If Raazi (2018) showcased the acting prowess of the charming Alia Bhatt, then her role as a madam and social worker of the brothel area in Bombay in the early 20th century in Gangubai Kathiawadi (2022) takes her to the next level. The film directed by the legendary Sanjay Leela Bhansali was hard-hitting in many places, yet unbearably slow and longer than it should’ve been. The film available on Netflix gets a Ripe acknowledging the hard work of every department involved in the filmmaking – for example, the costume designer has done a phenomenal job in sourcing the various varieties of white sarees.
A young girl with the dream of becoming a movie star gets lured to Bombay and sold off by her lover, and with that, the life of the innocent Ganga turns dark forever. Knowing her entire life ahead has been destroyed, and having gone through the worst that society can throw at her, Ganga decides to take the society head-on and transforms herself into Gangubai. She doesn’t sit pitying herself and playing the victim card, instead, she holds her head high and works for the upliftment of the voiceless in her area. She fights with her competition but smartly forms an alliance with the powerful don in the area to do good.
The entire story happens in the two bylanes of Bombay, recreated in the studios for the film. Every frame features tens or hundreds of people, mostly women. In most films, these people just form the backdrop but in Gangubai you can see their individual acting – clearly visible with the colleagues of Gangubai adding value to the happenings. The character of Gangubai is not one of black and white, as the film acknowledges in the end, she was neither a saint nor a demon and on that, the screenplay finds its right balance that will be accepted by the audience. The dialogues were sharp and witty.
Casting Ajay Devgn in the guest role, adds weight to an otherwise cliche character. Shantanu Maheshwari has played well the role of the lover of Gangu. The first half progresses mostly as expected, with too many songs as well, but the second half picks up the pace and made the film a worthwhile experience.