Who was Gangubai Kathiawadi? The real woman behind Alia Bhatt’s bold new role
Alia Bhatt is all set to bring the character of Gangubai Kathiawadi, one of the most dreaded women of Mumbai’s underworld, to life in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s next Bollywood movie. Here's what you can expect from Bhatt’s new character.
Alia Bhatt shared the first look of her new film Gangubai Kathiawadi on January 15. The actress is all set to bring the character of one of the most dreaded women of Mumbai’s underworld to life in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s next Bollywood movie. In an Instagram story on Tuesday, Bhatt clarified she was not hurt during the shooting of her forthcoming film and also slammed media reports that stated that she was hurt on the film's sets and wrote: "To all the articles out there saying that I have hurt myself on the sets of my film... they are not true. This is an old injury that has been acting up for a while and just gave way one day at home. No accident or anything... Please, please do clarify next time before printing long articles on what happened to me."
The filming for Gangubai Kathiawadi kicked off in December 2019. Back then, Alia Bhatt had posted a picture of her vanity van with a "Gangubai" sticker on it to share the news, and captioned it, "Look what Santa gave me this year." A week ago, Alia Bhatt took to Instagram to reveal the posters of the film and gave us a peek at her new role. While one poster is a monochrome closeup of her face with a big red bindi on her forehead, another is a shot of her as she sits wearing a blouse and a skirt, a bindi on her forehead and hair plaits with a pistol placed on a table beside her.
Bhansali Productions unveiled Alia Bhatt’s Gangubai Kathiawadi look on social media with the caption, "Strength. Power. Fear! One look, a thousand emotions. Presenting the first look of #GangubaiKathiawadi. In cinemas 11 September 2020. @aliaa08 #SanjayLeelaBhansali @prerna982 @jayantilalgada @PenMovies." The project will see Bhansali Productions collaborating with Jayantilal Gada’s Pen India Ltd. Ahead of the first look, Alia Bhatt shared an Instagram post about her upcoming biopic. The 26-year-old star shared a glimpse of the film’s title and wrote Gangubai in the caption along with a heart emoji. The short clip shows a red dot along with the title "Gangubai Kathiawadi."
The Alia Bhatt film will centre around the life of Gangubai Kothewali, a powerful brothel owner who earned herself the moniker of ‘Madam of Kamathipura’ in the '60s. Parts of her story are known through a chapter dedicated to her in the book Mafia Queens of Mumbai, written by best-selling author and former investigative journalist S Hussain Zaidi. Earlier, a report in Mid-Day had quoted a source as saying, "Alia’s paternal grandfather Nanabhai Bhatt was a Gujarati Brahmin who hailed from Kathiawad. But Alia is not familiar with the dialect as it is rarely used outside of the pocket in Gujarat. Since the filmmaker is meticulous in his prep, he wants a tutor who is fluent in the dialect. Bhansali has reached out to some of Mumbai’s famous Gujarati theatre personalities, including actors Manoj Joshi and Supriya Pathak, to help him in his search. The film will be shot simultaneously as she undertakes the month-long diction class. The dialect has a strong Sindh influence as the region was inhabited by the Kathis and Rajputs from present-day Rajasthan and Sindh."
While you wait for Alia Bhatt’s latest movie — slated for a September 11 release this year — here are a few things you need to know about Gangubai Kothewali, one of the most formidable women in Mumbai in the '60s.
Gangubai Kathiawadi was a brothel owner in Kamathipura, Mumbai
After a rough beginning, Gangubai Kathiawadi rose in power through her connections with the Mumbai underworld. She owned and managed multiple brothels in the red light district of the city, eventually earning herself the title of 'Madam of Kamathipura'. She drove in a black Bentley, the only brothel owner to own one in those days.
Gangubai Kathiawadi was sold into prostitution
Not much is known about Gangubai Kathiawadi's family, but she's said to be from the Kathiawad area of Gujarat. She ran away from home to Mumbai at a young age with her boyfriend, who tricked her and sold her into prostitution in the red light district of Kamathipura.
Gangubai Kathiawadi advocated for rights of sex workers
Because of her own experience, Gangubai Kathiawadi was known to have empathy for other women from the community. She used her power to champion the rights of sex workers and their empowerment and believed that her work didn’t permit anyone to abuse her. Reportedly, she even approached the then-Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to discuss problems faced by sex workers.
Gangubai Kathiawadi's efforts to improve the living conditions in Kamathipura earned her love from the community
Her idols and framed photographs were commonly seen in homes in the area, and locals even erected a bust in the locality in her honour.
(All photos courtesy Alia Bhatt's official Instagram account.)