After the trailer of Alia Bhatt’s highly-anticipated starrer, Gangubai Kathiawadi released on February 24, Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan tweeted that the film promises to be special and praised her for being “so gangsta” in the teaser.
Though, there are murmurs in some Bollywood circles over the choice of preppy, commercial star, Alia Bhatt playing the lead role of a gritty, powerful sex worker don from the infamous red-light district of Kamathipura in Mumbai, questions are also circling around the real life character she portrays in this Sanjay Leela Bansali film. Who is Gangubai Kathiawadi?
According to news reports, the film is based on a chapter from a book penned by crime reporter turned author, Hussain Zaidi. Titled Mafia Queens of Mumbai: Stories of women from the gangland, one of the chapter focusses on the life of a female don, Gangubai, a woman who originally hailed from Kathiawad in Gujarat.
Typically, Ganga Harjivandas Kathiawadi ran away from home at the age of 16 with her father’s accountant to bright lights, big city Bombay. Predictably, she had stars in her eyes dreaming of becoming an actress. Her dreams turned to dust, and her innocence gets crushed, when she is sold to a brothel by her lover for ₹ 500.
However, after being twice raped by the henchman of one of Mumbai’s infamous mafia don, Karim Lala, (who ruled Bombay’s underworld along with Haji Mastan and Varadarajan Mudaliar in the 70s and 80s), she turns to him for justice. And, Gangubai wins him over and ties a rakhi on this Aghani’s wrist. Being Lala’s sister catapults her into the big league and she soon becomes a successful female don in her own right.
She opened her own sex racket in Hera Mandi red-light district and even owned a brothel in Mumbai’s Kamathipura. However, she never kept any girl in her brothel against her will. Instead, she was known as the only brothel madam, who did not give priority to business and money but to women. Soon, Gangubai earned the sobriquet of ‘Madam of Kamathipura’ for her strong underworld connections, for peddling drugs, and ordering murders.
According to Zaidi’s book, she was the only brothel owner to own a Bentley in the 60s. Later in life, she even met Jawaharlal Nehru to discuss the plight of sex workers and improve their living conditions.
Though, Alia Bhatt has proven her mettle in movies such as Highway, Raazi and Udta Punjab, playing an edgy character like a female mafia don requires depth and range. Not enough to swagger and mouth Hindi and Marathi cuss words, the pretty dolled up Bhatt just does not look menacing enough in the trailer.
In the teaser, she is seen saying ‘kisi se darne ka nahi, na police seh, na MLA seh, na mantri seh, na bha**o seh, kisi ke baap seh nahi darne ka‘, and it comes across as awkward and cringey. Bhansali has described Bhatt’s character as, Strength. Power. Fear.
Her last film in Karan Johar’s hyped period drama, the 2019 Kalank was a complete washout.
Bhatt’s acting prowess will once again come under scrutiny in Gangubai Kathiawadi, which is slated to release on July 30.