Gully Boy: A gritty underdog story

FILM REVIEW

SRIMOYEE TAMULI PHUKAN

Gully Boy – the title of Zoya Akhtar’s latest offering leaves no room for doubt about the world she seeks to capture in her 2: 30-hour long film, done with precision and sensitivity that is hard to come by. 

The film opens with three friends from the gullies of Dharavi walking down a relatively affluent locality of Mumbai and stealing a car and disappearing in thin air. With this scene, any doubt about Ranveer sticking out as the big star trying too hard to fit into this world is instantly put to rest. So convincing is his get-up, gait, and lingo, that he blends seamlessly into the world and the ethos it represents. Images of heaps of rubbles, largely exposed drains filled with discarded plastics, stray animals, claustrophobic spaces, drug peddlers, small allies with cramped homes is the Mumbai we expect to see in this film. But we never see the camera over-indulging for the sake of some gritty glamor. And on the other side of these slums lies the key to an inaccessible world which is the life every gully dweller is dreaming of. And the director captures this great chasm in the city of dreams through a very nuanced prism.

It is no news that the film is loosely based on the lives of India’s first street rap sensations Divine and Naezy. And the film is a beautiful homage to the real gully boys who had enough fire in their belly to realize their dreams. 

At the heart of Gully Boy is Murad, who is seen finding an escape in his poetry when his reality gets tough on him. He is a diligent, righteous, and ambitious young man who is hungry to change the course of his life. Safeena, played by Alia is Murad’s love interest. She is an aspiring surgeon, and much like Murad, follows her ambition with a steadfast determination. She is feisty, confident and madly in love with Murad. If Murad is the soul of this film, Safeena is its beating heart. 

They meet at bus stops, hold hands during their commutes, kiss inside empty trains, and talk to each other over the phone for hours. Like two ends to earphones, they are entwined to each other in their dreams. In a particularly tender moment, Safeena asks Murad to chase his dream for her Doctor’s degree will ensure a good life for them. Here we see roles getting reversed subtly without making a statement about it. Their hungry eyes and poignant pauses speak volumes about their big dreams even with the acute realization of their realities. Which Murad’s father warns him against time and again. ‘A driver’s son will become a driver’, is how Murad is shown his place on another occasion. The dialogues in the film elevate the screenplay as they strike the perfect balance of gully lingo and common man’s language to express the most poignant feelings. When Murad is hit by the realization of Safeena’s love slipping away he says, ‘without her, it would be like living a life without a childhood.’ And this film has quite a few of such glowing lines that make you pause and admire the written words. 

But where there is ambition and resolve, struggle and heartbreaks are inevitable. And Murad and Safeena’s story is no different. They too go through their share of emotional upheaval that is convincingly woven into the main thread of the narrative – which is Murad ’s arc of becoming the new big thing in the world of rap music. But not before he is pushed to his limits by his circumstances, which add fire to his words, and his angst finds a release through his songs. 

All the above might come off sounding nothing more than a typical underdog story.  But one has to watch this film for the subtle undercurrents, the simmering tensions, for the powerful silences, and marvel over the restraint and control displayed by its makers. For a film that celebrates a particular music genre, it is expected that it would offer some power packed tracks and this film does just that. All the eighteen tracks, glide over the other playing the perfect catalyst to the already simmering situations in the film. And it’s a real treat to watch an emotion getting translated into words, and growing into an echo, and then erupting into a philosophy. And all this go on, while the city of Mumbai moves in a harmonious montage where its inhabitants constantly step over the other side of the gap, while largely remaining conscious of it. 

But in the end, it is Murad raging through the powerful lyrics of his songs and trying to create a revolution, is what is going to be the enduring image of this film. Ranveer never misses a beat while switching in and out of the roles of a dutiful son and a passionate rapper, the righteous man, and the pragmatic gully boy that he is. Debutant Siddhant Chaturvedi comes across as a powerhouse of talent and competes with Ranveer’s infectious energy flawlessly. 

The casting in the film is near perfect, and each character is given enough screen presence to shine and carve a piece for themselves in the audience’s hearts. And when emotions run high, the screenplay cleverly injects humor to move on to the next emotion. 

However, the few times when the writing seemed slightly off was firstly when Sky, played by Kalki, goes out on her nightly escapades along with her friends. Her gestures, all captured in a brief segment, seem like nothing more than a token commentary on rampant cutting down of trees, the great divide of rich and poor, and biases based on color. This sequence almost seemed like an afterthought and could have been easily done away with. And on another occasion, when the writers seem to choose convenience over realism- denying Sky and MC Sher (Siddhant’s character) a slightly negative shade even when they were presented with the occasions. Which was largely done to take forward Murad’s story without complicating it further. 

But for a film that never misses a beat, keeps your eyes peeled at all times, and draws you into its world like you want to remain immersed in it, is a film that deserves all the good words. I wanted to return to the theater and watch not only scenes, but the entire film all over again, and I wonder how often can one say that for a film. 

Srimoyee Tamuli Phukan

Srimoyee Tamuli Phukan

Srimoyee Tamuli Phukan is a freelance writer and editor with Qatar based Magazines, ‘Qatar Today’, ‘UK Glam’, ‘Campus’ and ‘Just Here.’ She has worked as an Editor with Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, and holds a Masters in English from University of Delhi and an M. Phil degree in English Literature from English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. She enjoys sharing her views on Hindi cinema, art and culture and travels over her blog: http://candid-a.blogspot.com. In her free time she day-dreams about writing a script for a film one day that will change the course of her life.