Actor Alia Bhatt says she watched a lot of classic Hindi films, particularly those featuring Meena Kumari, to prepare for her role in Gangubai Kathiawadi as director Sanjay Leela Bhansali wanted her to channel the old world charm and grace that the heroines of that era had.
Alia also saw Shabana Azmi-starrer Mandi, a Shyam Benegal film that featured her mother Soni Razdan, American period drama Memoirs of a Geisha and other old Indian films as part of her preparation.
The upcoming period drama features Alia in the title role of Gangubai, one of the most powerful, loved and respected madams from Mumbai’s red-light area Kamathipura during the 1960s.
“He (Sanjay) wanted me to watch Meena Kumari’s work a lot, her expressions… the way she would sing a song, although I am not going all out singing songs in the movie. There is a certain sadness in her eyes, but there is a power to her face. He would say, ‘See her face, which is so full’… I also watched Mandi,” Alia told PTI in an interview.
Another instruction from the director for the actor was to “eat” and “be happy on the sets,” Alia said, “I had the most amount of food on the sets. During the shoot of Gangubai Kathiawadi, I was eating all my favourite ghar ka (homemade) food. I had a great time.”
Alia said as a ’90s kid, she grew up as a big Govinda fan, watching films purely for entertainment but when she stepped into the acting profession, there were certain films that were recommended to her. That’s when she discovered some of the great performances of Hindi cinema.
“Being an actor is one thing and being a heroine is another. I have been referred to watch these films and whenever I do, I only have admiration, whether it is for Waheeda Rehman Ji, Shabana Azmi ji, Madhubala ji… The way they would do these long shots gives you goosebumps. Somehow, we have lost that charm of presenting a heroine like that, that old-world charm,” Alia stated.
Alia said she re-watched all of Sanjay’s films while shooting for Gangubai Kathiawadi, to the point that her boyfriend, actor Ranbir Kapoor, who made his debut with the director’s Saawariya in 2007, quipped she was “obsessed”.
She admits she was initially “nervous” about playing the titular character. “It was a different genre from what I was supposed to do with him earlier. This is an emotional, hard-hitting film. For a second, I was a little doubtful of myself. I suddenly had (these thoughts)… which has never happened to me. (But) sir was very clear and asked me to think about it.”
But she was so keen to be a part of Sanjay’s vision that she did not hesitate long to say yes to the film, which is based on a chapter from S Hussain Zaidi’s book Mafia Queens of Mumbai.
Read More: Gangubai Kathiawadi trailer: Alia Bhatt shines as feisty queen of Kamathipura, Ajay Devgn makes a powerful cameo. Watch
Backed by Bhansali Productions, co-produced by Jayantilal Gada’s Pen India Limited, the film also stars Ajay Devgn in an interesting role, besides Seema Pahwa, Vijay Raaz, and Jim Sarbh. Gangubai Kathiawadi will have its world premiere at the 72nd Berlin International Film Festival this month. The film will release theatrically on February 25.