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Photo: ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’
‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’ is a new 2022 biographical crime film about the rise of Gangubai Kathiawadi. The film was directed and co-written by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. The other writer is Utkarshini Vashishtha. The film was released on Netflix and premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. As I just mentioned, the film follows Gangubai Kathiawadi’s rise in Kamathipura in India. The film opens with Gangubai being sold by her lover to a brothel. She then rises through the ranks and slowly begins to take control of Kamathipura, though she faces a variety of challenges along the way.
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Gangubai operates on the mission to always benefit the women of Kamathipura and specifically the women who belong to the brothel to which she is sold to. This is what drives her to take certain actions throughout the film. Gangubai is played expertly by Alia Bhatt who really gives life to the character of Gangubai through not only her words but her mannerisms as well. She does a great job taking the place of a key female warrior in a world in which women are not treated as equal to men. She is a great female role model in the film and is without a doubt one of the main reasons why I enjoyed this film as much as I did.
There are many reasons to love ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi. I will dive into some of those reasons later in the article. However, this does not mean that ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’ is by any means a perfect film. There is also one thing that I did not enjoy about the film which I will also examine later in this review. But with that being said I did for the most part enjoy ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’ and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good rag-to-riches or underdog story. ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’ does a great job of embracing this kind of storyline and executing it for over two hours. All in all, ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’ is not just a great Hindi film but a great film in general. This is for a number of reasons, which I will now take the pleasure of explaining in further detail.
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The strengths of ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’
As I mentioned previously, the main reason why I liked this film as much as I did was because of Alia Bhatt and her portrayal of Gangubai Kathiawadi. She plays this strong female lead with such grace and elegance. She also does a great job of giving the character depth with her performance, in fact, I believe that one could make a very interesting character study about the character she plays in the film.
Another reason why I believe that ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’ was a successful film was the film’s themes concerning female empowerment. Having the story take place in a brothel, which is mainly full of and controlled by women, is a genius way to place women at the center stage of this story. It is not very often that you see a film where nearly every main character is a woman. I believe that this not only added a refreshing new layer to this film but that it also encourages some interesting discussions cornering the role of women in film. This is very important to the film community and something which must be seen more often if the film industry wishes to succeed far into the future.
Finally, a third aspect of the film I enjoyed was the writing. All of the characters in the film are memorable and dynamic. They all have their own mindsets and goals. This creates a film that has many moving parts and turns what would be a rather bland story into a more intricate one. Each character in the film is also played wonderfully; some of the supporting actors who do a great job include but are not limited to Shantanu Maheshwari, Vijay Raaz, and Seema Pahwa. In short, all of the characters in the film are interesting and three-dimensional. I actively wanted to learn more about each character as the film went on and was delighted when one of these supporting characters was given more backstory. Altogether, the characters in ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’ are fantastic.
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The one weaker aspect of ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’
The only complaint that I have about this film is its bloated runtime. ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’ is over two and half hours long and the last 45 minutes are dedicated to something which I believe could have been cut out altogether. At this point in the film, I felt as if the story was being dragged on for a tad too long and that the filmmakers had already accomplished the goal that they set out to complete. I believe that this last section of the film was unnecessary and that the film overall would have been a lot tighter if this section had not been included. However, this is my only complaint about the film as I believe that the filmmakers overall did a great job with ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’.
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‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’ as a whole
Overall I would recommend ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’ to anyone who enjoys well-executed historical crime dramas and especially to anyone who enjoys films with strong female leads and supporting cast members. This is an area in which I believe ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’ especially excels at. As I mentioned previously, this is not just a good Hindi movie from Bollywood but a good movie altogether. I believe that the film’s strong thematic backbone, on top of its stellar performances, really brings it together and turns it into something special which I wish I had the chance to experience on the big screen instead of on my couch. All in all, honestly, I believe that this is a film which everyone should check out and see. It is without a doubt a hidden gem on Netflix and a great film overall.
In addition to ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi,’ make sure to check out ‘Malaal’ on Netflix. ‘Malaal’ was written by the same writer and director behind ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’ and is just as good as the latter. Trust me when I say it will be worth your time.
Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Writers: Utkarshini Vashishtha and Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Producers: Jayantilal Gada and Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Cast: Alia Bhatt, Shantanu Maheshwari, Vijay Raaz, and Seema Pahwa
By Nathaniel Lee
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