The Lives Of Sex Workers Seen In Bollywood Movies
Bollywood Movies That Focused On The Lives Of Sex Workers Before ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’

A number of films have covered the topic of sex work with sensitivity and humanity, and they are still considered to be classics

The Alia Bhatt-starrer Gangubai Kathiawadi continues to receive appreciation from the audience. Directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, the film focuses on the lives of sex workers and Alia Bhatt character arc sees her going from timid to powerful. From being a scared girl who was tricked into prostitution to rising to be a madame with political ambitions that’ll benefit Mumbai’s red-light district, Kamathipura, the actress plays her role with utter conviction. The period drama is based on a chapter from the book Mafia Queens of Mumbai by renowned author Hussain Zaidi.


This is not the first-time directors have explored the topic of sex workers and brothels. A number of films have covered the topic with sensitivity and humanity, and they are still considered to be classics. If you liked Gangubai Kathiawadi, then these Bollywood movies based on the lives of sex workers are worth checking out.


Shyam Benegal’s Mandi was a movie that was ahead of its time. It was a dignified representation of sex workers, as it focused on their lives beyond their profession. The cast was just as powerful as the story and it managed to leave a long-lasting impression. The film is a satirical comedy on politics and prostitution. The movie stars Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, and Naseeruddin Shah.



Chameli starring Kareena Kapoor was a movie that caught everyone’s attention. Aman (Rahul Bose), a banker, meets Chameli under a tense situation, where they spend a night together as the former’s car breaks down and Chameli is hiding from a customer who has AIDS. Chameli, directed by Anant Balani and Sudhir Mishra, was an honest attempt to humanize sex workers and it showcased the struggles people go through.


Begum Jaan

Directed by Srijit Mukherji, Begum Jaan depicts the lives of prostitutes from a brothel. before the division of India and Pakistan. Begum Jaan is the owner of the brothel that’s been ordered to be demolished owing to the division of land. Wrapped in politics, Begum Jaan is a film about surviving in a man’s world. It takes a broader, stronger, and more firm take on the subject largely because of its characters.


Chandni Bar

Tabu’s performance in this Madhur Bhandarkar film further strengthens the hard-hitting story. She plays a dancer forced into this life due to her circumstances. Prostitution, the underworld, and crime come together to give us this masterpiece of a movie.


Anaarkali Of Aarah

Anaarkali Of Aarah starring Swara Bhaskar threw light on the safety of women involved in sex work or who are looked upon as sex workers. Anaarkali is an orchestra singer who fights for justice when society thinks that somebody in her profession deserves to be treated poorly and with no respect.


Dev D

Dev D, directed by Anurag Kashyap, is a modern-day take on the classic Bengali novel Devdas. The black comdey-romantic film showed that sex work can be a choice someone makes, and was a realistic take on it. Chanda, played by Kalki Koechlin, finds dignity and strength in the life she’s picked for her self.



Set in the British eram it narrates how blacksmiths and sex workers stood together and won over the British after a vigilant war. Madhuri Dixit played the role of Bahar Begum who lived in elite society but refused to live on someone’s terms. Madhuri’s character runs a brothel and teaches kathak to young girls. The movie also stars Alia Bhatt, Sanjay Dutt, Sonakshi Sinha, Varun Dhawan, and Aditya Roy Kapur.


(Featured Image Credits: Instagram)

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