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Gangubai Kathiawadi Gives An Unusual Dignity To The Portrayal Of A Sex Worker On Screen

Men who come to a sex worker to release their sexual urges have a 'respectable' life of their own, but she transforms into a 'dirty object' the moment she is trapped within the business.

It is not important to know how authentic the source is, of the bio sketch of a sex worker presented in the film Gangubai Kathiawadi, as some critics are questioning it.

The criticism is understandable, as such a film disturbs our ‘honourable society’, when women in the flesh trade start coming out in public to claim their dignity.  A society can claim to be ‘civilized’, as long as we don’t hear how our men treat these women in the darkness. However, in a healthy society what matters the most is how much dignity is given to the woman in question, who spends the rest of her life in darkness once forced into the flesh trade.

In the real world, a sex worker is not a topic of public discussion. The men who come to her to release their sexual urges have a ‘respectable’ life of their own. But she transforms into a ‘dirty object’ the moment she is trapped within the business. She remains ‘useful’ as long as her body can sustain, and then disappears from the market and is pushed into further darkness till her last breath.

In this context, Gangubai Kathiawadi directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali gives a ray of hope for a sex worker trapped in this dark world, for she too can fight for her dignity as Gangubai did.

A quick look at the story of Gangubai Kathiawadi

This film is a heart-wrenching journey of a lovestruck young girl who runs away with her lover from her affluent family in Gujarat to reach Mumbai to become a Bollywood heroine, however, lands up in Kamathipura after being sold for Rs.500 by her lover.

It takes some time for her to take a stock of her life, caught with no escape route. But she musters the strength to bounce back to life, taking other sex workers along with her, to lead a life of dignity and self-respect.

Her new journey starts with taking the brothel owner head-on, by declaring Sunday as weekly off, and taking the girls out for a film and eat out. She questions the lady, “Every job has one day weekly off. Our body needs rest too.”

She allows girls to go back home if they want to, but with a word of caution, that no home welcomes a sex worker back. So, she assures them that the doors are open for them to come back if unaccepted outside.

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She ties Rakhi to Karim Lala, the local mafia don, to garner his support to protect sex workers from evacuation from the site.

She forces the local school to admit the children of sex workers. When being asked, “What is the father’s name of the child?”, she replies, “Why, mother’s name is not enough?”

Then goes on to win the election to become the president of Kamathipura.

The film has some memorable and highly intense moments

When a girl asks Gangu to help her to write a letter to her family, all the girls echo, “If only we had listened to our parents, not chasing fancy dreams…”  Similarly, when Gangu’s best friend dies, the girls reminisce and share the dead girl’s unfulfilled dreams of marriage and family. Then, Gangu’s own budding love life, which she had to sacrifice for the service of her community.

The ultimate point of the film, when Gangubai gives a public speech representing sex workers, holding her head high, with direct eye contact with the audience, she demands her rightful place in public and dignity of life.

A worthwhile watch for everyone

It is a film worth watching for everyone – both men and women.

Men should see the painful story behind the sexual object they encounter in red light areas. Women should feel empathy for the beings of the same gender who spend all their lives in darkness, satisfying their dear men. Sex workers too would be inspired to shed the stigma attached to them, demand their space, hold their heads high, and ask for their rights with direct eye contact, as Gangubai did in the film.

Finally, Gangubai Kathiawadi draws our attention to this section of women who are always left in the backyard, away from mainstream debates. Approximately more than two million prostitutes working in the sex trade, without basic dignity of life. So, this oldest profession in human history deserves its moments of recognition, respect and institutional support.

Alia Bhatt as Gangubai steals the show in every frame. She has given a stupendous performance with so much maturity, grace, poise, mannerism and command over dialogue delivery.

The film is based on the book, ‘Mafia Queens of Mumbai’ written by Hussain Zaidi and Jane Borges. The book narrates Ganga’s journey as a victim of the sex trade till she becomes Gangubai Kathiawadi, the president of Kamathipura. Even after assuming so much power, Gangubai never exploited girls or forced them into prostitution. She worked for the betterment of sex workers.

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About the Author

Jyothi S

Dr. Jyothi, Assistant Professor of English, Tumkur University. Has been a teacher of English and also soft skills trainer, with special interest in writing poems, articles, short stories and translation both in Kannada and English. read more...

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