardon Ki Bhuk, Hum Tumhara Rubab Rakhte Hai.” Enough to tell you the brilliance Kapadia brings to the table.
The Music in Gangubai Kathiawadi is entirely different from the last three albums Bhansali composed. It is self-indulgent and experimental. The choreography is all kinds of brilliant. SLB makes music videos like no other. Every beat has a meaning and a moment that signifies something. Kruti Mahesh helps him in creating visually stunning and appropriate numbers. Even a rose falling has a beat. Kruti deserves credit for making Alia look like a professional and not letting it be an out-of-body experience. The BGM is completely different from expected. Bhansali tricked us with two different ones in the teaser and trailer, and the movie has an entirely different theme.
We have already spoken enough about Bhansali’s obsession with immaculate symmetry in his frames. DOP Sudeep Chatterjee creates paintings with his camera. He adds a beautiful layer with his craft to the already layered world. He captures the Whites stunningly, which is a difficult task. Unlike Padmaavat, which was majorly shot in wide angles (and didn’t sit right for me), in Gangubai Kathiawadi the camera goes deeper into the character and helps us connect to it. Look at Gangu getting ready, or the funeral scene, you can pause and click, they are paintings in motion.
It’s Sanjay Leela Bhansali trying to change his style and evolve as a filmmaker after 3 back to back blockbusters. Alia Bhatt helps him with her immaculate acting and attitude. You will definitely miss out on a gem if you don’t watch it on the big screen. Bhatt has set the benchmark for the future Bhansali actors too high!
Gangubai Kathiawadi releases on 25th February 2022.
Share with us your experience of watching Gangubai Kathiawadi.
Fan of period dramas? Read our Pawankhind Movie Review here.
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