Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Gangubai Kathiawadi has been quite the topic of discussion among film critics and Indian households since its release. The film is based on the real life journey of Ganga Harjivandas, a woman who was sold into sex-work by her husband, and how she then rose to become the madame of Kamathipura, a part of the mafia and an advocate for sex-workers’ rights.
To be honest, when the teasers and trailers for Gangubai Kathiawadi began releasing, I was skeptical about Alia Bhatt playing Gangubai. As her long-standing fan, I almost felt a sense of nervousness for how she’d fare in the role. But I am happy to say, my skepticism was wiped out within the first 20 minutes of the film.
From the moment she’s introduced as Ganga Harjivandas, till the dreadful day she begins calling herself Gangu, Alia Bhatt’s body language and performance is so convincing and natural that the transition from Ganga to Gangu is seamless.
As we see Ganga coming to terms with her new profession, one thing is strikingly clear, how quickly she adapts to her circumstances. Especially through all the trauma and heartache. And this was depicted extremely well by Alia Bhatt. Specifically, in the scene where she begins standing outside the brothel with her colleagues, to recruit clients.
Then, in one of the most gripping parts of the plotline, when Gangu ends up defeating an abusive and grossly violent client, Bhatt took her acting skills one notch higher.
In that moment, it was required for Gangubai to come across as tactful yet also, well acquainted with the rage she felt for how she had been treated. It was one of those defining scenes that showed the tables turning, where Gangu was no longer going to accept disrespect, not even from her brothel’s madame, Sheela maasi. And boy oh boy, did Alia Bhatt convey the heck out of the mood and sentiment of the scene.
Not to mention, how delicately and strategically she played her political stand-off with Razia bai AKA Vijay Raaz.
And need we say anything about the incredibly moving speech she gave when she became the president of the Kamathipura district?
Alia Bhatt delivers a powerful monologue about how everyone deserves to live with self-respect and dignity. So much so, we’re now beginning to see this ‘Izzat se jeene ka kisi se darne ka nahin,‘ dialogue’s memes online.
And there was just something so compelling and influential about her body language in the scene where journalist and reporter Amin Faizi takes a photo of her with the children of her brothel.
In the later half of the film, Bhatt, as Gangubai, delivers a speech about sex workers’ rights, it’s almost as if she’s giving the audience a close look into the mind of Gangubai herself. And I think that’s a sign of good acting. When you feel like you know the character you’re being shown.
From the beginning till the end, when she was shown to sacrifice the love of her life and devote her entire life to the women around her, to bettering and protecting the lives of sex workers around her, Alia Bhatt shows up like nobody’s business.
She shows up as an actor and she simultaneously shows up as Gangubai, a feminist sex worker who proved that a victim can quickly turn into a protector. So, thank you Alia Bhatt for giving us Gangubai Kathiawadi.