Tag Archives: Haji Mastan

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

Book Review: The Substance and the Shadow (2014)

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 “I have consciously never oversold or overexposed myself to the audience. When I look back I feel it was quite risky to be starring in one film when other actors were busy with two or three films on the floors simultaneously. I determinedly decided to work in only one film at a time. It was simply my confidence in the subjects I chose and the hard work I was ready to put into them.”


I have always suspected and reckoned that the first half of the twentieth century has fetched more gripping and compulsive stories than the second half due to the time being disturbing and chaotic in its nature. Many wars were fought and casualties were witnessed and suffered. The outcome was painful for ages. The pride of Hindustan collapsed with the partition and communal riots in the result with many tragic stories to bargain some piece of time in the future. One of the same stories met the golden fortune of the Hindi film industry which was still in the development process from leapfrog. In this millennium, we are extremely fortunate and blessed that the story has finally been inked from his own hands and met a huge success after its publication.

Dilip Kumar sahab is the epitome and the real shamma-e-Bollywood. His presence is the magnitude and the real red carpet, whose footsteps to the industry brought new attention in the golden era and produced many memorable films. In my reading experience, it is convincingly confessable that before browsing this book, I knew the legend merely by 20% through his films; but after reading his twenty-five chapters, I must declare that I know the man by 75% and with the reading section of ‘Reminiscence’ where forty-three individuals have paid respect and shared incidents attached to him, I have to avow that the percentage of knowledge I have gained has stretched to 80%. The rest stays with his personal life with his best half, Saira Banu.

Being the greatest actor in India for all ages and generations, it was highly in demand and everyone’s desire to know him in his own speech. Although it took an age to decide him to speak up, the blessed part is that the biggest promise in reading the book actually fruits our patience.

The book is easily parted into three sections. The first section is the formality of the book introduction and forward. Saira Banu, Dilip sahab‘s superlative blessing has done the honors of introduction by touching on some memorable moments of her life with him and confessed that she should write a book about her life with him. Film journalist Udaya Tara Nayar has forwarded the book. She has the credit to compile and shape the book and narrate his autobiography. Ms. Nayar has explained in her pages how Dilip sahab finally made up his mind to write this book.

The second section is the reader’s borrowed time to enrich his understanding with the chronicles and memoirs of the legend consisting of 25 chapters. The third and last section is the tribute to Dilip sahab inked by many personalities which stretches to more than a hundred pages.

The first four chapters cover his childhood. His first years of life in the area of Qissa Khawani Bazaar, the Piccadilly of Central Asia located in Peshawar, the-then part of British India and the current city of Pakistan. We must praise the author that such an individual has the sharpest memory at such an old age to describe to us the toughest circumstances when he came out from the mother’s womb. Whatever the details his family explained are still stored with him and are now read to us.

The childhood chapters discuss his family specifically his dadi and his parents whom he calls amma and aghaji. In the fourth chapter, he mentions aghaji‘s Hindu friends in the same area; one of them was Basheswarnathji who used to bring his handsome son to their home stunning the ladies whose name was Prithviraj. Yes, Prithviraj! the father of Raj Kapoor and from here begins a childhood friendship between the upcoming iconic superstars of the golden era. Also in this chapter, Dilip sahab moves with his siblings and amma to reunite with his father in Bombay where aghaji meets business opportunities in fruit selling.

When we learn about his teens, we go aggressive like him. We read about his lovely bonding with his brothers, his affection and keenness for the English literature, his school and college life especially the latter life inking more pages on his restoring of friendship with Raj Kapoor as both studied in the same college. We experience his struggles and his attempt of settling alone in Poona (Pune) while running away from home after a mild disagreement with his father. His days in Poona are an interesting read with many troubling and funny incidents there.


“I had never ever seen a film studio in my life, not even in photographs. I had heard of Bombay Talkies from Raj Kapoor who spoke about it as the studio where films starring his father Prithvirajji were shot.”


The making of the legacy begins in the eighth chapter when the first lady of the Indian cinema, Devika Rani, a Bombay Talkies panjandrum, proffers him to join Bombay Talkies in their first meeting and learn acting under the guidance of the company. As we have read enough of Dilip sahab till his twenties till this moment, we emotionally begin sensing a change in fate, a blow of breeze in the alfresco. Here comes the learning process in Dilip sahab‘s acting life as the amateur encounters many significant and notable film personalities.

Those filmgoers who have watched his earliest works of the 1940s will observe that he was pretty a bungle ‘layman’ in the acting profession in films like Jwar Bhata and Jugnu but his skills developed rapidly from Shaheed, Mela, and Andaz. The same exercise is developed in these initial pages of the career beginning chapters from a keen learner who realized his fate was written to become a film star and aid his ever-growing family financially and raise his siblings with proper living standards and reputed education after his parents’ demise.

No great celebrity in any part of the world can cross the phases of life without tragic moments. From the eleventh chapter, we read and grow commiserations for him as he begins meeting tragedies in life. Some forlorn moments, inefficacious love affairs, and devastating episodes of quietus led by playing repeated sorrowful and gloomy characters produce upsets, sickness, and exhaustion in mental state enough to consult a psychiatrist in London who suggests bringing a change in the mood of character roles he plays in his career. During all this phase, there is a separate chapter on the beautiful but complicated Madhubala for obvious reasons. In this book, Dilip sahab responds to the questions revolving around decades of the involvement of Madhubala in his personal/professional life.

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“I…became aware that an actor needed to strengthen his instincts because the duality between the real and unreal cannot be sorted out by the mind, which is more concerned with truth and logic in any normal situation. The mind will always tell you this is nonsense… It is only instinct that will help you to absorb what you have to absorb from the script and drive you to render a performance coated with realism and conviction despite the knowledge of it all being fiction and drama.”


Also, he has detailed in pages about his working relation and camaraderie with few prominent celebrities like Vyjayanthimala, Sashadhar Mukherjee, Ashok Kumar, Bimal Roy, and many more. His acting pages will also annex to our knowledge the offered films he refused for some reasons but to my huge surprise, in fact, a shock, he didn’t shed light on David Lean‘s offer for the role in Lawrence of Arabia which went to Omar Sharif later. Remind me if I happen to miss it but there is no precise detail of the famous offer-refusing moment. Hilariously, Dilip sahab has mentioned Lean’s Doctor Zhivago as the story inspiring his writing of Kashmir Valley on his wife, a project he wanted to produce after Bairaag. Indeed it is the biggest omission in the book.

It is more than half of the book-reading when his best half, his dream girl Saira Banu shows up; a girl who madly fell in love with him when she was only twelve. From the seventeenth chapter, the reader’s most romantic portion comes into existence after all the troubles and struggles, and there is a sweet fascination in reading this golden love affair. The whole nineteenth chapter covers their high-profile wedding and the coming chapters tell you more about their marital life and the films they co-starred together.


“I do not know if it is in my genes or if it is something I have assimilated from the environment I was brought up in. It gives me great contentment and joy to espouse a good cause.”


In the last reading phase, I lose an edge when the timeline crosses like a rocket. Dilip sahab travels from birth till finishing Bairaag in 1976 after reading 238 pages and 22 chapters; but in the final three chapters and 45 pages, Dilip sahab travels 38 years and reaches 2014!! The biggest ‘?’ is why not fetch more details between 1976 and 2014. In the final three chapters, he did speak about his role as Sheriff of Bombay and the lawsuit slapped by A.R.Kardar, he did speak about his comeback in the 80s and working in major films like Shakti, Vidhaata, Mashaal, and later on Saudagar but my argument is that heavy detailing was badly missed just like he wrote few of the chronicles in first 22 chapters at length. In fact, he spoke more about Raaj Kumar than Saudagar.

The same case with his two tours of Pakistan (1988 & 1998); on both occasions, he didn’t go for lengthy details. Both tours were emotionally monumental, the first was his grand return to Peshawar after his childhood days; and the second time he visited, he was awarded Nishan-e-Imtiaz.

Due to short details in the final three chapters, he didn’t speak about his friendship with filmmaker and mobster Haji Mastan. More than this, the major surprise was not mentioning about Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993. Although he has mentioned most of the films he has worked in but not wrote a single word of his final film Qila. Perhaps he realized it was a regret to retire after finishing Qila rather than Saudagar. But remarkably he did speak about his biggest regret of getting involved with the lady from Hyderabad, Asma Rehman.

The newest incident from the book was Lataji‘s visit to Dilip sahab a few months before the book was released in the mid of 2014 which indicates that he was active in completing the memoir in his nineties. The Substance and The Shadow easily is one of the most important books in Bollywood’s richest library and showcase. Someday in the late future, I may read the book again with the same enthusiasm as I discovered a lot of treasure from his box. Many great legends and prominent celebrities of his time have left the world but he is still there and we hope he stays further long and may we witness him completing his century.

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Chapters:

Childhood (Ch#1 – Ch#4)

Younghood till Devika Rani’s Offer (Ch#5 – Ch#8)

Film Career till Marriage (Ch#9 – Ch#19)

Post Marriage Career till Present (Ch#20 – End)

 

About Personalities:

Ch#05 – Raj Kapoor

Ch#08 – Devika Rani

Ch#09 – Ashok Kumar, Sashadhar Mukherjee

Ch#10 – Ashok Kumar, Raj Kapoor

Ch#11 – Kamini Kaushal, Naushad, Mehboob Khan, Nitin Bose

Ch#12 – Madhubala, S. M. Sriramulu Naidu

Ch#13 – Madhubala

Ch#14 – Bimal Roy, Vyjayanthimala, S. S. Vasan, B.R.Chopra, Yash Chopra

Ch#17 – Saira Banu (till the end)

Ch#20 – Pran, Mukri, S.U. Sunny

Ch#24 – Subhash Ghai

Ch#25 – Lata Mangeshkar, Yash Chopra

(There are few personalities I have missed adding here who are mentioned in the book.)

About Films:

Ch#09 – Jwar Bhata

Ch#11 – Shaheed, Milan

Ch#12 – Azaad

Ch#14 – Devdas, Madhumati, Gunga Jumna, Paigham

Ch#16 – Gunga Jumna

Ch#22 – Gopi, Sagina

Ch#24 – Kranti, Shakti, Saudagar

Ch#25 – Mashaal

(There are few films I have missed adding here which are mentioned in the book.)

Important Deaths:

Ch#11 – Ayub (brother) & Amma (mother)

Ch#15 – Aghaji (father)

Ch#25 – Nasir (brother)

Best Reminiscences:

(I have picked 23 best tributes out of 43 chosen individuals.)

Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bachchan, Moin Beg, Yash Chopra, Farida Dadi, Dharmendra, Sitara Devi, Subhash Ghai, Rishi Kapoor, Anil Kapoor, Aamir Khan, Salim Khan, Manoj Kumar, Mumtaz, Lata Mangeshkar, Nanda, Nimmi, Waheeda Rehman, Harish Salve, Salim Sharifee, Ramesh Sippy, Sharmila Tagore, and Vyjayanthimala.

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