'Gangubai Kathiawadi' review: Alia is mesmerizing but story lacks plenitude
Alia Bhatt's first gamble with the biopic genre in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Gangubai Kathiawadi hit theaters on Friday (February 25). Playing a spirited woman who was thrown into the world of sex work and became a living inspiration for thousands, Bhatt's bet pays off. You simply cannot look away from her. However, some gaps in Bhansali's cinematic vision are visible, too. Here's our review.
Back in the 1950s-60s, the real and reel Gangubai had spoken about getting prostitution legalized and securing the legal rights of sex workers. Now, in 2022, prostitution continues to be seen as a shameful venture with only the women associated with the trade taking the onus. For this sole reason, Bhansali's attempt at telling Gangubai's story is necessary. But the filmmaker falters in execution.
While showcasing the journey of Ganga, a teenager who is sold at a brothel in Kamathipura in Bombay, becoming Gangubai, the messiah of sex workers, the Padmaavat helmer is dedicated and honest. And, he finds the correct person in Bhatt to essay this honesty in the character of Gangu. Her cries, smirks, smiles, and hoots live with you even after leaving the cinema hall.
Coming to the rest of the cast, Shantanu Maheshwari in his (film) debut is charming and effortless. Seema Pahwa as the brothel-runner and Ajay Devgn as Gangubai's Rakhi brother, mafia don Rahim Lala, do justice to their parts. The writing of Vijay Raaz's controversial appearance as Gangu's rival, Raziabai, is half-baked. For the hype given to the role, its conclusion is abrupt and incomplete.
The venture is splendid with set design and period-specific costumes. However, the master filmmaker, who has also done the music, doesn't impress with the album. I liked only the songs Dholida and Jab Saiyaan. The repeated use of low-angle shots is a nice touch, too.
The essence of incompleteness also seeps through in other sections of storytelling. The story begins with a cliche way of narration—many topics are brought in not to be mentioned again. But Bhansali focuses on painting Gangu as a leader of the downtrodden toward the end and manages to successfully jerk emotion out of you. It's certainly fulfilling for a one-time watch. Verdict: 3.5 stars.