You know how the world works in a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film. The elaborate, exquisite set pieces, grandeur dance sequences, powerfully etched characters, and soulfully rendered music are a few among them. Gangubhai Khathiawadi is a cinematic version of Hussain Zaidi’s book ‘Mafia Queens of Mumbai’ which talks about Gangubai, an influential brothel owner who owned the streets of Kamathipura during the 50s and 60s.
Like any other vivacious young girl, Ganga dreamt of becoming a Bollywood star. She elopes with her lover Ramnik Lal to Mumbai in the hope of starting a new life. Her whole dreams get shattered when Ramnik trafficked her to a brothel for 500rs. Ganga’s life takes a turn which eventually leads her to be the most powerful figure of Bombay. Gangubhai Kathiawadi tracks the life of Gangu from her early adolescent days to her political career. Though it looks brighter on the surface, the early periods of Gangu are tragic and darker which the mastercraftsman captures with utmost conviction. She was vulnerable, helpless, always lured by the lustful eyes of men but she chose to fight back which moulds and turns her into a fiery, gold-hearted protector. Bhasali neither glorified nor denigrated Gangubai, instead stayed on his path with all those extravagant Bollywood sparklings. The initial setting takes some while to warm up and all those explicit scenes might cause you discomfort but Bhasali evidently transforms the zestful teen into the high-powered figure with taut writing.
Alia Bhatt never fails to amuse me, be it Raazi or Highway she keeps constantly outdoing herself. Through Gangubai the performer in her has donned a new avatar and it succeeded. The body language, dialogue delivery, and even the minute facial expressions convey her emotions accurately and Bhansali makes sure she never overdo the portrayal. Ajay Devgn as the unflinching Rahim Lala lifts the film with his enigmatic presence. Vijay Raaz as Raziabhai is the second-best unfortunately the character never takes off post-interval. Jim Saarbh in a limited space is a great addition. The songs though not fall in the usual Bhansali space blend aptly with the mood the scores fill the gap perfectly
Gangubai stretches and roams aimlessly far beyond a point that kills the energy it had in the initial hour. Bhansali seems too confused with the narrative and the ending is a bit sudden & forced. Apart from Alia’s beautiful depiction, the rest of the characters are one-dimensional and never fleshed out. Despite these issues, it was the well-constructed moments that saved the middling second half.
The visuals served their purpose, it’s expressive and rich. The streets of Kamathipura are constructed meticulously accompanied by superlative frames. It’s a Bhansali film and the movie keeps reminding us of that. Gangubhai works below the master’s previous outings but this tale of the oppressed is nothing short of a spectacle.
Review by ©Rahul Babu