Thanks to the plethora of songs and music, most our films can be said to be musicals. But ironically, we don’t make genuine musicals. Our filmstars lip sync most of the time. The songs more often than not are mere window dressing. So Gully Boy, inspired by the lives of underground rappers Naezy and Divine, comes as a pleasant surprise. Written by Reema Kagti and Zoya Akhtar and directed by Zoya Akhtar, the film is as real as they come. The claustrophobic bylanes of Dharavi look genuine, the hardships faced by the lead character are everyday hardships of the millions living in slums, in chawls. His love story too is gritty and not the saccharine sweet stuff you see on screen. And the songs feel as if they were moulded by the circumstances faced by the hero and not created by professionals in a posh studio.
Murad/ Gully Boy (Ranveer Singh) is the son of a driver (Vijay Raaz) studying in college. The film begins on a grim note. We come to know that his father has brought in another wife, a much younger woman, much to his mother’s chagrin. Murad is in a relationship with Safeena (Alia Bhatt) since they were in school. They have been able to keep it clandestine. She’s a medical student aspiring to become a surgeon and is in a better financial condition than Murad as her father is a general practitioner. He chances upon MC Sher (Siddhant Chaturvedi) in a college fest and feels he too can rap. Sher becomes his mentor and advises him to listen to his heart and write. They become friends with Sky (Kalki Koechlin), a musician studying in Berkeley college who wants to introduce Mumbai street sound to the world. They cut an album with her help which becomes an instant sensation on YouTube. He further gets a chance to take part in a music contest that could win him ten lakh rupees and a chance to open the concert of an international rapper coming to India. Emotional and financial hurdles come in his way and how Murad keeps his faith and realises his dream forms the crux of the film.
The film is intricately written and directed. It’s no mere wish-fulfillment fantasy where everything gets solved magically in the end. Life is a struggle every inch of the way and the film’s underlying message is to learn from your discomforts. “Duniya mein sab comfortable hote to rap kaun karta,” says one character, summing up the philosophy of the film. The other message of the film is that everyone is flawed and the way forward is to accept them with their flaws. One of Murad’s friends, Moin (Vijay Verma), is a drug pusher and a car thief. Though Moin lures him towards crime, he’s honest about himself and advices Murad to to do something worthwhile with his life. Alia is super jealous and has anger issues. Two scenes, where Murad has his epiphany, stand out. In the first, he sees his employer coming out of a nightclub in tears but is unable to console her, being a mere driver. He realises that she and he aren’t that different at the core. The other instance has him staring at his fellow commuters in the local train and realising they’re leading a zombified existence and he’s slowly becoming like them. The rap battle scenes look authentic as well. Full marks to Zoya for her overall attention to detail and her inspired direction.
Zoya has cast some great acting talent in her film, all of whom get into the skin of their respective characters effortlessly. Vijay Raaz looks every inch the abusive father, Vijay Verma has the vibes of a small time crook while Siddhant Chaturvedi is a natural as a seasoned rapper. This is his debut film and he’s clearly an actor to watch out for in future. To hold one’s own in front of Ranveer and Alia is no mean feat. Alia is so good that you regret the film isn’t about her character Safeena. She’s a jealous lover personified and sort of takes over the film. You can’t take your eyes off her. Kalki Koechlin playing a music lover who is somewhat of a bohemian rebel, too brings out all the nuances of her character excellently. Ranveer Singh gives his heart and soul to the film. His face, his eyes convey the pain, the angst, as well as the elation felt by his character at different points. He raps with an intensity and wins you over with his passion. His confrontation scene with the father could easily have gone over the top but Ranveer balances it well. He’s been known for his OTT characters but in Gully Boy Ranveer has shown he can impart gravitas as well.
Bollywood music holds sway over Indian listeners and this film ironically may help bring to mainstream the underground rap music flourishing currently. Watch the film for it’s music, as well as some superlative acting by the entire cast.