Gangubai Kathiawadi trailer: Alia Bhatt, Sanjay Leela Bhansali out to gain ‘respect’ in their maiden avant-garde cinema

Alia Bhatt looks promising as the late Madam of Kamathipura brothel.  The engaging trailer sets the ball rolling for what is arguably Bhatt and Bhansali’s most brave film.

Alia Bhatt in and as Gangubai Kathiawadi [2022]

By Mayur Lookhar

Respect! American house and R&B singer Patricia Daniels, better known as Adeva, spelled it out clearly in her classic track Respect in 1989. Respect cannot be demanded. It ought to be earned. But in a society driven by morality, it’s an arduous task for those who are deemed as immoral by the moral police.  The hypocrisy of the moral beings though lay exposed when they merrily tread into the lusty streets of the city.

Gangubai Kathiawadi [born Ganga Harjivandas] is a name that residents of Kathiawar [region in Kutch, Gujarat] and Mumbai city, in particularly South Mumbai aren’t likely to take dearly.  The late Kathiawadi [1939-2009] was a commercial sex worker who gained prominence in the 1960s as the Madam of Mumbai’s Kamathipura brothel.

Whilst there have been countless tales on Mumbai’s underbelly, but it’s a new territory for mainstream actor Alia Bhatt, filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali, two artistes loved dearly by the moral masses and classes alike.  So, the challenge for the two is to gain respect in their maiden avant-garde cinema. The trailer of Gangubai Kathiawadi [2022] was released today [4 February], and its underlying tone carries one important aspect– R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

‘All I’m askin’ for is a little respect’. Oh, how Adeva’s words ring so true for our own Gangubai.  In a world that is always driven by currency, Gangubai [Bhatt] aptly reminds the moral beings that they have more [quantitative] izzat [respect] than them for they sell it daily. This is no glorification per se, but an unabashed reality about commercial sex workers globally.

But more than society, the big struggle is within her world at a time where women empowerment, rights hardly found any takers in a bitterly patriarchal society.  It her feisty spirit that made her a much talked about name in Mumbai’s underbelly.  

Kathiawadi and her story found a mention in noted crime writer Hussain Zaidi’s book Mafia Queens of Mumbai [2011].  The book could be a source material but the trailer doesn’t mention the book or Zaidi’s name. The screenplay is written by Bhansali and Utkarshini Vashishtha.

Exposed to flesh trade at an early, age, Gangubai would later become a feisty figure in the business challenging dangerous competitors, but later also fighting for the rights of the children of commercial sex workers.  She also met the then Prime Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru for the same cause.  More than the flesh trade, it’s this fight that is likely to be at the heart of the Sanjay Bhansali film.

Vijay Raaz looks menacing as Raziabai, the incumbent ruler of Kamathipura before the eunuch is challenged by Gangubai.

In the past, mainstream cinema seldom touched such [Gangubai] characters, but in the new millennia, mature audiences are open to hearing their stories.  The three minute 15 second trailer projects Gangubai [Bhatt] as a feisty, unflappable character who wouldn’t bow to anybody.  Ajay Devgan’s character Lala, perhaps modelled on late don Karim Lala, reportedly has a cameo role in the film. He does make a powerful impression in the trailer, and on Gangubai too.

Well, Bhatt naturally adds glamour to Gangubai.  It’s pointless to recall how the real Gangubai looked for the only available image out in public domain is that of a very old Gangubai.  Like any actor in a biopic, the challenge for Bhatt is to give a refreshing but not a distorted image of her character.  Bhatt looks more like herself as the young Gangubai, but she adds few pounds when talking up activism.  The lipstick and the dot are typical of commercial sex workers, but we didn’t really spot the tobacco-stained teeth. Maybe, the film will reveal more about the physical being. The trailer though epitomizes Gangubai’s free spirt, dare, sense of justice and humour.

Though it appears to be a partly larger-than-life character, but Bhansali’s protagonist doesn’t appear to be glorified.  It is impossible to do without a dash of drama, but Alia Bhatt fans and friends, kins of Gangubai, if any, would hope that the film gives a close account of the life and times of the late Madam of Kamathipura.  The trailer earns our respect.  One can’t wait to unravel the world of Gangubai Kathiawadi [2022].

Produced by Bhansali Productions,. PEN Movies, Gangubai Kathiawadi [2022] is set to be released in theatres on 25 February. Watch the trailer below.


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