Interview with ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’ director Sanjay Leela Bhansali – The Hollywood Reporter

For the latest CHILD GIFTS screening, provided by Vision Media, Hilton Dresden chats with director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, whose new film, Gangubai Kathiawadi, tells the epic story of a woman making the most of the dire circumstances she was forced into.

Bhansali adapted his latest effort from part of the book Mafia Queen of Mumbai, written by S. Hussain Zaidi. Gangubai tells the story of its eponymous character, a young woman from a well-to-do family who is tricked and sold as a sex slave by her lover. Instead of allowing circumstances to demoralize her, Gangubai reinvents herself and assumes command of the brothel she was imprisoned inside, eventually rising to impressive political and socioeconomic power, while simultaneously taking control of the brothel. freeing other young women from forced prostitution.

“I didn’t know that she existed,” Bhansali said. “I lived one lane from the brothel in Mumbai where this movie was filmed, but I didn’t know that a woman named Gangubai actually existed. When I read the story, it was a discovery for me. I said, ‘God, this is a great character.’ It’s a very pure character. It’s a character that I love to read, because she’s funny, she’s witty, she’s a fighter. She knows how to handle dark moments. She is like the sunshine in a brothel. And so I found that to be a very unusual thing for an unusual character. Usually, on the other hand, you have drama and humiliation and abuse that is evident in movies about prostitutes. But here I found a character [that] like the sun.

Adapting a nearly three-hour feature film from a single chapter of a book means not being afraid to create scenes and moments based on imagination rather than strictly adhering to the source text. “For example, girls [of the brothel] going to the movies, and the fun of dressing up, and then the Lady challenge. … All of this is not in the books. It is just added. [Gangubai] said ‘No, I will fight that fate.’ So how do you create a progression in character? So they go to the movies, but the sad part of [going to] The movie is she’s going to get through even in the cinema, and she has to struggle.

Bhansali found small details in the book that he was able to expand into the main points of the plot and even invented the plots he wanted the character to go through: “There were so many moments. such that we have added to create a sense of depth to the character. , there is a sense of joy to it. Now there is a feeling of finding the strength to get up and fight. ‘I will face it all.’ There are many sad scenes. The whole romance with Afsaan is a very [small] details in the book. So as a creator, I want Gangu to fall in love. As a film director, I want to write a love story [for] her destiny. So I made her fall in love.

Casting the lead role of Gangubai required great thought by Bhansali — in the end, he decided actress Alia Bhatt would be the perfect fit for the role. “We met a few times before coming [together] about this particular movie,” explains Bhansali. “She said ‘I want to work with you and one day I want to be a part of your film.’ She is a huge star in the country. I called her to read Gangubai and her face fell. She said, ‘I’d like to make an epic dance-music movie with costumes and war, but this is not your movie. This is not what you are known for.’”

But Bhansali wanted to try something different, closer, more character-focused. Bhatt was reserved, as Bhansali describes her saying, “’This is not me. I am a city girl. I lived a high social life. I don’t know this character. I’ve never seen a brothel. I don’t know about this culture. How do they talk? How do they walk? How do they say? How do they react?’ I was about to call another actress, and the next day I said [to her], ‘If you don’t want to do it, don’t do it. If you don’t trust me, don’t do it…’ I said, ‘Trust me, you haven’t made a movie like this, I haven’t made a movie like this, we should meet and make a movie. mining that side has not been exploited. And it’s going to be a great adventure.’ She said, ‘Okay, I surrender, I’ll do what you tell me.’ She came with a lot of reservations, with a lot of fear. She was a little nervous about working with me, etc., etc. But she had a [time], [and] I had some great times.”

Although Bhatt’s casting may have caused skepticism in the country at first, after seeing the film most would agree that it is impossible to imagine anyone else playing the role. “[The] people in my country are very, very unacceptable to the selection,” continued Bhansali. “But then when they saw it, they said there could be no other Gangubai but Alia.”

This version of CHILD GIFTS sponsored by Bhansali Productions.

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