“Gangubai Kathiawadi” is a 2022 biopic based on “Mafia Queens of Mumbai” written by Hussain Zaidi. The film revolves around the life story of Gangubai Kothewali, an influential madam (“Gharwali”) of several brothels of Kamathipura in the 1960s.
Mature Content Warning
While the historic red-light area of Mumbai is well known, very few understand its life. The film gives insights into the life of a sex worker, their stories, values, and challenges. The film takes a viewer back to a time when human trafficking and organized crime dominated the city of Bombay. The harsh reality of this era gave rise to the beacon light of Kamathipura: Gangubai Kathiawadi!
How Did Ganga Harjivandas Become Gangubai?
Ganga Harjivandas is an innocent sixteen-year-old from a respectable family in Gujrat. She flees to Bombay with her boyfriend Ramnik Lal, aspiring to become an actress. To her horror, Ramnik sells her to a pimp named Sheela Maasi in a brothel. Sheela Maasi locks her up in a windowless room for days and forces her to become a sex worker. The incident kills the spirit of an innocent Ganga, and she takes the identity of Gangubai: a dazzling streetwalker of Kamathipura!
Gangu’s increasing confidence soon begins to bother Sheela Maasi. She is especially furious when Gangu takes a stand for the rights of her fellow workers, which affects her profits. One night, a shady-looking man named Shaukat Khan Pathan books a slot with Gangu at an odd hour. Sensing that the client’s intentions may be alarming, Sheela Maasi takes the opportunity to teach Gangu a lesson. Pathan’s abuse leaves behind gruesome, permanent scars on her. When admitted to a hospital, the nurses mercilessly keep her in a storeroom instead of a ward, for she is a sex worker.
Gangubai confronts Pathan’s employer and influential Mafia leader Rahim Bhai and demands justice. Infuriated by Pathan’s misdeeds, Rahim avenges her by publicly executing him! Having her scars healed and Rahim Lala as her assumed brother, Gangubai stands stronger than ever! After Sheela Maasi’s death, she takes up the role of the new custodian of the brothel.
The film precisely captures how struggling actresses were deceived and trafficked to Bombay as a common practice. In fact, women in the film industry were often correlated to sex workers between the 50s and the 70s. It elaborates how most women do not take up prostitution by choice but are mercilessly forced into it. Such women live through every horrific nightmare, every night, just to make their ends meet.
Does Gangubai Beat Raziabai In The Election?
Empowered with Rahim Bhai’s support and the trust of her coworkers, Gangubai establishes dominance in Kamathipura. Most criminals and corrupted officials are afraid to threaten her, which helps her protect her clan. Gangubai rightfully uses her powers in the interests of her people and gains popularity for her philanthropic activities. This encourages her to participate in the local presidential elections.
However, not every brothel-keeper is as compassionate as her! Especially not Raziabai, an influential trans woman who dominates the neighborhood using the barbarism of her henchmen. Gangubai is determined to stop Raziabai from gaining political authority and harassing young girls. She helps the financial prosperity of her brothel by taking ownership of Rahim Bhai’s liquor business. She makes history by marrying the daughter of a fellow sex worker to a respectable man. Consequently, she wins the presidential election.
It is common for women who were forced into prostitution to project their dark past on young girls. The trade grows as the victims themselves become the predators. However, Gangubai stands out from this lot. Her undying compassion and hope for a better future empower her to integrate righteousness even into criminal activities.
Can A Prostitute Fall In Love?
Considering the dreariness a sex worker faces in life, it is difficult to imagine how they can fall in love. Gangubai has been of the idea that true love is fictitious that only naive people believe in. Her belief is understandable, considering she had been deceived by her lover. Nevertheless, she lets go of her belief when she falls in love with her neighborhood tailor Afshaan. For someone like Gangubai, who has witnessed the most hideous face of masculinity, letting her guards down is a huge step. However, she does so anyway as she senses Afshaan’s pure and untarnished love.
While cinema commonly portrays victims of sexual abuse to be traumatized by the idea of love, this film brings a fresh perspective. It rightly illustrates how a woman can instinctively differentiate between true love and hideous lust. While one’s touch may feel incredibly delightful, it may also feel utterly discomforting depending on one’s underlying intentions. Gangubai’s fellow sex workers, too, share their dreams of finding true love and living a happily married life. However, while sex workers in India may still desire to find love, their profession prohibits them from living the “Pretty Woman” life! This raises an important question about their lives, beyond their socio-economic rights. Despite her and Afshaan’s budding romance, Gangubai arranges his marriage with Kusum’s daughter. She does so to not only protect a young girl from a traumatizing future but also to protect Afshaan from her own dark past!
“Gangubai Kathiawadi” Ending Explained: Can Prostitution Be Legalized?
After becoming the local president, Gangubai takes over several responsibilities. Consequently, several challenges follow. The establishment of St. Anthony’s school in Kamathipura leads to an order to demolish the brothels of the neighborhood. With the help of Rahim Bhai, Gangubai refuses to conform and saves the homes of her fellow streetwalkers. She takes the initiative to give the brothel-born children their rightful education by fighting several hurdles. Gangubai becomes acquainted with a journalist, Amin Faizi, who helps her expose the misdoings of the school authorities. She attracts media attention to the plight of the women in Kamathipura. The film puts forward a bold perspective that sex workers maintain a societal balance and prevent violence by satisfying the needs of men! While the approach is highly debatable, the film beautifully illustrates the viewpoint of a proud sex worker who isn’t afraid to say the P-word. It challenges several social prejudices by establishing that prostitution is also “work”! Women, men, and transgender people in this trade work hard to make ends meet and deserve a respectable status in society.
Faizi Bhai helps her gain recognition for her philanthropic successes, following which she gets invited to a political event for a speech. Gangubai publicly addresses the unfair social stigma against sex workers and how they are deprived of their fundamental human rights. Unfortunately, amidst her struggles for the social upliftment of her community, she loses her best friend Kamli at childbirth. One day, Faizi Bhai arranged a meeting with the Prime Minister of India to make Gangubai’s voice heard on a national level. Gangubai appeals for prostitution to gain legal status. PM Jawaharlal Nehru acknowledges her concerns and offers her his red rose! He promises her to arrange a national-level discussion on this subject so that thousands of prostitutes in the country attain a dignified life.
Offering a red rose to a lady of the night is a common cultural practice in India. However, PM Nehru does so to respectfully honor the lady who dreams of a brighter day for her clan! This symbolism is the cherry on the top of the film’s bottom line. Despite working in illegal trade, Gangubai creates a righteous world of her own. Despite being titled as a “pimp,” she never pushes young girls into prostitution against their will, and prevents other brothel-keepers from doing so. While not being able to herself give birth, she mothers every child born into her brothels and protects them from local predators.
If an unmarried girl loses her virginity, it is common for society to label her as impure. But regardless of being a sex worker, Gangubai shines in her white saree, symbolizing the purity in her heart. Kamathipura has historically been a sea of darkness for women, to which Gangubai becomes the beacon light!
Without having a definite climax, “Gangubai Kathiawadi” is a film that does not let the audience leave their seats. In addition to its commendable cinematography and spot-on acting, Bhansali’s direction makes the impoverished site of Kamathipura aesthetically charming (like most of his films). The film is indeed, a cinematic gem.
“Gangubai Kathiawadi” is a 2022 Indian biopic drama film directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali.