Movie Review: Gangubai Kathiawari

When one goes to watch a Sanjay Leela Bhansali (SLB) movie, one goes expecting theatricality but one also expects a narrative that is interesting. I have watched quite a few of SLB’s movies that I’ve had differing reactions to; boredom hadn’t featured in them till date. While the sets are of a particular type, the lights and cinematography done in a particular manner, the acting is usually engrossing. It all fell flat for me today. Even more so because the trailer gives off a vibe of an engaging narrative which the movie fails to build up let alone sustain. Gangubai Kathiawadi could have been so much more. Could have. But it wasn’t.

Let’s start with the positives- the topic. It is the only thing that gets slotted into this category. And yet, it didn’t get the treatment it deserved. It could have been a gritty movie. Made well, with angsty characters and the pain of their suffering, frustration and betrayal underlying the phoenix-like rise of a woman scorned in the infamous red light area of Mumbai.

Moving onto the less than positives: the choice of Alia Bhatt baffles me. While Alia is a good actor and emotes well (Highway etc), this particular character was not something she was cut out for. The pain and the utter fall into degradation and despair is touched upon so glancingly by her that it doesn’t even seem like Gangubai suffered the agonies and indignities that she did in real life.

The music falls flat as well and there’s hardly any chemistry between the actors- whether it’s hatred for the madam that made her into who she became, the old lover who betrayed her or even the new one with whom she’s taken up- they all seem to be going through the motions of acting in a movie without becoming the characters. And that’s the tragedy of a dramatic movie like this; when it fails to live upto its potential and when everyone in it is so obviously acting and that too, not well.

A movie of this type needs to be brutal without necessarily having gratuitous violence and profanity. It needs to be able to show angst and pain without just showing teary-eyed heroines. It needs to show the underbelly of a place which clearly keeps its own rules of justice. But it does none of these things.

I left because I got bored and maybe I should’ve sat through at least more of the footage where Vijay Raaz gets to be on the screen because he’s always quite engrossing but I just didn’t want to. While the critics may be lauding the characterisation and enactment of Gangubai Kathiawadi to the skies, this is just one movie I’ll give a hard NO to. Go watch Spiderman instead. Way better ROI anyday!

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