When Alia Bhatt debuted in Bollywood with Student of the Year, no one thought that the teenager will eventually become the powerhouse performer she is today. Despite beginning with a typical college romance Karan Johar film, the actress soon broke out of the stereotype that plagues actresses who debut with such candyfloss films. Her very second release was Imtiaz Ali’s Highway, in which Alia proved that she is here to be taken seriously.
Highway was a hard-hitting story about a girl brought up in an affluent home dealing with trauma from her childhood, forced to brush them under the plush carpet to save face in society. Alia impressed most critics with her performance, and this was only the beginning of the incredible talent show she was about to put on.
The actress never shunned out-and-out commercial cinema, but struck a balance by choosing meaty roles and meaningful scripts. So a Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania was balanced out by 2 States. Kapoor & Sons and Udta Punjab releasing in the same year showed her range as an actress. She can ease out of her Manish Malhotra lehenga and into a tattered brown kurta, swap glitzy dance floors with decrepit houses in rural Punjab in the blink of an eye.
She followed it up with Dear Zindagi, another highly lauded film about mental health which saw Alia take centre stage as the protagonist. With big production houses like Red Chillies Entertainment and Dharma Productions backing the venture, Alia proved that she can carry off a film on her shoulders with ease.
But Dear Zindagi was made on a small budget, with the film’s producer Shah Rukh Khan himself making an appearance in the film. So far, Alia’s box office successes were all multi-starrer films with other popular actor(s) in the lead. Her 2018 film Raazi, for which Alia won several accolades, was also made on a budget not more than Rs 40 crore. The film grossed more than ₹158 crore in India, emerging as the highest-grossing film for Alia Bhatt, surpassing Badrinath Ki Dulhania.
She followed it up with the role of Safeena in Gully Boy, where she held her own despite the plot focusing on Ranveer Singh’s character. Alia proved once again that irrespective of the size of her role, she can leave a lasting impression on the minds of her viewers.
The appreciation coming her way all these years was probably a build-up to a bigger film where she would play the titular role. Alia has been delivering as a performer on screen for a decade now, and it was time for Bollywood to truly take a gamble on her. That chance came with Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Gangubai Kathiawadi. Bhansali’s films are mostly made on a large scale with massive production budgets and sets. He also rarely makes a film with a solo female protagonist, without any other popular male face to draw the crowds. Bhansali’s previous women-centric films like Khamoshi and Black also had major male stars as cast members.
Gangubai Kathiawadi has only Alia for star power, with Shantanu Maheshwari, Vijay Raaz, Indira Tiwari and Seema Pahwa playing supporting roles. The film is said to have a budget of Rs 70 crore, which is not a meager sum for patriarchal Bollywood to invest in a female-led film. Bhansali’s 2013 hit Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela was made on a budget of approximately Rs 48 crore.
In that sense, Gangubai Kathiawadi is probably the biggest film in her career so far as a solo lead. The film is about the life of Gangubai Kothewali, a young girl sold into prostitution by her boyfriend Ramnik Lal, and how she becomes the madam of a brothel in Kamathipura. The teaser shows Alia’s incredible transformation into the tough role of Gangubai, intimidating everyone coming in her way. There are signs of yet another memorable performance from the actress for sure.
In an industry where actresses are still struggling to find roles that give them their due, Alia has managed to grab opportunities that let her shine. If Gangubai Kathiawadi turns out to be yet another stellar performance from the 28-year-old, it will truly seal her spot ahead of every other successful actress in Bollywood.