Tag Archives: Biodrama

Film Review: Gangubai Kathiawadi (2022)

Young Ganga (Alia Bhatt) wants to become an actress and in order to fulfill her dreams, she elopes with her boyfriend to Mumbai but in all excitement of such a young age, she never realizes the horror that awaits her. Her boyfriend sells her for Rs.1000 to a brothel and the broken Ganga becomes Gangu. And after earning a reputation amongst her fellow prostitutes, she becomes Gangubai.

This is a real-life story based on Gangubai Kothewali. She was the queen of the infamous prostitution-hub Kamathipura and did a lot for the prostitutes and orphans for decades. As expected, the film dramatized the true bond of respect between Gangubai and Karim Lala as in those times it was widely known that treat each other like siblings and no one would consider messing around with Gangubai when Lala was ruling the underworld.

I don’t have enough knowledge of Gangubai because this film is based on Hussain Zaidi‘s book, “Mafia Queens of Mumbai” and I didn’t read that. And at the start of the film, there is a disclaimer that confirms that liberty has been taken for cinematic appeal and entertainment despite being based on the book so I am not sure how many facts were changed.

And I have written many times on different platforms that Bollywood is still not ready for making bio dramas because of many reasons. And one of the reasons is that the Hindi films are generally produced for cashing from commercial business and do not provide enough facts to justify their case for being a bio-drama. Sadly, Gangubai Kathiawadi faces the same critical issue. And despite all the elements of impressions implemented for beautifying the film, Gangubai Kathiawadi is more sort of a mainstream entertainer rather than a genuine bio-drama.

One of the many problems of this film is the average direction. Sanjay Leela Bhansali never disappoints when it comes to visual artistry. He is someone who is fond of showing things in a beautiful way. Even if something is ugly, he will apply makeup on it to look a beautiful ugly.

Now observe the productional set in this film and I ask Mumbaikars here, is Mumbai’s oldest and the largest red-light district Kamathipura that beautiful as depicted in the film? And Bhansali throughout the film glorifies Gangubai as if she was some symbol of national heroism. In the final scene, after observing the celebration, I felt as if Gangubai won some presidential election in the United States.

And this is why Bhansali makes beautiful films to cover the overdramatic screenplay of ordinary storytelling that qualifies for Bollywood aesthetics. Just like his previous films, this film also gives the audience a feel of absolute noir-meet-broadway theatrical rhapsody. Superb costume and production designing. This film is zenith when it comes to technical brilliance besides two of the most important things this film lacks, and that are necessary for the making; writing and direction. All the technicalities aside, the film is below-par with many plotholes.

How come Shaukat doesn’t listen from the other door when Kamli loudly informs Gangu that Bilal has gone to inform Rahim about him? Not sure how Gangu recovered from brutal injuries after Shaukat beat her. Did the time period jump? But how far has the time passed? Not a single facial scar or a scratch! How perfectly a heavy makeup can hide the gashes? She looked exactly like she was before beaten.

One of the plusses of this film is a bunch of supporting performances coming from some well-known actors in their brief roles like Seema Pahwa, Jim Sarbh, Vijay Raaz, and Ajay Devgn. Vijay Raaz as transwoman Raziabai was all about his characterization and he did a fair job. I am surprised many are furious over Vijay Raaz’s and are questioning why a transgender was not picked? Not sure how is this a problem now. It is not mandatory that the role of a trans must have to go to a real-life trans. Otherwise, what is the beauty of judging the actor’s performance at all? How often do the trans people get offers to play the role of non-trans or non-LGBTQ roles? This is a nonsense controversy. 

Speaking of Ajay Devgn’s extended cameo playing the role of Rahim Lala that is based on one of the three biggest Mumbai dons of that time, Karim Lala. See, I don’t like Ajay Devgn’s acting, I love his acting. And he has played character roles and has had many great performances in the past. But here I blame Bhansali over the selection because, in my opinion, this has to be the worst ever portrayal of Karim Lala. First thing, Ajay doesn’t remind me of Lala nor does he has a typical Afghani Pashto accent. Lala was pretty tall, in Hussain Zaidi’s book and in some internet sources, Lala is thought to be around 7-feet tall; Ajay is hardly 6-feet. 

Ajay’s role doesn’t remind me of Karim Lala but Ajay himself. He literally did nothing different to stay in the character. I am sure many will notice that Ajay’s this performance was exactly similar to his role of Mallik in Company. And that makes me realize something. What’s up with Ajay playing the roles of some infamous mafia dons? His Company’s role was based on Chhota Rajan. In Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai, his don role was based on Haji Mastan. And now Karim Lala. Who is he playing in the future? Vardhabhai?

Coming back to the point before I slip writing other than review, there are plus points too. The film successfully addressed the social issue of the prostitutes and dramatized in a way that despite all the charms and merriness they used in their makeup to perform hanging on the doors and street, they were all bunch of eternal sadists with tragic origin stories. Gangu helped many of those unfortunate cases and the film showed that those damsels in distress were re-purchased by Gangu for a hefty amount to provide them a better life. No wonder how many such stories circulated on those streets of Kamathipura.

Before I end my review, I will definitely write about the biggest plus and the most impressive factor of the film, Alia Bhatt. This was a much-needed moment in Alia’s career since she became one of the biggest victims of nepotism charges from the global netizens after Sushant Singh Rajput‘s suicide. A kind of role that challenges her to come back and prove how her body language can perfectly construct her role. There was everything to praise about Alia’s Gangu. Of course, the film revolves around Gangu but maybe the spirit would have diminished if this wasn’t for Alia. 

I have no idea what the real Gangu looked like when she was young as there is not much about her on the internet. The information about her and even her pictures are extremely finite. But Alia gave a splendid performance. And there are a few scenes where one can judge how impressively Alia executed reactions and mannerisms.

What a magnificent scene that was when rookie Gangu stands at the door and others give her tips for seducing customers. Bhansali shot that scene with quite a thought. And Alia perfected the physical behavior of an amateur harlot. In the ‘Dholida‘ track, she has a one-minute one-shot scene of enraging her dance while other women react blankly and she executes her madness so well. There is another scene where she speaks to her mom and the line is about to cut in thirty seconds and Gangu loses her temper. Some incredible portrayal of desperation was performed there. In Gangu’s first scene at the brothel, when she gets deceived and locked; I think Alia has perfected such a scenario after similar acts in Highway and Udta Punjab.

Gangubai Kathiawadi for me is a disappointment in direction and storytelling. Its technical aspects and Alia’s mindblowing performance makes this ordinary film look extraordinary.

RATINGS: 6/10

Film Review: Lady Sings The Blues (1972)

PREFACE

Lady Sings The Blues is the bio-drama of the legendary Jazz singer Billie Holiday. It is based on her autobiography with the same title. This film marked two notable debuts. One was Diana Ross‘ as an actor who played the central character and the other was Motown‘s big daddy Berry Gordy Jr. as a film producer. The film didn’t meet a mega success but got recognition with five nominations for the Academy Awards.

This film tempted me to watch it for a few important reasons. One is that I am a fan of Billie Holiday and have listened to most of her songs, including Decca Recordings. After watching The United States Vs. Billie Holiday last year, I felt that I must check this old classic to observe their take on her life. Another reason is that I never watched Diana Ross as an actress, have only listened to her music. And then Berry Gordy trying his hand at the film production made my mind further because I have huge respect for this man for giving birth to Motown Records through which many legendary singers and bands blessed us with rich music, especially in R&B and Soul.

ISSUES

The impressions I held for the film met a fatal blow for some critical reasons. Let me try to highlight a few.

The most critical error is Diana Ross herself. Despite a breathtaking performance, her selection for the role of Billie is a huge question mark. She neither reminds Billie facially nor her vocals while in character, Diana’s vocals are not even close to her. Billie had a distinguished voice that defined the Jazz music that was played in the 1930s and 40s. Those ears who have listened to the recordings of Billie will clearly complain that Diana didn’t try to give a feel of Billie in her voice at all. With such a problem in the selection, the film makes you believe more in Diana’s story instead of Billie’s.

The second issue with the film is that despite being adapted from her biography, a lot of liberty is taken from the material. Even if I keep the book aside or say that the film is not based on any book but is based directly on the legendary singer without the use of any source, the screenplay is questionable. The handsome Billy Dee Williams plays Billie’s husband, Louis McKay, and fits in the story when Billie was a rookie in the nightclub. Whereas, Louis came into Billie’s life later. Billie married three times in her life but the film mentions Louis as if he was in her life right from the start. And then the characterization of Louise is doubtful. Louise was abusive to Billie but here, he is totally opposite. So if the actual reputation of Louise really is bad then this bio-drama disrespects Billie’s sentiments by showing her cruel man with the Godly image.

Another problem is that the film ignores the dark consequences in Billie’s life like the troubles she faced with legal issues. The film missed the chance to depict how her most famous song “Strange Fruit” impacted the audience. In the film, Billie witnesses some terrifying cruelty on the African-Americans and then sings this track. And then there is no mention of it. If you make a film on Billie, you have to tell the world the political and social impact of the song.

IMPRESSIONS

My criticism about the film is based on fact that it did no justice to Billie’s legacy. I felt like the makers preferred to give Diana a platform to establish herself as an actress rather than present us with the life of a legend in those troubling times in America.

But true story aside, there is no doubt about the film’s excellence if I take a general view. Sidney J. Furie is quite a name who has been directing films for around six decades. And he did a splendid job in directing this film. There were a few intense scenes that can make the audience uncomfortable like Billie’s first performance in the nightclub when the audience breaks her confidence for not picking their money from her body despite singing so well. It was a social mockery of the public concern that portrays the horrors of singing at the nightclub.

Billie witnessing dead bodies on the trees and people around lamenting is another shot carefully directed that led to Billie’s health deterioration. Not sure if such an incident occurred but there is a scene when Billie is enjoying herself with all her white friends in the touring band when the bus is suddenly stopped to pave way for KKK demonstrators. Billie gets angry and passes angry verbal remarks leading to a bus attack and minor injuries. It was a very significant shot to spare a thought for. Even if such an event never happened with Billie, it still qualified as the need of the hour to give a glimpse of political unrest to the audience.

It is hard to believe that this was the first time Diana Ross performed in the film. The moment Diana enters the prison to be thrown into her cell at the beginning, she doesn’t remind any of us if this is a performance. Her facial expressions and body language were perfect.

CLOSING REMARK

I like the film in general. If I keep this out of my head that this is based on the true life of a legend, it is an excellent film with a fabulous performance by Diana, some good support from an impressive casting, excellent costume design, and direction. But the main purpose of the film was to watch Billie’s life in the reel and that did no justice. After all, this is why this film came into production but took a lot of liberty. So enjoy the film about her life but believe almost nothing about what most of the film showed you.

RATINGS: 5/10

Film Review: House of Gucci (2021)

As the title gives the precise indication, Ridley Scott‘s House of Gucci is about the legacy and incidents that occurred in this rich family that led to the downfall and disgrace to their name. With the ensemble cast of Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons, Al Pacino, Jack Huston, and Salma Hayek, the film with a fair portion of historical accuracy indicates that the film was set for a definite showdown.

What marvels with the film is the consistent pace at which the screenplay holds firmness and makes the actors mesmerize with their quality performances. They all were exceptional. Their roles were well adjusted in their given screentime according to their weight and importance of them in the story.

As many major incidents were directed in the right tone, there do are some issues where I felt that Ridley Scott lost the edge or preferred theatrical license. The most critical concern was Jared Leto as Paolo Gucci. Couldn’t understand why Leto was chosen for the role and all this hard work on prosthetics transformation. Only Ridley can explain the vision behind believing that Leto will do justice. Leto’s Paolo Gucci is a strange comic relief who is like a fool or a jester in the Middle-Age royal court. I could not take him seriously. I felt as if this was some parody or his imitation of Paolo’s foolishness. Not sure if this was disrespect but I had to question myself if Paolo Gucci really was a nincompoop. There is no doubt about Leto’s performance as a funny Gucci being entertainment for the audience, he did act well. But, did Paolo carry the same traits, or was he deliberately put to insult?

Another concern is the film’s length. Because the pace of the story was consistent, a lengthy film made the watch on the wrist tickly-ticking. To my understanding, a story like House of Gucci perfectly fits for a limited series format rather than a 158-minute saga. I think FX‘s American Crime Story would have done a favor to its audience way more than this film. Despite being a quality film, a school of thought may construct to theorize that the dramatizing of around three decades with these characters in a single film would not develop that much storytelling.

I am disappointed with the Oscars, how come Lady Gaga is not nominated for the Best Actress? This has to be her best performance. The role of Patrizia Reggiani in the house of Gucci was a bomb that exploded with many consequences. And Lady Gaga’s execution was so well-crafted that the viewers will get irritated with her for everything she stood for. In the second half, she will be on everyone’s nerve, and would love to see her die. And this is what performance is about. Play a good or bad character in a way that the audience treats the actor in the same manner as the character himself/herself.

The other major actors did well. Adam Driver continues his form. Jeremy Irons had his moments when his character gets extremely sick. Al Pacino’s prowess in his artistry was reflected when he returned from prison to lose his mind over the incidents he never came to be aware of.

House of Gucci is a favor to the fashion enthusiast and the history-digging audience who are interested to know how the mighty fell and lost control of one of the greatest luxury brands.

Ratings: 7.5/10