Had Hussain Zaidi or filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali imagined the ripple story of Gangubai Kathiawadi will have in the global society? Ever since its theatrical release in India and on the OTT platform, the film has been ranking views and garnering praises, especially the lead actor Alia Bhatt who appears as Gangubai in the film.
Bhansali’s film Gangubai Kathiawadi is a biographical film on a sex worker and activist from Kamathipura in Mumbai. The film was based on investigative journalist Zaidi’s book Mafia Queens of Mumbai—based on the reportage of reporter Jane Borges—that carried stories of the 12 most powerful women who ruled over Mumbai’s underworld.
Ganga, a girl from an affluent family in Kathiawad is in her late teens when she is sold off by her suitor for a mere sum of Rs 1000. Over the course of a week, she is tortured and eventually forced to take up sex work. Ganga eventually becomes Gangu and rises through the ranks to become the madame of a brothel and adopt the name Gangubai. She works for the welfare of sex workers and their children and is one of the key reasons Kamathipura exists still.
Bhansali’s craftily made film is a cinematic journey of witnessing Gangu rise through the ashes of her cremated dreams and aspirations like a phoenix. When it was first released in India, it had enamoured the audiences and the film very quickly entered the 100cr club at the Box Office.
Gangubai Kathiawadi On Netflix & Global Acclaim
Two months of successful theatrical run later, the film finally premiered online on the OTT platform Netflix and henceforward received global acclaim. The overwhelming response it received worldwide–especially in Thailand–where it ranked first on the Top 10 films list was astounding for a non-English film to receive.
The film was heaped with praise and appreciation from fans for the style of filming, enigmatic performances and powerful storyline. It sparked a trend with many recreating looks that Alia donned in the film, YouTubers filming reaction videos of the film, music videos and dialogue clips.
Such is the frenzy that an elderly woman known as Grandma Hongthong on Instagram recently posted a video of her in a black top and a red skirt recreating a scene from the film where Gangubai is made to take up the life of a sex worker. The film’s leading lady, Alia, herself had shared it in her stories. Grandma Hongthong also recreated Bhatt’s iconic all-white outfit look. She was seen dressed in an all-white outfit, a red bindi, a nose pin similar to the actor’s and completed the look with dark sunglasses.
It is no surprise that the film made its way into the hearts of a global audience and is reigning there. It is not surprising that Alia’s looks, performance and dialogues sparked a social media trend. Why?
Because it is a story of a woman fighting against a system with her head held high. Gangubai Kathiawadi at its core is a biography of a woman who dared to speak up against the systematic injustice that was meted out to her community, to the sex workers and the discrimination they faced in society. She had dared to go against the societal norms and fight a battle to earn a respectable position for sex workers of Kamathipura in Mumbai. She fought the patriarchal thought system that pinned the blame on women for everything.
Coupled with Bhansali’s impeccable style of story-telling and chilling music score, the film leaves a lasting impact on the audience. The audience could empathize with Bhatt’s character and they felt the hurt she carried within her being. The film was just an insight into the brutality many other women still probably undergo.
Gangubai’s idols and framed photographs, reportedly, are a common sight in homes in Kamathipura where a bust was also erected in her honour and she was a formidable woman in politics as well. The honest qualities of Gangubai found a perfect outlet in Alia’s acting which emoted her feelings to the audience helping them connect with the story.
It is heartening to see a woman who was once shunned by her own people now be celebrated globally. Women like Gangubai are the embodiment of the essence of feminism which propagates the idea of giving everyone an equal opportunity at life with dignity irrespective of their identities entangled into caste, class, gender, sexuality, etc.
Views expressed are the author’s own
Suggested Reading: Before Gangubai Kathiawadi, These Hindi Films That Focused On Sex Workers