WarningMight contain spoilers.

A cartoonishly bad film.[1] It’s just what one would expect from a poorly-made, self-important Bollywood biography. The music, editing, cinematography, and even onscreen crowds are incessantly used to react to the story, saving the viewer the trouble of forming an opinion about anything. Every antagonist is a caricature designed to be unambiguously evil, once again obviating the need for critical thought.

Typically for the genre, it’s less a story than a sequence of events. I wonder whether a better approach would have been to start with Gangubai campaigning against Raziyabai and end with the promise of meeting the Prime Minister. Establishing her history and explaining the circumstances of her fellow sex workers needn’t have taken much in the hands of anyone other than Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

Jim Sarbh is entirely wasted, his few appearances spent making overly dramatic facial expressions. Alia Bhatt puts in the effort, but the movie and more specifically the direction both fail her. Her forced monotone and blank expression are grating; her accent is sub-par. She does have her moments, though, such as when she chases off Raziyabai’s henchmen with her drunken yelling and shouting.

In contrast, Vijay Raaz is superb as the aforementioned Raziyabai and Ajay Devgan Devgnn Dvgn Devgn gives his best performance in a long while as Rahim. I also like Shantanu Maheshwari as Afsaan. (It’s slightly ridiculous that Gangubai forces him to marry one of the sex workers’ daughter, whom he’s dutifully and merrily impregnated by the end.)

There are a few satisfying scenes, like Rahim killing the pathan (brutal though it is) after Gangubai asks him for justice, but they’re undermined by the rest. It’s hard to believe someone was credited for writing the terrible dialogue, too. The plight of women sold into sex work is horrifying. The real Gangubai was obviously a unique and courageous figure. Both deserved better than this.

  1. Although, in all fairness, certain other films from the same year were bad enough to force me to revise my opinion of this one.