Saturday, June 11, 2022

The Objects of Affection in Modern Love: Mumbai

Every Friday, the New York Times publishes a column called Modern Love. It has stories about love and life in the contemporary world. Anyone can submit a story and get published (after it manages to make it past the editors). More than the story, I like the writing in the columns—touching, moving, and grieving. Sometimes, just one thought makes the column insanely beautiful. I keep dreaming that I will get published in it someday. Two seasons of Modern Love have been released in the last few years that adapted some of these stories into a show. Neither of those seasons really worked for me. It is probably because the joy of feeling someone's writing gets lost in the cinematic depiction. The show was not bad at all, but there was not much in there that moved me. It is the same feeling I had while watching the Hindi adaptation of the series called Modern Love: Mumbai on Amazon Prime Video. There are six stories, each depicting a different form of love. However, the series is mainly dull, and it left me cold. The six stories have an object of affection, using which the writers bring out the different films' themes.

The theme of Shonali Bose's Raat Rani is love for the self. There is a Kashmiri domestic help Lalzari (Fatima Sana Sheikh), whose husband Lutfi (Bhupendra Jadawat) has left her. He used to drop Lalzari at her employer's home on a scooter, but now she rides a bicycle to work. It is a struggle for her when she has to cross a flyover on the way. She gets tired and exhausted. She even tries to jump off it at one point due to frustration. However, she huffs and puffs but manages to not give up for a few days. And, gradually, she learns to ride the cycle over the bridge. The film uses this flyover as a symbol of her emancipation. Like Rani (Kangana Ranaut) in Queen, she goes to thank her husband for leaving her because, otherwise, she would have been sleeping all her life. She repairs the roof of her house and makes it her own Taj Mahal. She starts a small business of her own. She learns to enjoy the ice cream on her own. Later, she also crosses the Sea Link, where two-wheelers are forbidden. It is in defiance of all the forced rules that society put on her. She has crossed the flyover, surpassing everything she was told not to do.
Same-sex love forms the crux of Hansal Mehta's Baai. There is Manzu (Pratik Gandhi), a gay Muslim man who comes back to visit his ailing grandmother Baai (Tanuja). He works in Goa and is engaged to a chef Rajveer (Ranveer Brar). Manzu is out to his family except for Baai, who does not know about his sexuality. The object of the affection in the film is music. Manzu has his first tryst with love over the staircases of Lucky Manzil while listening to music with a friend. Later, Manzu becomes a professional singer at a high-end resort in Goa, where he meets Rajveer. At one point, he tells Rajveer that music has no barriers. It equalizes everything. It was because of music that he met new people in life. It was music that helped him get a voice.
Vishal Bhardwaj depicts parental love in Mumbai Dragon. Set in the Chino-Indian community of Mumbai, the film depicts the story of Sui (Yann Yann Yeo), who cannot accept her son Ming's choices (Meiyang Chang). Ming is in love with a Gujarati girl Megha (Wamiqa Gabbi). Sui believes that Megha will turn her son vegetarian, and he will forget his roots. The film uses food to symbolize Sui's overbearing love for her son. She sends non-vegetarian food to his son daily, who lives as a paying guest with Megha in her father's house. The refrigerator has no space to keep more of it. It is a representation that her mother cannot let go of her son as she keeps filling it with her love. Ming calls it a cage where no one else except her is allowed to love him. Towards the film's end, Sui sends three boxes, and one of them has vegetable stir fry. Sui will probably never be able to let go, but she is at least trying to make some space for a vegetarian dish in her son's refrigerator.
Alankrita Shrivastava's My Beautiful Wrinkles depicts the story of forbidden love between a young man Kunal (Danesh Razvi), and his elder tutor Dilbar (Sarika). Having shades of Shrivastava's Lipstick Under My Burkha, the film makes the point that age is no bar for love. Kunal fantasies about Dilbar, who is initially disturbed when she learns about it. However, they gradually accept their fantasies for each other and continue to remain friends. The object of affection in this film is an old car owned by Dilbar's lover Iqbal, who tragically died in a car accident. Dilbar never sold the car and kept it with her all through the years, even though it was idling away. Dilbar takes inspiration from a former classmate's book Confessing Your Way To Happiness, gets rid of the car, and learns to move on in life.
In Dhruv Sehgal's I Love Thane, there is the theme of young love. Saiba (Masaba Gupta) is a landscape architect, tired of meeting unlikeable guys on dating apps. She meets Parth (Ritwik Bhowmik), who works in the government office. Parth never left Thane and wants to make it an idyllic place for its residents. He is not interested in any social media websites, such as Instagram. The film uses artificial trees as Saiba's quest to look for something real. "Nobody cares if it is real or synthetic," a client tells her. Saiba's dating profile says, "Keep it real." Parth wants to make the park in Thane because "Life breathes here." In the end, Saiba finds someone real and honest in Parth.
In Nupur Asthana's Cutting Chai, marital love takes center stage where a homemaker Latika (Chitrangada Singh), struggles to finish her first novel due to the sheer amount of household work. Her husband, Daniel (Arshad Warsi), does not really support her. True to her profession of being a writer, Latika imagines the different scenarios in her head if she had chosen to build a life with her ex-boyfriend Vikram (Siddhant Karnick). Using cutting chai, the film belabors the point that our chances and choices make us who we become in life. Latika had met Daniel at a function where he offered her cutting chai instead of bland coffee. Her life changed after the encounter. The film also uses trains to make its point. Latika does not get on the train with Vikram, but she rides the train (of life) with Daniel. She might think about her past but does not regret her choices. She might struggle to give a story to her characters, but it does not mean she will eliminate them from her life.
I wonder if Modern Love: Mumbai did not work for me because it is too real. Everything is too subtle. I love the joyful romances. I love the star-crossed doomed lovers. I love the reincarnated lovers. Nobody is making good romantic films these days. Yes, reality makes us grounded, but sometimes, we all need to escape to a world that is larger than life.

Dialogue of the Day:
"Pyaar ko rokna bhi toh nafrat phailane jaisa hai."
—Shaheen, Baai (Modern Love: Mumbai)

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Songs About Crows In Cinema

In the recent chartbuster Pasoori by Ali Sethi, a stanza says, "Kaaga bol ke dus jaavein, paavan gheyo dee choori nu." Let the crows tell me why and feast on sweet supply. It refers to a common belief associated with crows where their cawing is related to the arrival of someone. Here, specifically, the writer asks the crow why the one who was supposed to come has not come till now. It made me think if there have been other songs associated with crows.
Crows are omnivores. They eat almost everything. A few songs have referred to this characteristic of crows. In Naadan Parindey from Rockstar, there is a verse that says, "Kaaga re kaaga re, mori itni araj tujhse, chun chun khaiyo maans. Khaiyo na tu naina more, khaiyo na tu naina mohe piya ke milan ki aas." Here the singer asks the crow that it can eat all his body flesh but requests it not to feast his eyes because he wishes to see his lover with those eyes. This verse was originally written by a Sufi saint named Baba Farid, who wrote it. In an interview with the Business Standard, the song's lyricist Irshad Kamil said, "Open page 83 of the Punjab Board Hindi textbook and you will find this poem by Baba Farid in it." The verse has been sung previously by singers, such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Kailash Kher, and Sonu Nigam. A few Hindi films have used it before. In Kaga Sab Tan Khaiyo from Piya Milan Ki Aas (1961), the first line of the song is the same verse. It says, "Kaaga sab tan khahiyo, ke chun chun khayio maas, do naina mat khaiyo, mohe piya milan ki aas." Even Kaga Sab Tan Khaiyo from Himalay Putra (1997) has the same verse in its opening lines.
 



In earlier days, traders would take the help of crows to find the direction to the coast. They would often release the crow and follow it to reach their destination. The arrival of a crow signaled the arrival of a ship. The women would lookout to see if it was their own husbands or lovers who had returned. And so, eventually, the crow came to be seen as the news bearer of the lover's arrival. There are many songs in the Hindi films that have portrayed this belief. In Mori Atariya Oe Kaaga Bole from Ankhen (1950), the woman sings about someone who is coming to meet her as she hears the crow cawing on her doorsteps.
 
In Bhor Hote Kaaga Pukaare from Chirag (1969), the crow is again a messenger of someone's arrival. The song is about a stage play where a woman talks about a crow cawing, making her think that someone is coming to her house. Bhor hote kaaga pukare kahe raam, kaun pardesi aayega mere dhaam. In Kaaga Mera Ek Kaam Karna from Prem Vivah (1979), the crow is again a messenger where the singer requests the crow to take her message to her lover's neighborhood. Kaaga mera ek kaam karna, kabhi mere preetam kee gali se tu guzarna. She even talks about writing a letter that it can deliver to her lover. Kya kya kehna ha, thehar yaad kar leti hoon. Bhool na jaaye tu, main chitthi likh leti hoon. Other songs, such as Kaaga Re Jaiyo Piya Ki Galiyan Mein from Bombay Mail (1935), Humre Munder Bole Kaga Sakhi Ri from Babla (1951), and Kaga Re Ja Re Ja Re from Wafaa (1950), have songs with similar themes.
There was also Udd Ja Kaale Kaawa from the partition-based film Gadar: Ek Prem Katha (2001), where the lover asks the crow to take a message to his beloved. Udja kaale kaawan tere munh vich khand paawan. Leja tu sandesa mera, main sadke jaawaan. Fly away, black crow, taking a piece of sugar in your mouth. Take my message with you, and I will sacrifice my life for you. More recently, there was Kaaga from Mirzya (2016) where Gulzar provides words to the lover who pleads with the crow to bring some water in its beak, where water represents the news of her lover. Else she will die of the thirst. Kaaga re kaaga, piya ki khabar suna na, pyaasi na mar jaaye koi, chonch mein jal bhar laana.
Lyricists typically use the word kaaga to refer to a crow, but the word kauwa is also a crow. However, this word is often used in humorous situations, often mockingly. In Kauwa Chala Hans Ki Chaal from Around The World (1967), the crow is mocked for trying to become a swan. A similarly themed song, Hans Ki Chaal, was also depicted in Jolly LLB (2013). There is also Kala Kauwa Dekhta Hai from Mera Haque (1986). Set in a field, the song is about two lovers (Anita Raaj and Sanjay Dutt) who say there are not afraid of a crow watching their love story. There is also a slightly non-sensical Govinda song Kauva from Fryday (2018), talking about a party of birds and animals thrown by a thirsty crow.
It is also a belief in some regions of India that anyone who speaks a lie gets bitten by any random crow. This has been depicted in a few songs as well. In Bobby (1973), there is Jhoot Bole Kauwa Kate where a woman asks her lover to not speak a lie, or else she will go to her parent's house. The last film of Hrishikesh Mukherjee as director, Jhooth Bole Kauwa Kaate (1998)also mentions this in its title and its title song. 
Some other noteworthy songs mentioning the crows include Aaj Mera Jee Karda from Monsoon Wedding (2001) where the singer talks to the crow as he feels happy because peace has finally come to his life, and he wants to fly away. In Kaga Toh Ud Gaya from Damini (1993), the lyrics talk about the lover pining for her lover. Kaga to ud gaya, mithi boli bol ke. Bathi hu main kab se, ghunghat pat khol ke. In Chil Chil Chilla Ke from Half Ticket (1962), Kishore Kumar entertains fellow passengers on the train by talking about a crow who can play the drums. Jhoom jhoom kauwa bhi dholak bajaaye. In Maye Ni Maye from the saccharine family drama Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! (1994), Nisha, played by Madhuri Dixit, in her iconic yellow dress, sings about a woman who confesses to her mother that she has fallen in love. She says, "Maye ni maye, munder pe teri, bol raha hai kaaga, jogan ho gayi teri dulaari, mann jogi sang laaga." Mother, on the top of your house wall, a crow is cawing that your beloved daughter has become a devotee as she has fallen in love with a saint.
In the anthology film Ghost Stories (2020), there is no song about the crows, but they have been used as a symbol of horror and evil in all the four short films, reminding us why a group of crows is called a murder of crows.
The universe of the Hindi film song is teeming with birds, such as koyals, mynahs, bulbuls, mors, and kabootars. As noted above, it also has built a tiny place for crows in it as well.

Other Reading:
1. On songs on the dream of a house—Link
2. On RockstarLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Kaaga re kaaga re, mori itni araj tujhse, chun chun khaiyo maans. Khaiyo na tu naina more, khaiyo na tu naina mohe piya ke milan ki aas."
— Baba Farid

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Happy Birthday—35

Today is birthday number thirty-five. Time for the customary annual post. I have written a post, even if it is just two-three lines, every year on this day. Life has been eventful and uneventful for the past few months. I have been a little occupied with work things; therefore, I have been slow in other things. As the mind is busy with a particular set of things, it is challenging to switch contexts. I wanted to finish many things by this time, but, as we know, it is the life that makes plans for us and not the other way. I also want to read and write more, so, trying to make a schedule for that. Rest all is the usual me. I will be back soon. 

Picture from today: I indulged in sugary food after so many months. Some days, it is ok to pamper yourself. I titled this one Hope and a Litte Sugar (inspired by the title of a film by Tanuja Chandra, who also started following me on Instagram, quite randomly).
"The tragedy of life is that it gives us wisdom only when it has stolen youth. Si jeunesse savait, et vieillesse pouvait!—"If youth knew how, and old age could!"
― Will Durant, Fallen Leaves: Last Words on Life, Love, War, and God

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Gangubai Kathiawadi—The White of the Swan

Early in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Saawariya, Gulab (Rani Mukerji) tells her friend Raj (Ranbir Kapoor) that the childhood of the prostitutes of Khwaabon Ka Sheher was spent in waiting—either waiting for their mothers to come back or waiting for a magical pari. But no one came to help them and they kept crying. Moments later, Raj consoles the abused prostitutes of the dreamland that a pari will come to rescue them. Ek din aasmaan se pari aayegi. In his latest film Gangubai Kathiawadi, Sanjay Leela Bhansali brings to life that pari who comes to better the lives of the sex workers of Kamathipura. The film narrates the story of the eponymous Gangubai, the madame of a brothel in Kamathipura, played by Alia Bhatt. Its screenplay has been adapted from the chapter The Matriarch of Kamathipura from the book Mafia Queens of Mumbai written by S. Hussain Zaidi and Jane Borges.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali has sympathized with the prostitute character throughout his oeuvre. In Devdas, the bazaaru aurat Chandramukhi (Madhuri Dixit) dances with the thakurain Paro (Aishwarya Rai). The two women dance together not in private but in front of society. They are well aware of what they are doing and know that they are disrupting societal norms. Even if the heavens strike, they do not care because they want to dance for the man they love. Lag jaane do najariya, gir jaane do bijuriya. Chandramukhi also berates Kaali Babu (Milind Gunaji) that if she lives in a badnaam mohalla, then it is thakur men like him who visit the mohalla and help to keep it running. The children born there have the same blood in them as the thakurs.
In Saawariya, Gulab is disparagingly referred to as a dhandewali by the landlady Lillian (Zohra Sehgal). Gulab replies to her that Lillian is a dhandewali, too. Lillian had a guesthouse, which she started to rent out to people. Gulab did not have anything besides her body. Thus, she made it into a guesthouse. Customers come and sleep in both. Therefore, Lillian is not much different from Gulab as both are businesswomen.
In Gangubai Kathiawadi, Gangubai makes the same larger points as Chandramukhi and Gulab in her climactic speech at Azad Maidan. Different people have varied businesses. A qualified person sells his intelligence. Likewise, prostitutes sell their own bodies. So, why the discrimination against them. Men from respected neighborhoods come to them, but it is the women's neighborhood that is called infamous. Hamara hi mohalla badnaam kyun. Gangu goes a step further and adds a moral responsibility to the prostitutes. Women like her keep men's violent urges in check, thereby helping maintain peace in society. Therefore, she is proud of the work she does.
Gangubai Kathiawadi begins with a young girl being forcefully indoctrinated into prostitution. She is tortured, but she refuses to give in. Then, Gangubai is called to convince her because uski gaali me bhi pyaar hai. She then narrates her journey from being Ganga to becoming Gangu. She was tortured in the same way by Sheela Maasi (Seema Pahwa) when a lover betrayed her and instead sold her to the brothel. She learned the hard way but eventually gave in to the madame's orders. Gangu befriends other women in the brothel and ekes out a living. At one stage, she remarks to her friend Kamli (Indira Kumari) that one day she will become the owner of the brothel, foreshadowing her life ahead. "Tu dekhna, Kamli, agle paanch saal me na, yeh pura kotha khareed lungi." Like the way in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, when Sameer (Salman Khan) falls in the water on his arrival at the household, Kamna Bui (Rekha Rao) says, "Jaate hue sabko rula ke jaayega yeh pardesi." Like the way in Bajirao Mastani, Bhanu (Snehlata Vasaikar) curses Kashibai (Priyanka Chopra) that one day she will pine for her husband, "Ek din tum bhi apne pati ke liye tadpogi."
A client assaults and wounds Gangu. The scars on her stomach mean an attack on her livelihood. She goes to meet the local don Rahim Lala (Ajay Devgn). "Dhanda aap ka bhi dharam, aur hamara bhi," she tells him. If someone disrespects the religion, then the traitors are punished by God, he tells her. It is precisely the reason that she came to him. For her, he is the God who will dispense justice. At a later stage, she again calls him God and bows down in front of him. Through the blessings of God, Gangu was able to exert power over Sheela Maasi and eventually became the madame. Her wish came true. "Tu dekhna, Kamli, agle paanch saal me na, yeh pura kotha khareed lungi."
Touching the feet.
Once Gangu takes charge of the brothel, she takes care of the girls and becomes a gharwali. The girls give her a white saree so she would look like a politician. But then, Gangu decides to dress only in white. White also becomes the palette of the film in all the crucial scenes. The Azad Maidan tent is all white. The Prime Minister's office is all white. The final procession is all white. In Raj Kapoor's Sangam, Radha (Vyjyanthimala) was also dressed in white throughout the film. Towards the end, her friend Gopal (Rajendra Kumar) tells her suspicious husband Sundar (Raj Kapoor) that the day Radha wed him and entered his house, she was as pure as the river Ganga. The white color represented Radha's purity and her pavitrata.
Gangubai in White
Radha in White
White is also the beginning of Gangubai's love story with the local tailor Afshan (Shantanu Maheshwari), who offers to sew a blouse for her. In their first meeting, they both are dressed in white and talk about white. In a beautiful dialogue, Gangu tells him about the different types of white. He tells her to choose the white of the swan. Hans-vala safed. Their love story starts to blossom in Jab Saiyaan. Like Juliet, Gangu stands on the balcony communicating with her Romeo, Afshan, who stands below. Through silent gestures, they play a game of hearts while playing a game of cards. Like the way, Dev (Shah Rukh Khan) and Paro played a game of cards in Bairi Piya in Devdas. Afshan loses the game and his heart to Gangu. He comes to her room, and she offers him a red sherbet. She turns away the picture of Dev Anand and watches him drink. She goes on a ride with him in a carriage. The colors are again memorable. The carriage is black. He is in black. She is in white and black, as if they both are merging together. She puts her head on his lap, looking for some comfort.
Playing Cards
Afshan comes to deliver the blouse. He watches her perform her ablutions. Like the way, Kashibai watched Bajirao (Ranveer Singh) performing his ablutions in Bajirao Mastani. Gangu takes a bath, but Afshan is the one who gets wet. They declare their love and hug each other. At that precise moment, the temple bells start ringing. Like the way, the temple bells started ringing when Ram (Ranveer Singh) and Leela (Deepika Padukone) consummate their marriage during Ang Laga De in Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela.
Gangubai Kathiawadi and Bajirao Mastani
Gangubai Kathiawadi and Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela
Their love story continues to blossom in Meri Jaan, a one-take song shot at the back of the Gangu's car. The black carriage is now a black car. They playfully tease each other till Afshan becomes forceful. He tries to get physical with her, but she resists. He does not stop till she slaps him back. She wants to experience the healing touch of love, or else he is not different than the other men who have done the same to her before. She takes his hand to caress her forehead. Meri Jaan is also a depiction that consent matters in relationships, regardless of whether the woman in the case is a girlfriend or a prostitute.
Gangu soon realizes that her love story with Afshan is a fantasy. It was doomed from the beginning. She cannot get married to him. She performs the greatest act of love in Bhansali-land—the act of sacrifice. She asks him to get married to a girl from her brothel. "Mujhe khareed rahi ho ya isse bech rahi ho," Afshan wonders. "Zindagi bhar mera rakhel ban ke kya karega tu," she later tells him. The marriage is agreed upon. Afshan becomes the first groom to get married in Kamathipura, which will also help Gangu politically. Inspired by Teri Mehfil Mein from Bhansali's favorite film Mughal-E-Azam, a qawwali is presented in ShikayatGangu covers her face, a throwback to when Afshan did the same thing in the car during Meri Jaan. The waiter brings sherbet, and Afshan drinks it like he did in Jab Saiyaan. In any other film, the sherbet will be just red, but because this is Bhansali land, the tray had two types of sherbet—three glasses of red and three glasses of green. The qawwal (Huma Quereshi), like Gangu, is dressed in white. Like Gangu, she keeps a handkerchief in her bosom. She speaks about Gangu's love life. Ke ghaat maut ke har din utarna padta hai, yeh ishq dil mein meri jaan utaarne ke liye. One must die every day to keep love alive in one’s heart. Gangu is happy and heartbroken. The chapter with Afshan ends.

Flashbacks
Qawaali
Her political fight begins. Gangu defeats her bĂȘte noire Razia Bai (Vijay Raaz) in the local elections. She assembles all women, gives a speech about dignity, and talks about guroor, Bhansali's favorite word. "Arey jab shakti, sampatti, sadbhuddhi, teenon hi auratein hain, toh in mardon ko kiss baat ka guroor." Like the way, Ram says in Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, "Guroor me doobe samundar ko bhi kahan pata tha ki woh ek din banjar rann ban jayega." Like the way, Kashibai says in Bajirao Mastani, "Par aapne to hum se humara guroor hi cheen liya." Gangubai tells all women to never be afraid of anyone and live with dignity. Like the way, Padmavati (Deepika Padukone) gathers all women in Padmaavat and asks them to live and die with pride.
Gangubai Kathiawadi and Padmaavat
Gangubai fights her next battle to save her brothel from being shut down. A journalist Faizi (Jim Sarbh), who also falls in love with her, helps her with publicity. She gives a roaring speech at Azad Maidan talking about the rights of prostitutes. She gets to meet Jawahar Lal Nehru, the country's first prime minister, asking for his assurance on the same. She tried to deliver on her promises and left behind a long-lasting legacy.
In Devdas, the golden walls of Chandramukhi's kotha represented her heart of gold. In Gangubai Kathiawadi, Gangubai has a tooth of gold representing her inner heart. Her brothel is not as flashy as Chandramukhi's but combines realistic and fantastical elements. The brothel is designed like a cage. Un qaid pinjaron me bhi khul ke saans lena sikhayaThere are paintings by Raja Ravi Verma, and photographs of film actors lining its walls. There are paintings of Goddesses. When Gangubai rescues the girl from Rashmi Bai (Chhaya Kadam), she suddenly turns around, and a picture of the Goddess can be seen in the background, as if Gangu is a Goddess, too. Like the way, Kashibai is shown in Bajirao Mastani. The neighborhood of Kamathipura is designed as a secular one that does not discriminate against anyone. Gangubai waters the tulsi plant. Her neighbor is a Muslim. The hospital has photographs of Parsi God Zarathustra. Chinese doctors are living there as well. There is a celebration of Navratri and Eid. In her meeting with Nehru, Gangu invokes that she is Havva ki beti, Yashoda ki humjins, Radha ki beti, Paigambhar ki ummat, Julekha ki beti.
Goddesses
Paintings
Nargis Dutt
Zarathustra
There is also a cultural theme lining the film. It opens with Begum Akhtar's Yeh Na Thi Hamari QismatGangu reads Ghalib's poem Hazaaron Khwahishen Aisi. She recites Sahir's Jinhe Naaz Hai Hind Pe in front of Nehru. References to cinema from that time can be seen throughout as well. There are posters of Mughal-E-Azam and Chaudhvin Ka Chand in Kamathipura. There is a poster of Baiju Bawra, which Bhansali is also planning to make next. Dev Anand plays a special role of his own in the film. When Ganga meets Sheela Maasi for the first time, she talks about changing her taqdeer. The song that plays in the background when she says it also talks about taqdeerAa Teri Tasveer Bana Loon, Main Apni Taqdeer Bana Loon from Naadan. When Sheela Maasi is about to die, she befittingly sings Begum Akhtar's Ulti Ho Gayi Sab Tadbiren, symbolizing the change in her destiny. The whole dialogue-baazi of the film is a throwback to the masala genre of the 1970s. Gangu gets an opening like a masala hero, with her first shot being her payal-laden feet while holding a Rani Chaap liquor bottle in her hands. The fight with Razia Bai also involves films and intervals. Gangubai shows a film by Dev Anand (most likely Nirala) to the audience on the streets. Like the way, Mughal-E-Azam played in Saawariya. Gangubai wanted to become a film star, but she became a cinema herself.
Mughal-E-Azam and Chaudhvin Ka Chand
Baiju Bawra
Gangubai Kathiawadi and Saawariya
Many scenes stand out in the film, aided by Sudeep Chaterjee's beautiful cinematography. Early on, one of the girls in the brothel asks Gangu to write a letter to her father. She agrees to help her write it. Taking turns, all the other girls add a few words of their own to the letter. This is the perfect example of shared sisterhood. Another beautiful scene is when there is no electricity; all the prostitutes come out holding candles, lighting-up Kamathipura. It is stunning. Another one is when Kamli dies; the women dress her up while she is lying dead. On the other side sits Gangu holding Kamli's child in her hands. The scene is set up wonderfully, showing different contrasts. There is red and white. There is mother and child. There is life and death. There is the end of life and the beginning of life.
There are other tropes from the Sanjay Leela Bhansali film universe that can be seen in Gangubai Kathiawadi. There is the weaving motif where Gangu and her girls are weaving a garland. There is the Garba dance song Dholida during Navratri. Gangubai enters a trance state in the final moments as if a Goddess had entered her. Like the way, Dhankor Ba (Supriya Pathak) danced during Nagada Sang Dhol Baaje in Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela. There is the Eid celebration which is reminiscent of the Eid from Saawariya. There is a song about the moon. The is the motif of wearing roses on the head. There is the motif of the mirror shots.
Garba dance in Gangubai Kathiawadi and Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela
Eid in Gangubai Kathiawadi and Saawariya
Women with Roses
 Gangubai Kathiawadi and Guzaarish
Curtains
Mirrors
Weaving
Gangubai Kathiawadi is a different Bhansali film. Alia Bhatt is present in almost every single frame of the film. She is excellent in most of the scenes. But I did see her struggle in some scenes that required some gravitas. For instance, the one where she is drunk and shoos away Razia Bai's people. Or the one she screams at the telephone operator to give a few more seconds. However, Gangubai Kathiawadi made me think about the importance of the physicality of an actor for a particular role. An actor's persona and physicality add to the performance. It is what I felt was missing here, even if her performance was excellent. Recently, there was also Hitesh Bhatia's Sharmaji Namkeen, where the lead actor was performed by two actors—Rishi Kapoor and Paresh Rawal. Both were fine performances, but somehow, Rishi Kapoor went more with the character. Perhaps, because his persona went more with an aging middle-class man.
The other issue was the screenplay which seemed very chapter-driven. The cold war between Gangubai and Sheela Maasi was far more interesting than between the former and Razia Bai. The film lost a bit of its momentum after her election victory, and there was nothing much happening. Even the Azad Maidan speech did not add a lot to the film. In places, Gangubai Kathiawadi reminded me of the masala bits of Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, which is not my favorite Bhansali film. I prefer the larger-than-life Bhansali. And, I wished the palette of Gangubai Kathiawadi was a little different. The film was trying to be more realistic, but I wish there were some more colors to the palette. Nevertheless, the little Bhansali bits and details, and some beautiful scenes accentuated the film.
Life and Death
After her election victory, Gangu tells the women that a flower's work is to spread fragrance all over. Likewise, she spread the fragrance all over. She was no saint, but she tried her might to fight for the rights of the prostitutes. And the streets of Kamathipura were indebted to her and were forever colored in Gangu-vala safed.

Other Reading:
1. On DevdasLink
2. On BlackLink
3. On Bajirao MastaniLink
4. On Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-LeelaLink
5. On PadmaavatLink
6. On the moon in the films of Sanjay Leela Bhansali—Link
7. On SangamLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Arey jab shakti, sampatti, sadbhuddhi, teenon hi auratein hain, toh in mardon ko kiss baat ka guroor."
Gangu, Gangubai Kathiawadi