Gangubai Kathiawadi Review: Alia Bhatt shines bright in an airbrushed saga

Bhansali weaves his visual magic in a movie that is gorgeous but somehow lacks soul


Ambica Sachin

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Published: Thu 24 Feb 2022, 8:23 PM

Like an exquisite lotus that is the cynosure of all eyes in a muddy pond, Alia Bhatt’s Ganga is luminous in Sanjay Leela Bhasali’s latest magnum opus Gangubai Kathiawadi.

Even the seedy and derelict red light district of Kamathipura can’t dull the sheer vibrancy that emanates from a young Ganga Jagjeevandas, the daughter of a barrister from Kathiawadi whose dreams of starring opposite her matinee idol Dev Anand is scuttled in a dingy brothel room in Mumbai.

The biographical crime drama adapted from one of the chapters of Hussain Zaidi’s Mafia Queens of Mumbai is a tribute to a bold and fearless woman who rises above the sordid, sleazy world into which she is unwittingly dragged.

Ganga doesn’t shy away from proclaiming boldly that she belongs to the world’s oldest profession and seeks to win it legitimacy in a society bent on turning a blind eye to their men’s baser instincts at the cost of dragging their women through the mud.

Bhansali excels in visual wizardry and that is evident in every scene of the movie replete with imagery and groaning under the weight of perfectly put together sets. The poignant soundtrack and skillfully choreographed dance numbers all impart an air of ethereal beauty to this tawdry tale.

And that is precisely the issue with Gangubai Kathiawadi. Every thing seems airbrushed and even the prostitutes are all uniformly drab yet picturesque that in contrast Gangu, even clad in her favoured palette of white, stands out like a moon on a dark night sky.

Alia Bhatt tries her best and gives it her all, but is never completely able to rise above the mischievous, flighty Ganga into the angst-ridden Gangubai who transforms into a political activist and social reformer for the women of Kamathipura. The script doesn’t support her with the gravitas required of someone of her stature.

Ajay Devgn, who makes a prominent appearance as local don Rahim Lala, under whose protection Gangu comes into her own, is impressive. And so is the lissome actor-dancer Shantanu Maheshwari, who is perfectly cast as a lovelorn tailor’s apprentice Afshan Razaq who falls head over heels in love with the worldly wise Gangu. Even Vijay Raaz is intense as Gangu’s political opponent Raziabai. Jim Sarbh as the Urdu Times journalist who takes Gangu's story to the masses is impactful but seems a bit wasted for this minute appearance.

But for these few men, the film never goes beyond the heavily made up face of the streetwalkers and they are all brushed with the same stroke, which is a pity.

Seema Pahwa as the wily brothel madam who sells her girls to the highest bidder for the night is caricatured to the extent we don't know whether to take her seriously or not.

Gangu’s right hand woman Kamli (the talented Indira Tiwari) gets more screen time but sadly we never get to feel the intensity of the plight of these girls who have been sold into prostitution, often by those they hold close to their heart.

As Gangu says when she finally gets a chance to meet the then Prime Minister Nehru to petition him to legalise prostitution in India, a girl is being sold and bought even as she speaks. It is a heart-breaking statistic, which surely deserved more than just lip service.

For someone who harboured dreams of being on celluloid, Gangubai’s entire life plays out like a cinema, we are told at one point in the movie. Gangubai Kathiawadi is that gorgeous cinema.

Gangubai Kathiawadi

Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali

Cast: Alia Bhatt, Ajay Devgn, Vijay Raaz, Shantanu Maheshwari, Seema Pahwa

Rating: 3 out of 5

Gangubai Kathiawadi is now playing in UAE theatres

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