Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Cast: Alia Bhatt, Ajay Devgn, Seema Pahwa, Jim Sarbh, Vijay Raaz, Shantanu Maheshwari
The writings of journalist and writer Hussain Zaidi have the power to paint a visually horrifying picture just by the power of his words. It's no wonder, then, that so many filmmakers have turned to Al-Zaidi to adopt his writing for the big screen. From Anurag Kashyap's Black Friday to Sanjay Gupta's Shootout in Wadala, gangster dramas have often been beloved. The latest director to join this long list is Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who has adapted Mumbai Mafia Queens' Zaydi into his own passion project, Gangubai Kathiawadi.
Alia Bhatt plays Ganga, also known as Gangu, whose innocence and dreams are taken away from her when her fiancé takes her to Mumbai. Forced to trade meat, Gangu quickly absorbs the realities of her cruel new world and learns to bend in her favor. Bhansali begins to establish this world and the harsh realities of it. We see cramped rooms, wide quotas but narrow sleeping spaces, and narrow hallways that provide a bird's-eye view of the small, crowded world of sex workers.
Within minutes of being introduced to this world, Bhansali and his book began to narrate what would be the rise of Gango. Not without pitfalls, the first half of the film keeps us involved in Gangu's journey as Bhansali paints pictures from her scenes. From decorating Gangu for her daily chores, to lying in a hospital bed, to women dressed as dead mothers, Bhansali's imagination runs in different directions before arriving at the scene that makes it more realistic than the next.
Alia Bhatt once again gives an exceptional performance with her style, recklessness and authority with empathy and above all her tone is still constant from her. Her eyes speak of the thousands of thoughts that go through her head in moments of helplessness or heartbreak. Shruti Mahajan's choice is quite apt. Vijay Raaz and Jim Sarbh form the basis of an excellent supporting cast that also includes best friend Gangu Kamli played by the talented Indira Tiwari.
Lead actress Seema Pahwa where the heartless lady lives in the brothel and shines in her moments. Ajay Devgn as Rahim Lala, as usual, brings his big personality to the big screen as he supports his sister Janjabai. Last but not least, there is Shantanu Maheshwari who pleasantly surprises with his acting skills and does it with conviction.
Gangbai Katthiwadi's tense writing starts to lose steam midway through, but a solid second half of it puts her back on the right track. The second half of the film is stronger than the pre-break as sharper dialogue, comedy, and funny moments are combined into the narrative. Prakash Kapadia and Utkarshini Vashishtha as dialogue writers definitely knocked it out of the park.
In biography it is known that there will always be a beginning, a middle and an end. Gangubai Kathiawadi follows this linear narrative and sets up Gangu to shine and his ultimate goal: the betterment of the women of Kamatipura. However, the mafia queen's story features multiple struggles along the way, but doesn't necessarily connect all these loose ends, leaving me totally unsatisfied.
As with any Bhansali production, the grand scale of filmmaker, musician, set design and costumes is always in place. Gangubai Kathiawadi is no different as the songs add an intrinsic dash of Bollywood drama but tell their own story. While the land of the mafia queen may not be entirely satisfying, the performances from Alia Bhatt and the actors, the footage from Bhansali, and a glimpse into this brutal world make for a definitive hour. In any case, Gangopi Kathyawadi encouraged me to pick up another Husayn Zaidi book and learn all about the Mumbai mafia queens.