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Alia Bhatt has become like Gangubai in real life, says Sanjay Leela Bhansali at Berlinale premiere

The filmmaker attended the world premiere of the upcoming film with star Alia Bhatt and co-producer Jayantilal Gada in Berlin, Germany.

Sonal Pandya

The period film Gangubai Kathiawadi, which will be released theatrically in India on 25 February, had its world premiere at the 72nd Berlin International Film Festival on 16 February in Germany.

Filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali, star Alia Bhatt and co-producer Jayantilal Gada were present for the premiere. Ajay Devgn, who plays a character named Rahim Lala, was in Mumbai at the time.

The filmmaker and actress also attended a press conference where they discussed the making of the period film. Bhansali said that he first read the book Mafia Queens of Mumbai by Hussain Zaidi and Jane Borges, which contains a chapter on the real-life brothel madam Gangubai Kothewali, in 2009 and it stayed with him for a long time.

"It is a story of a woman who was trapped into being a sex worker, and how she fought for dignity, for women, for the girls in the brothels," he said.

"All this happened at a time when feminism was not yet coined, women empowerment was not coined, but I think she was way ahead of her time," he added, calling Gangubai a warrior.

Bhansali also revealed that the first time Bhatt was told the story of the film, she grabbed her bag and ran out of the room. When she returned later, the filmmaker asked her to jump into the unknown with him.

"From then on, she just took off," he said of their working relationship. "I realized that from the time I had started shooting, I never really gave her instructions, I never really told her how to do it. It just came naturally to her and I let her breathe. I gave her all the freedom to think for herself."

Bhansali, who has also composed the score, said that he cannot think of making a film without music.

"I think music first," he stated. "When I read a script, the first sounds that come to me are [the music]."

Praising Bhatt and her dancing skills in 'Dholida', he said, "I thought here was an actor who finally transcended, and it's a goose-flesh moment for me. She just became one with that character Gangu and expressed all her angst in that one song. It's a shot that I will take to my grave. If there's any shot that I would want to be played when I breathe my last, it would be Alia doing that shot."

Gangubai is seen celebrating Navratri, a festival that reminds her of home, with a garba performance in the song. “There is a lot of pent-up anger, angst, nostalgia,” the actress explained. “He doesn’t like it too structured, he doesn’t like rules. He just had a feeling and said, I want you to go into a trance.”

“That was one of the days I realized when you talk about going beyond your limit or capability because I don’t consider myself a good dancer at all, I’m absolutely average,” she added. “This song was not about the dance, and that’s what Sir was looking for. He wanted me to reach an emotional transcendence and a space where I had never tapped into before, and that’s exactly what happened. It’s for moments like this I believe in the magic of movies and cinema.”

Bhansali also shared that Bhatt had the tendency to remain in character for a while. "She has played it to the hilt," he said. "I think she has become more Gangubai than Alia in real life. Her boyfriend [Ranbir Kapoor] complains of her speaking like Gangubai at home, and it's just completely becoming one with the character."

Watch the full press conference below:

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