Ahead Of Gangubai Kathiawadi Release, Here’s How Hindi Films Portrayed Sex Workers

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There have been many Hindi films on sex workers in the past. Gangubai Kathiawadi is an upcoming film on same genre, the film is based on the life of Gangubai, a sex worker played by Alia Bhatt, who was the madame of Kamathipura in the 1960s and rose above her surroundings to shine as the matriarch.

Alia Bhatt is portrayed in the movie as a powerful sex worker’s character who has turned shame into pride and is pursuing political ambitions for the benefit of Mumbai’s red-light district, Kamathipura.  The period drama is based on a chapter from the book Mafia Queens of Mumbai by renowned author Hussain Zaidi.  Gangubai Kathiawadi will have its much-anticipated world premiere at the 72nd Berlin International Film Festival on February 25 before hitting theatres.

However, Gangubai Kathiawadi is not the only film based on prostitution. Hindi films on sex workers; prior to 2000, there were films like Mandi. Following the release of Chandni Bar in 2001, the Indian film industry has continued to produce films about sex workers and their lives, with some focusing on the real and vulnerable sides, others on society’s unrealistic standards for sex workers, and many others on the journey of a woman who entered this world.

Hindi Films On Sex Workers:

  1. Chandni Bar ( 2001)

Madhur Bhandarkar directed Chandni Bar, a 2001 Indian Hindi-language crime drama film. Tabu and Atul Kulkarni play the key roles in the film. Mumtaz is a country girl whose family is slaughtered during communal riots, and Tabu plays her. She relocates to Mumbai with her uncle, the last remaining member of her family. Her uncle persuades her to work as a barmaid at Chandni Bar because they are terribly destitute.

Chandni Bar shows a how dispossessed woman is forced to work as a beer-bar dancer and bear the children of a gangster.

2. Chori Chori Chupke Chupke ( 2001)

Chori Chori Chupke Chupke is a romantic drama film in Hindi that was released in India. In exchange for money, Raj meets Madhubala “Madhu,” a prostitute who offers to bear Raj’s baby. Preeti Zinta, who plays Madhu, tries to hide her identity in the first part of the film with all the grooming and makeovers. She falls in love with Raj during her pregnancy and quickly realises that society does not want a sex worker to have a normal life with respect, love, and a caring partner. Madhu promises Raj that she would not return to prostitution when she is ready to go.

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3. Devdas ( 2002)

Prostitution, sex work

PC: Devdas

Devdas is a Hindi-language epic romance drama film set in India. An enraged Paro (Aishwarya Rai) storms inside the kotha, determined to chastise Devdas (Shah Rukh Khan) and yank him from the tawaif’s clutches. When Paro sees the tawaif (prostitue), she insults her and tells her that “tawaifon ki takdeer mein shauhar nahin hote” (Prostitutes don’t have husbands in their fate). And it is at this point that Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit) delivers one of the film’s most moving lines, Thakurain, tawaifon ki toh takdeer hi nahi hoti! ( Prostitutes do not have destiny)

Madhuri Dixit in the role of a sex worker, Chandramukhi is a type of messiah for the wealthy, alcoholic men who visit her kotha night after night, attempting to serenade her with money, jewels, and other valuables. She lives her life far from the city, where she is despised and frequently humiliated.

4. Chameli ( 2004)

Chameli is one of the Hindi films on sex workers. Chameli is a sex worker which is played by Kareena Kapoor Khan and her character is a street-smart prostitute. It was Kareena Kapoor’s fourth year in Bollywood, and many people were surprised that she had chosen such a “risky” part so early in her career. She had the harsh and sassy side of a prostitute who could spin yarns for some extra cash, but she also had the delicate and fragile side of a woman whose heart still hoped to meet her one true love.

5. Dev D (2009)

Kalki in DevD

Image Credit: IMDb

Dev.D is a critically acclaimed romantic black comedy film in Hindi that was released in India. Kalki Koechlin as Chanda, a teenager caught up in an MMS controversy who goes on to live a secret life as a sex worker. 

Her role is a modernised version of Chandramukhi, who was last seen in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas, played by Madhuri Dixit. The young Leni is seen in the film as Madhuri’s fan, listening to Chandramukhi songs. When she decides to make a living as a prostitute, she goes by the name Chandramukhi or Chanda.

6. Talaash (2012)

Talaash: The Answer Lies Within is a psychological criminal thriller film from India that was released in Hindi in 2012. The narrative of the crime-mystery drama film starring Kareena Kapoor Khan and Aamir Khan revolves around an investigator who recently lost his son and subsequently gets involved in a high-profile murder case while simultaneously seeking comfort from a sex worker known as Rosie.

In the role of a sex worker, Kapoor acted with attitude and confidence in her appearance, and she also had a firm hold on her overall performance.

7. Begum Jaan (2017)

Begum Jaan is a Hindi period drama film from India. Begum Jaan (Vidya Balan) is a prostitute who owns a brothel halfway between Shakargarh and Dorangla. Begum Jaan’s brothel has many sex workers whom she has raised herself and who were either abandoned or shunned by their families before coming to work for her.

As Begum Jaan, Vidya looked furious, and Gauahar Khan made a strong impact. In the film, Begum Jaan poses an important question: why is a woman’s behaviour dictated by her father, brother, husband, or son? As a result, she resolves that no one will be able to take her space, whether it be in terms of property or her physical body.

8. Kalank (2019)

Kalank is a Hindi-language period romantic drama from India. Kalank narrates the account of how blacksmiths and sex workers banded together and overcame the British after a valiant fight. Bahar Begum, played by Madhuri Dixit, lives in the town’s most socially polluted area, but on her own terms.

Madhuri Dixit’s character, who runs a brothel, is not as impactful as her character in Devdas. In this film, she doesn’t say anything for the first thirty minutes of the film, and her jewellery has a bigger impact than she does.