Explained: Who was Gangubai Kathiawadi and why is the film on her facing legal troubles?

A film starring actor Alia Bhatt is facing legal trouble after individuals claiming to be family members of the main protagonist, Gangubai Kathiawadi, have objected to her portrayal in the film. We look at who Gangubai Kathiawadi is and why her family is protesting her portrayal in the film.

Who is Gangubai Kathiawadi?

Ganga Harjeevandas Kathiawadi was a native of Gujarat who earned a name for herself as one of Mumbai’s well-known and influential brothel owners in the 50s and 60s. She is said to have been sold to a brothel owner in Kamathipura by her husband. Kamathipura is one of Mumbai’s oldest and most notorious red light districts. She gradually ended up operating her own brothel and is known to also have lobbied for the rights of commercial sex workers.

Gangubai Kathiawadi’s claim to fame?

There are not many contemporary accounts of Gangubai’s life. The book “Mafia Queens of Mumbai”, on which the Alia Bhatt movie is based, dwells on some facets of her life. Gangubai is said to have been a proponent of the rights of commercial sex workers and apparently lobbied with politicians on this issue. There are however no contemporary to back these claims.

Explained: Who was Gangubai Kathiawadi and why is the film on her facing legal troubles?

Who are people opposing her portrayal in the film?

Gangubai reportedly passed away in the mid 70s and did not have children of her own. There are however several individuals who claim they were adopted by her.

Since the film was announced, a number of them have objected to her portrayal in the film and sought a stay on its release. Last March, a court in Mumbai had issued summons to director Sanjay Leela Bhansali and actor Alia Bhatt based on a complaint filed by a man claiming to be Gangubai’s adopted son. The petitioner claimed the trailer of the film “titled after his mother and a chapter in a book on her, which it is adapted out of”, show her as a ‘prostitute’ and a ‘mafia queen’. It claims that after the release of the film’s trailer, the women members of his family who live in the redlight areas of Kamathipura have been a victim of objectionable and abusive comments by men, affecting their reputation.

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Earlier a civil court in Mumbai had dismissed a suit filed by the complainant seeking permanent injunction from the making and telecast of the film. A case seeking a stay on the film is also pending before the Supreme Court.

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