Gangubai Kathiawadi is a fine piece of cinema. Though the movie is single-handedly owned by Alia Bhatt, who essays the titular role in the film, Sanjay Leela Bhansali has proved that no one can portray women in the sex trade the way he does. His portrayal of sex workers has always been fascinating and poignant. And Gangubai Kathiawadi is not the first. How can we forget about Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai, and Madhuri Dixit’s Devdas. The movie Gangubai Kathiawadi documents the rise of a brothel owner to a woman who was a crusader for the rights of sex workers and their children. But one might wonder how Bhansali gets successful in portraying the sex workers the way he does.
In an interview with Film Companion, Bhansali shared that as a kid, he would see sex workers every day as he walked from school to home. The filmmaker was born and brought up in a chawl in Bhuleshwar, which is very close to Kamathipura. He said that people are sensitive to what they see as kids, and Bhansali recalls that he saw sex workers indicating to customers that their rate was Rs 20. As a kid, Bhansali used to wonder how could a person’s rate be Rs 20? Though he moved out of the area and went on to become a great filmmaker, the question stayed with him and he couldn’t project them completely in any of his films. He said, “I was finding them through Chandramukhi… We are priceless for ourselves, we can’t be tagged. We can’t be sold for Rs 5 or Rs 20 or Rs 50. It is inhuman."
Bhansali stated that the faces of the women he saw had ‘tremendous stories’ and even though they did a lot of makeup to hide their feelings, nothing in the world can camouflage that feeling of grief. After Gangubai Kathiawadi, Bhansali is all set to portray the world of courtesans in his upcoming OTT project Heeramandi.