Many of us who have seen films released back in the ‘90s or before might have gone through this feeling that those kinds of melodramatic and musical narratives are a thing of the past, and if that treatment is repeated, it would only make the multiplex audience cringe. Whenever this thought had occurred to me, there was one director who kept on surprising me, and that was none other than Sanjay Leela Bhansali. His signature style of making a movie is like a tribute to classic Hindi cinema with rhyming poetic dialogues, melodrama, dance, and songs. Gangubai Kathiawadi, Bhansali’s new film starring Alia Bhatt in the title role, is yet another Bhansali grandeur with some terrific performances spearheaded by the leading lady herself.
A young Ganga came to Bombay with her boyfriend to become the heroine in Hindi films. But fate had something else for Ganga, and she was sold to a brothel in Kamathipura. Initially reluctant, Ganga eventually accepted the truth that this was the only choice she had. What we see in Gangubai Kathiawadi is the rise of Gangu to Gangubai. Her fights within Kamathirpura and also her fight for the fellow women in Kamathipura are what we witness here.
For someone who adores all the Bhansali creations, Gangubai Kathiawdi is indeed a treat. You have these painting-like frames, cinematic dialogues, characters showing off their swagger in the Bhansali style, theatrical scores, and single-shot dance sequences. The visual spectacle part, which is assured in an SLB film, is definitely there in Gangubai Kathiawadi. But where the film wins is in its positioning of the drama. The second half of this movie has Gangubai speaking up for her community. And Bhansali also shows through various subplots what all things Gangu and her women had to sacrifice. The school issue, the death of her best friend, the treatment of her family, how she had to walk away from her true love, etc., helps the film make the viewer understand the various traumas faced by Gangu.
When I saw the trailer of Gangubai Kathiawadi, I was a bit apprehensive about the film as the trailer cuts made me feel that the character was a bit too much for Alia. But to my surprise, the performance I saw on screen was nothing short of fantastic. From that naïve girl with Bollywood dreams to that iconic figure of Kamathipura, Alia transforms with absolute conviction. The speech sequence and the scene at the school featuring her and Jim Sarbh were my favorite moments in the whole film. In the casting department, Bhansali has roped in the best in the business. Seema Pahwa as Sheela is brilliant. Vijay Raaz, as Raziabai, doesn’t have too much screentime, but he was able to create a solid impact. Indira Tiwari as Kamli made her performance extremely memorable. Shantanu Maheshwari was okay as Bai’s love interest. Even though it was a small role in terms of footage, Jim Sarbh’s “Generalist” character was a catchy one. Karim Lala inspired Rahim Lala, demanded a star, and Ajay Devgn’s extended cameo offered exactly that.
In his third collaboration with Sudeep Chatterjee, Bhansali again cracks the visual grammar. The grandeur isn’t gimmicky, and the colors are placed brilliantly in each sequence. Like I already said, Bhansali is perhaps the only film director in the current lot who knows to strike a good balance between the so-called filminess and a compelling narrative. His scene choreography still has the rhythm of a musical, and the interesting thing is that it doesn’t feel odd in any way. Sanjay Leela Bhansali also makes sure that the numerous characters one gets to see in this drama blend in with the narrative. The choreography, as usual, is stunning, and the music was also fine.
Gangubai Kathiawadi lives up to the expectation. In his signature style, Sanjay Leela Bhansali presents an eventful story with interesting conflicts and drama. And Alia Bhatt, as Bhansali’s leading lady, makes sure that his cinematic version of Gangubai has all the aura one wishes to see. The visuals, the performances, and the agile narrative make Gangubai Kathiawadi a thoroughly engaging drama based on a real character.
The visuals, the performances, and the agile narrative make Gangubai Kathiawadi a thoroughly engaging drama based on a real character.
Green: Recommended Film
Orange: Okay, Watchable, Experimental Films
Red: Not Recommended