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Gangubai Kathiawadi is a hit in Thailand. Reels, Netflix, sex work industry helped – ThePrint

Aayush Chawla’s Thailand trip was many things, including the usual scuba diving, night markets, and the clubs that are popular among Indians. But what stood out for the 28-year-old IT consultant was his scuba diving instructor Pommie doing the hook step from Gangubai Kathiawadi’s song Dholida while on a ferry.
When Pommie found out that Chawla was from India, she immediately asked, “Have you watched Gangubai?” He hadn’t. But Pommie had – the Sanjay Leela Bhansali film is a big hit in Thailand.
How big exactly? Instagram and TikTok are full of reels of Thai women dressing up as Alia Bhatt’s character Gangubai from the film, which released in February this year. Soon after, the film began streaming on Netflix on 26 April and has become the No. 1 non-English film on the platform globally in a short span of time. It featured in the Top 10 list of films in Thailand for seven consecutive weeks, said a Netflix publicist. Such is the demand that the OTT giant will add Thai dubs for Gangubai Kathiawadi soon.
“The success and fandom for Gangubai Kathiawadi is proof that great stories are universal. The film resonated enormously with fans in Thailand and became a part of the cultural zeitgeist – from dance covers to recreating looks from the film,” Netflix told ThePrint.
Also read: Gaalis to chikankari — Gangubai is an Alia Bhatt show in Bhansali’s grand and violent world
In the world we currently live in, nothing can be truly called a hit unless it has hundreds of reels being made on it. By that standard, Gangubai is a massive hit. Rachaya Noppakaroon, a transgender model from Thailand, and her friends created their version of Dholida, which Alia Bhatt shared on her Instagram handle. The video has 4 million views so far.
A post shared by Rachaya Noppakaroon (@mix_rachaya)

Another Thai creator Nirinv Siri recreated the popular ‘Meri Jaan’ song in a pristine white saree in the streets of Thailand.
And it is not just the young Gen Z creators climbing on the ‘trending reels’ bandwagon. The Gangubai fever has cut across generations in Thailand.
In a video shared by a profile called Grandma Hongthong, a Thai grandmother is seen recreating an iconic moment from the film – when Alia Bhatt’s character asks for sex work for the first time.
A post shared by คุณยายหงส์ทอง👵🏻(ขายรองเท้า) (@oninshoes)

She also recreated her all-white ensemble from the film in another post.
The craze is wildest on TikTok – everyone is either dancing to Dholida or recreating Alia Bhatt’s looks. A Thai YouTuber, Maynumpetch, who has 2.5 lakh subscribers, recreated Gangubai’s ‘political’ look. The video titled ‘I became Indian mafia queen’ has over 40,000 views.

Also read: Women politicians in Indian cinema emerged with Indira Gandhi. Now they’re just placeholders
What stands out as the probable reason for such massive popularity is Thailand’s sex work industry. For decades now, it has been at the receiving end of countless jokes and content for Indian stand-up comics, the common refrain being that Indian men go to Bangkok (‘without their wives’) to experience the thriving sex work industry.
Since the film is about a sex worker who ruled Mumbai’s biggest red-light district Kamathipura for years, and worked to make it an ‘acceptable’ profession, it is not surprising that the film is a big hit in Thailand.
Pommie the scuba instructor, who usually loves action more than drama, says the film is being watched by almost every other woman in Thailand.
“People here call her Lady Don. In fact, fabric material ran out because everyone wanted to buy saree like her in the film,” she says.
News outlet The Nation Thailand tweeted on 13 May: “Indian film Gangubai Kathiawadi is a surprise big hit in Thailand.”
Also read: Ram Leela to Gangubai — Bhansali brings back the white. It’ll boss fashion in 2022
The last time a Bollywood film created such ripples in any country outside India was Aamir Khan’s Three Idiots in 2009. It was released in China two years after its Indian release. On the Chinese media review platform Douban, the film has a 9.2/10 rating based on 1.18 million user reviews. It is the 13th highest-rated film on the platform according to China’s Global Times.
In 2019, 10 years after the film was first released, Chinese fans on social media called it the “Film of the Century”. Aamir Khan also went to Beijing in 2015 to promote his film PK. For the earlier Chinese generations, Raj Kapoor was the MVP, but for the current one, it is Aamir.
Raj Kapoor had been a big hit in Russia too, especially because of Mera Naam Joker (1970), which featured Russian trapeze artist Kseniya Ryabinkina and a much controversial lip-lock between her and the superstar.
From ex-President Boris Yeltsin to Russian citizens, Kapoor became a symbol of ‘optimism’ because of his films like Awara (1951) and Shree 420 (1955). It is said that during Kapoor’s only trip to the Soviet Union, he landed without a visa and Russia let him into the country with a smile on its face. 
“He [Raj Kapoor] got outside and waited for a taxi… By then people started recognising that Raj Kapoor is in Moscow. His taxi came and he sat. Suddenly what he saw was that the taxi is not moving forward and instead is going up. The people took the car on their shoulders,” Rishi Kapoor once recalled.
Then there is the Shah Rukh Khan phenomenon—one of India’s greatest ambassadors, from the UK to South Korea. But some of his biggest fans are in Germany. In the star’s own words, his German fans happily watch his films despite not understanding a single word of Hindi.
While the earlier fandom of Bollywood stars was propelled by movies alone, the current Gangubai craze is fuelled by the Netflix release of the film and social media trends. A popular dialogue from Gangubai goes: “Gangu chand thi aur chand hi rahegi (Gangu was and will always be the moon)”. Clearly, in Thailand too.
(Edited by Neera Majumdar)
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