Opinion: Is Gangubai Kathiawdi make-or-break role for Alia Bhatt?

KolkataWritten By: Monojit LahiriUpdated: Mar 19, 2021, 06:20 PM IST

Gangubai Kathiawadi Photograph:(Twitter)

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Will Gangubai Kathiawadi elevate Alia Bhatt to the gallery of the biggies?

Alia Bhatt has come a long way from being the cute, frivolous, pretty young thing. The new sing-dance-romance Student of the Year to accept – and shine – in complex roles like Highway, Udta Punjab,  Raazi & Gully Boy. Once a solid competitor and rival of the [more?] gifted Parineeti Chopra, her smarter choices of directors, films & roles allowed her to zoom past the Chopra kudi who goofed big in that area.  

While all sane people will agree that the final frontier in the success game is definitely luck, the run-up has to be intelligence, talent and hard work. 

Parineeti’s situation continues to be unique: flawless performances in forgettable, mediocre films.  

It’s like making a century for the losing side. Doesn’t count, dude!  The Bhatt lass on the other hand has voluntarily chosen to enter a mined zone with no safety net & challenge herself with projects & roles that demand deep exploration of the linear truth, warts & all and emerged triumphant! 

This has filled her ever-widening constituency with new doses of surprise & delight and even prompted the one person severely allergic to Bollywood, Naseeruddin Shah to admit that Alia Bhatt “is a natural”.  

High praise from a powerhouse performer who looks at Tinsel Town as nautanki & circus!

Presently, with her latest & most ambitious starrer, Gangubai Kathiawadi’s promos out, has her biggest histrionic challenge arrived?  

Way more demanding and complex than the other four, can she pull this off with the required intensity? Will GK be her make-or-break role towards anointing her as the finest of her generation and elevate her to the gallery of the biggies?

Unfortunately, since Sanjay Leela Bhansali, director of GK is controversies, darling [remember Ram Leela & Padmavat?] the promos reportedly triggered mass chaos!  The family of Gangubai threatened court action and the residents of Kamathipura took to the streets to protest strongly about Alia & Bhansali’s misrepresentation of the character & defamatory, shameless, uninformed & insensitive depiction of the area. 

This, they insist, is likely to damage the image of this place and spell ruin to the life & times of the resident’s present & future. Once again, before the film’s release, Bhansali will have to get pro-active as a defender of these allegations. He will have to assure the protesters that he neither attempted to portray faked realism nor masala-fied the environment and characters to spice up the creative license for commercial purposes.

Cut back to the main story. The first teasers elicited appreciation galore from Industry-wallahs and fans. Hailing her interpretation of the fiery, feisty & fearless Queen of Kathiawadi, who could be brazen, authoritative and wily in one deadly sweep, it was felt that the young actress had indeed got into the bone & marrow of the character.  
Others felt it was too early to comment but generally liked her take of GK. Still, others didn’t quite hit the same page. They found it superficial and openly admitted that it felt like a Flipkart TVC, where kids play grown-ups to grab eyeballs of viewers to ramp up the TRP!

The nay-sayers take first strike. Kolkata based Palash Sen, a gifted photographer, believes that while Alia’s credentials as a top-class actor is non-negotiable, this piece of casting may be the first miscasting of her life. For one, she looks way too young for the part. A hardcore, hardened brothel queen ruling her fiefdom with brazen bravura, demands a different presence. Remember Vidya Balan in Begum Jaan, Shabana Azmi in Godmother or Seema Goswami in Phoolan Devi?  Despite her well-tutored and executed mannerisms, Alia appears to be acting – not living the role, like the other three. Sure, she’s played out of her oh-cho-chweet comfort zone earlier, but GK is another planet. She lacks the lived-in looks and her lines delivered appear to be like play-acting.  The role needs a raw and rough edge, a gravitas to make it convincing & credible”.  

Bangalore based film buff Romsha Sharma dismisses this POV with the arrogance of a 20-year-old.  

“Palash has spoken. We have heard, Luckily, opinions are not facts and the history of both these talented artistes – actor & director – prove that they have always been tilting at windmills & emerged with flying colours.  Remember Rani and the Big B in Black? Ash, Salman and Ajay in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam?  Hrithik and Ash in Guzarish?  SRK, Madhuri and Ash in Devdas? Ranveer and Dipu in Bajirao, Ram Leela & Padmavat?  In every instance, the stars have been challenged and inspired to offer outstanding performances, punching way above their weight. Every single actor mentioned has never failed to acknowledge the amazing execution of Bhansali’s vision, blending larger-than-life opulence, aesthetics & mesmerising story-telling. Sure, Alia has never played a mafia queen but had Rani ever played a deaf-mute before Black? A gorgeous, sexy, glam star ripped off of any semblance to beauty, Rani still can’t thank Sanjay enough for a role that blew everybody’s mind. Bhansali’s eyes & instinct are usually on target and I am sure that the Alia-Bhansali combine will do wonders.”

At the end of the day, it’s a tough call.  Both Alia & Bhansali have fantastic track records and despite the odd glitch [Sawariya & Guzarish; Kalank & Sadak 2] they are respected, admired & eminently bankable with a captive fan base.  

It appears that the film-maker’s penchant for historicals never fail to catch fire, both with the protesters & box office!  Why should this biopic be any different for a guy who loves living dangerously, hitting the scary & adventurous road less travelled and of course, taking panga with the hypersensitive types.  

Funnily, once they sit across the table for discussions, a [discreet?] compromise is invariably reached, aal is well!

In conclusion, Alia Bhatt’s journey has been a fascinating one with promise and performance, perfectly matched.  Functioning in an industry where quality is equated with star power, winning awards, being a BO champ, signing inflammatory contracts and possessing immense marketable charm, star-struck fans should hesitate to fling the word GREAT her way.  

Why? Because the word is the most telling monosyllable in criticism, an accolade that is jealously guarded by a special few. It fuses mastery of mystique & magic, technique, hard labour, passion, determination, good luck, magnetism and an ability to lose oneself when the gods descend. The mystery lies in the harmony of actor and character, illusion & reality, con-trick & sacrament, being & seeming.

The day the young actress embraces these sublime traits, she will move into the pantheons of gods chosen few. Till then, Gangubai Kathiawadi haazir ho!!

(Disclaimer: The views of the writer do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. Nor does WION or ZMCL endorse the views of the writer.)