Gully Boy is a Slice of Life – The First of its Kind Rapper Musical
Movie Review by Surangama Guha Roy (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
“Apna time ayega” is the anthem of the Zoya Akhtar rapper musical that draws inspiration from the lives of real-life Mumbai street rappers Naezy and Divine. This song, which features in a climactic moment in Gully Boy, is both invigorating and motivational, as is the film of which it is an integral part. It also sums up in a nutshell the story of Murad (Ranveer Singh), and the dreams and aspirations of so many more Murads, our very own desi slumdogs.
At its simplest, Gully Boy is a rags-to-riches tale, with a predictable ending. The narrative, peppered with provocative rap, and some refreshing beat boxing in the background, follows the journey of Murad, a street boy from the slums in Mumbai, hence gully boy. Murad’s father, who has brought home a new bride not much older than Murad himself, is employed as a driver, and the family, including the choti ammi, survives in a two-room shack, in a dingy lane in one of Asia’s largest slum-settlements, Dharavi. Murad is torn between his humble situation in life, and his dream of rapping. Soon, his dream is given wings, as he meets MC Sher, another street rapper with similar aspirations. Together, they create Gully Boy, with some help from unexpected sources, and a ton of hurdles from expected ones.
As the gully boy fights his inner demons, he gets engulfed within the brutally intricate socio-economic web that cuts across social classes, where each class and caste is accorded its own status in society, and all members of a particular class is expected to toe the line. Thus, Murad is admonished by his uncle who becomes his employer at one point, “Naukar ka beta naukar banega. Yeh fitrat hai.”
Murad, though, much to the director’s credit, is not the sole protagonist of this gully saga. In fact, the very first sequence in the film clarifies this fact, as Ranveer Singh is introduced without so much as a ripple. Why? Because, he does not have centre stage in a scene where the spotlight is clearly on someone else. Singh walks into the background of the frame unobtrusively, so much so, that you need to look twice before you realize it is him.
Every character, with the possible exception of Kalki Koechlin whose Sky is a waste of the actor’s phenomenal potential, and Sheeba Chaddha in her limited role as Safeena’s resigned mother, is a hero in his or her own right. Vijay Raaz as Murad’s intolerant but troubled father, Vijay Verma as the friend-in-need Moeen, who makes his way in life through a series of misguided decisions, and oozes raw machismo even as he picks a car lock with ease, and last. but not the least, newcomer Siddhant Chaturvedi as the instantly adorable MC Sher, offer rock solid support to the lead actors.
That said, the women folk in the film deserve special mention. Amrutha Subhash as Murad’s determined mother who scratches and claws for what is her own, and of course, Alia Bhatt! Bhatt’s feisty Safeena brings the house down with her roaring performance as the intensely possessive and jealous girlfriend, who is also an aspiring medical student, repressed at home, and seeks freedom in lipstick, and in clandestine meetings with her boyfriend who is neither socially nor economically at par with her.
The film also scores in terms of its music. A combination of rappers, beatboxing DJs, under the supervision of music director Ankur Tiwari, have created hard hitting gully rap with some soul stirring music thrown into the mix. One song, Jeene mein aaye maza, stands out in particular, perhaps because of its picturization and the old-world-feel it unerringly invokes.
That is not to say the film is without flaws. The first half seems a wee disconnected. The narrative also steers clear of potential complexities that could have arisen between Murad and MC Sher, who is shown to be the large-hearted yaar, even when his protégé clearly snatches his spotlight. And while the script barely scratches the surface of the spaces that define Mumbai’s gully scene, it is a brave attempt to look at a slice of life of all the Murads, Safeenas and Shers who dream of becoming big, to attain a bird’s eye view of the city’s burgeoning authentic hip-hop culture.