It is rare that a film lives up to the expectations set by its multiple trailers and the promotional hype around it. But celebrated filmmaker Zoya Akhtar‘s Gully Boy doesn’t only live up to all the brouhaha, it also surpasses them and stays with you until long after you’ve left the theatre.
Murad Ahmed (played beautifully by Ranveer Singh) is a boy caught up in the bleakness of the streets, poverty and an abusive father to add to that. He channels his simmering rage into pages and pages of rap poetry. The only light in his life at that point are his moments with his extremely feisty and possessive girlfriend Safeena Firdausi (Alia Bhatt) or his chill sessions (read sessions that may involve flouting the law) with his friends Moin (Vijay Verma) and Salman (Nakul Sahdev). His journey to his dream of getting out of his gully to become a rapper begins only after he encounters MC Sher (Siddhant Chaturvedi) at his college fest.
With Gully Boy, Zoya and Reema Kagti (co-writer) have attempted to bring the story of India’s underground hip-hop scene to the fore. And they’ve succeeded immensely with its raw portrayal. Shot across the actual gullies of Mumbai, the movie is a not-so-conventional rags-to-riches saga. Loosely inspired by the real-life street rappers – Naezy and Divine, Zoya manages to give us a masterpiece without the hue, swing, and drama that Bollywood adds to its so-called mainstream ‘hip-hop dancing’ movies. What the director and writer have focused on is the raw hustle it takes to break out from the gullies that many of these talented artists are constrained to. Even after Murad gets his first ‘big break’ or ‘hits a million views’, his life doesn’t really transform overnight. He still goes back to his matchbox-sized home, sports the same rugged clothes, deals with the taunts of his abusive father and so on.
Gully Boy exposes the mainstream audience to the vortex of talent that exists in the dingy bylanes of India, specifically in the form of street rapping. The soundtrack of the movie is composed and performed by a number of real-life Indian street rappers (including Divine and Naezy) and the music is what takes the movie up by several notches. As a part of the public that was hugely unaware of the myriad of talented street rappers we have, Gully Boy helped me explore the Indian hip-hop scene like never before.
Coming to the performances, just about everyone in the film has perfected their characters to the T. Ranveer is once again outstanding and shocks with his ability to get this deep into the role. He comes back with the freshness that he had when he debuted in Band Baaja Baraat, a welcome change from the larger-than-life characters he’s been playing in his last few outings. The vulnerability that he brings to Murad makes us want to root for Gully Boy. Not to mention, he nails it with his rapping skills. Alia is as impressive as Ranveer as she brings the feisty Safeena to life. For the lack of a better word, she’s a total #Badass and owns every single frame that she’s in. You can’t help but hoot and clap for the almost crazy and vivacious Safeena and Alia for her performance. But what came as a surprise was Siddhant Chaturvedi as MC Sher, his character is legit the wind that everyone needs beneath their wings. Siddhant is amazing in his portrayal of the head rapper that coaches Murad as he becomes the popular Gully Boy. In some bits, he even manages to outshine Ranveer and that is saying something. Kalki Koechlin, despite her limited screen time, is at her best as Sky – the music producer that helps Murad and MC Sher make their first professional video. Thank you Zoya and Reema, for not reducing her ‘American-return’ character to a vamp/home-wrecker. Kalki manages to leave an impact as always.
All in all, Gully Boy is the real deal and an amazing tribute to the street rappers of Mumbai. It is a movie that rouses you and leaves you with a beat. Trust me when I say, you will get hooked to the music (I’ve been listening to the tracks on loop)! Gully Boy and the Asli street rappers are sure to win your heart.
Cast: Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Kalki Koechlin
Director: Zoya Akhtar