Gangubai Kathiawadi

Gangubai Kathiawadi

Certain performances stay with us, not only because of their exemplary display of craft, but also for how apparent the performer’s belief is, in their character. Alia Bhatt in this film is one such phenomenon. The conviction in her performance is palpable, and it bolsters our need to root for Gangubai’s relentless pursuit against the society.

Biopics are a tricky affair. It’s a true story, we know for a fact that this character has achieved the things they’re dreaming of and aiming for. You also have the character repeatedly stating these goals through the narrative. But what Alia’s performance brings to this situation is sheer conviction on the said goals. She never underplays a beat, and almost always sells an emotion with more vigour than required (that’s also a signature of the Bhansali hero). It’s the kind of performance that’s in tune with the star of Indian cinema – loud, snazzy, and of course – charmingly theatrical body language. These attributes bring a certain magnetism to an already endearing protagonist.

Prakash Kapadia and Utkarshini Vashishtha have written electrifying dialogues that facilitate Alia’s rampage towards Gangubai’s goal. The film runs on the rapturous nature of the lines. Even when a scene doesn’t make you feel, there’ll be a solid punchline that highlights the emotion to takeaway.

The screenplay is very episodic, with no in-betweens or internal musings to punctuate between one sequence and another. This is why there are plenty of scenes that don’t register a secondary character’s emotional weight. Afsaan’s tragic arc isn’t felt and only seen, because there’s no beat with him outside of Gangubai’s purview. The only time we slightly go out of her perspective is for Vijay Raaz’s Raziabai, who gets a focused buildup but is knocked off the board a little too easily. But even within these failings, we get terrific bits of cinema, like the long take of Meri Jaan or the mass-y low-angle shot for “Zameen pe baithi bahut acchi lag rahi hai tu, aadat dal le kyuki teri kursi toh gayi…“. It’s a simple line, elevated by Alia’s attitude and the heroic framing.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s staging comes through as fervently as ever, with mutliple instances that remind us of his arrestingly grand sensibility. Scenes like the one where the entire mahaal is decorating a corpse, an individual’s letter is being written as a collective, an abuser being shown his place by the do-gooder gangster, a long line of sex workers hugging a peer they look up to – these are all terrific moments where there’s apparent care gone into every movement in the frame. These are moments that reward you for investing in the larger-than-life zone that the makers are going for.

It’s not a perfect film, and tells quite a linear journey with an almost invincible protagonist, but buying into Alia’s ardour and the unabated dialogue-baazi, makes for a memorable experience.


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