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Gangubai Kathiawadi (2022)

In the year 1956, a 15-year girl named Madhu from Ratnagiri district is sold into prostitution by a pimp, who pretended to be in love with her, into a brothel of Kamathipura, the red-light district of Bombay, the capital of Bombay State. She is tortured by brothel madame Rashmibai for not consenting to become a sex worker. Unable to convince Madhu, Rashmibai approaches Gangubai, the most influential madame in Kamathipura to persuade the girl. Gangubai meets Madhu and tells her own story in order to inspire her to embrace prostitution.

Born into an affluent family in Kathiawad, Ganga Jagjivandas Kathiawadi, a daughter of a barrister, aspired to become a Bollywood actress starring opposite actor Dev Anand. At the age of 16, she eloped with her boyfriend Ramnik Lal to Bombay as he promised Ganga a film career under the tutelage of his aunt Sheela. In reality, Ramnik was actually a pimp & had sold Ganga to a brothel owned by Sheela [a] for Rs 1000, where she was coerced into becoming a prostitute. There she changes her name into Gangu. While there, she befriends a fellow prostitute named Kamli. Gangu is valued by Sheela due to her beauty & wits. At the brothel, Gangu introduces concepts of labour rights by advocating for prostitutes to observe days off from work once in a week. A local goon named Shaukat Abbas Khan visits the brothel, violently assaults Gangu (which leaves her hospitalised) as a part of his sexual fantasies & refuses to pay. Since Sheela refuses to take action against Shaukat in order to save the client-friendly reputation of the brothel, Gangu goes to Shaukat’s boss, mafia leader Rahim Lala for justice. A man of principles, Rahim Lala is horrified when Gangu shows him the bruises caused by Shaukat & at the same time impressed by Gangu’s fearlessness. He declares Gangu to be his sister & brutally beats Shaukat when he again comes to solicit Gangu at the brothel. Gangu earns the adoration of the fellow prostitutes for her quest to seek justice & fear from Sheela due to Rahim Lala’s backing for her. 9 years after she entered into the flesh trade, Gangu is made the madame of the brothel by other prostitutes after Sheela’s death. From then on, she is referred to as Gangubai [b], and goes on to become a powerful figure of Kamathipura. 3 years have passed since then.

Gangubai initially tries to dissuade Madhu from returning back by narrating incidents of women who escaped sex trafficking being killed by their own relatives in the name of saving the family honour. However when Madhu remains steadfast in her decision of not entering into prostitution, Gangubai (who saw the reflection of her own past in Madhu) frees her from the brothel and sends her back home safely, inspite of Rashmibai’s protests.

Gangubai decides to stand as a candidate in the presidential elections of Kamathipura against the incumbent, an eunuch named Raziabai who has won unopposed for the last 2 years & is renowned for ruthlessless. Gangubai utilises her act of kindness in saving Madhu for electoral propaganda against Raziabai. Raziabai tries to intimidate Gangubai to make her drop out from the elections but Gangubai refuses. With the help of Rahim Lala, Gangubai arranges for the illegal sale of alcohol from her brothel in order to raise money for her election campaign & the living standards of the prostitutes under her control. Raziabai secretly tipped off the local police about this, but they were unable to gather evidence against Gangubai, who swiftly took things under control by bribing the local inspector-in-charge. After this incident, Gangubai worked quickly to erode Raziabai’s support base by broadcasting Bollywood movies in her part of Kamathipura free of charge with the help of one of her clients for the entertainment of the prostitutes in order to prevent them from attending a meeting where Raziabai was about to deliver a speech. Raziabai mocks Gangubai’s attempts by stating that defeating Raziabai is as impossible as bringing a marriage procession to Kamathipura. So Gangubai arranges for the marriage of Roshni, the virgin daughter of a fellow prostitute named Kusum (who didn’t want her daughter to become a prostitute & had attempted to protect Roshni from her clients’ gaze by keeping her locked away after sedating her with opium) with a Muslim tailor named Afsaan Razzaq, whose uncle used to sew clothes for her. Afsaan & Gangubai were in love with each other, but Gangubai convinced him to marry Roshni instead by stating that as a sex-worker, she can’t marry anybody. She also convinced Afsaan’s disapproving uncle & aunt to accept Roshni as their niece-in-law by paying a large dowry. The arrival of Afsaan’s marriage procession[c] was a huge spectacle, previously unheard of in Kamathipura. All of this contributed to Gangubai winning the elections by a huge margin. In the role of Kamathipura’s president, she advocates for civil rights of prostitutes. While in office, Gangubai gets to call her family via telephone for the first time in 12 years and finds out that her father has died and her family has not forgiven her for running away. Gangubai pushes forward the concept of prostitutes enjoying holidays by calling for the celebration of Navaratri in Kamathipura, accompanied by lights, festive decorations, music & garba (which she enjoyed while living in Kathiawad) and voluntarily refraining from business on the 9th day of the celebrations[d].

After the celebrations are over, Gangubai is informed by Rahim Lala that a local Catholic girl’s school situated near the red-light district has started a campaign to evict prostitutes from the area over concerns of the school’s students falling under the bad influence of sex-workers, & taking advantage of the campaign a local builder wants to demolish the brothels & construct skyscrapers on the land. Gangubai protests, stating that the school is barely 40 years old while the history of prostitution in Kamathipura dates back to at least a century & once evicted, the 4,000 prostitutes of Kamathipura will have nowhere to go. Rahim Lala accordingly intimidates the builder’s agent from forcibly evicting the prostitutes and warns Gangubai to prepare herself to be sued and brought to court.

After the matter reaches the court, Gangubai walks into the school principal’s chamber in order to get the children from her brothel admitted into the school. She offers 5 years’ fees for all 8 girls on the spot and suggested that providing education to children born to prostitutes but abandoned by their biological fathers so that they can choose careers other than prostitution is a better way to abolish sex-trade than evicting prostitutes. The girls are enrolled in front of a journalist from the ‘Bombay Urdu Times’, Mr. Hamid Faizi, who was present there & is sympathetic to the cause of education for the children born in brothels. However, after Gangubai leaves, the children are beaten by the nuns and thrown out of the school on their first day. Faizi thus decides to publish Gangubai’s interview regarding the campaign to evict prostitutes in the newspaper to support her cause. At the same time, Kamli falls ill after giving birth and dies, so Gangubai takes in Kamli’s child, Pammi. After the interview gets appreciated by the readers, Faizi arranges for Gangubai to deliver a speech at a feminist meeting held on Azad Maidan. In her speech, Gangubai points out the inherent misogyny of the society which labels prostitutes as immoral but not the men who visit them. She states that while politicians talk about ending discrimination in the country along lines of caste, creed, colour & religion, prostitutes who actually follow these ideals in real life while giving their services face discrimination & have been pushed to the margins of the society. She then states that by satisfying the sexual appetite of anti-social elements & unfaithful husbands, prostitutes play a vital role in decreasing domestic & sexual violence against other women in streets & households, but their contribution goes unnoticed. She also says that she will continue to fight for the right of prostitutes’ children to receive an education and for prostitutes to be given respect in society. After her speech goes viral, Faizi arranges for Gangubai’s meeting with a local politician in her brothel. In exchange for providing support in the upcoming elections, Gangubai asks the politician to make the school authorities withdraw the petition from the court by his influence. However, the politician initially refuses, saying that the school authorities had filed a PIL to the Supreme Court in this matter. Gangubai agrees to provide support to the politician after he assures her of arranging her meeting with the Prime Minister.

Gangubai goes to New Delhi to meet with the Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru & requests him to legalize prostitution in the country, but Nehru refuses. Gangubai then describes how people who indulge in trafficking girls into prostitution go unpunished, while the innocent girl is victimized throughout her entire life, how prostitutes, who face discrimination while availaing the basic civic amenities like buying subsidised food from ration shops, availing treatment from government hospitals, getting financial service from banks & availing justice from law-&-order agencies like police stations and courts, were now on the brink of homelessness due to the campaign against them & how children of prostitutes were being denied the right to avail education. After discussion, the Prime Minister eventually agrees to set up a committee to investigate the status of prostitution in the country & block the brothels of Kamathipura from being vacated. As prostitution becomes legalized while making trafficking of girls & soliciting sex illegal[e], Kamathipura celebrated its continued existence, thanks to Gangubai Kathiawadi. The film ends by saying, “To cry was her destiny, but to smile was her nature. Gangu wanted to become a heroine, but this wretched girl became an entire cinema by herself.”

Source: Wikipedia

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