Let me start with the music. Long before I knew anything about the movie or who the director was, or even who the lead actors were, I came across the first single of Gully Boy.
Asli Hip Hop.
And I listened to it on a steaming platform, which meant I didn’t have any video reference the first time around. I was instantly drawn to the energy of the song. I’ll admit, I am not the most proficient Hindi speaker and in general, unlike many music listeners, when I listen to the song for the first few times, I don’t instantly process the lyrics, even in languages that I am most comfortable with (English and Tamil). So, languages of songs have rarely been barriers for me in appreciating the music or the vibe that specific songs aim for.
Asli Hip Hop did something to me.
As soon as I had access to a computer, I searched for the YouTube version of the song and within a few minutes I learned as much as I could about the movie and knew right then that Gully Boy was going to be the first Hindi movie in 2019 that I was going to look forward to. Soon, Apna Time Aayega was released and I fell in love with the whole album even without listening to the rest of the songs.
Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy aims to deliver an underdog success story that would resonate with every moviegoer, irrespective of their natural liking for “rap music” or not. And therein lies those layers of deft decisions that Zoya had to make to keep the movie away from being like Eight Mile and steer to it being more like (albeit rather ambitiously), Million Dollar Baby or Rocky. As a filmmaker, if you could pull that off, given the premise of your story is “Hindi Rap or Hindi Hip-Hop counterculture”, a world not many people know much about, I mean, that’s not just a success, but a phenomenal one.
Listen to Gully Boy music here:
Take this scene as an example. A bridge on top of a “nala” (sewer) is one of the regular secret meeting points of Murad (Ranveer Singh) and Safeena (Alia Bhatt), and yet, you don’t see (or smell) the sewer or the ambiance around in a single scene. There is even an aerial shot of the bridge where you could clearly see the garbage floating around on both sides of the bridge, and you somehow are not taken through a sullen ride of sympathetic thoughts about the slum or its dwellers. Zoya and her cameraman (Jay Oza) had deliberately made an attempt not to dwell into the hardships of a slum life as primary reference points in a single scene, but instead focus on the characters and their stories. That is alright for you, as long as you are following the story arc while inside the theater, but as you walk out, you wonder why the whole rap counterculture, a world most of us don’t know much about, was not explored further. In other words, what makes these rappers write songs to express themselves in a particular manner? Where and how did they draw their inspiration from? Perhaps, that’s the story arc that would have taken the movie along the path of Eight Mile. As satisfied as I was with the movie as a whole, I felt a little inadequate walking out and would have wanted Zoya to explore that path a bit more, while still keeping her “sports movie” template. To offset, a part of the Sky episode could have been nicked.
Vijay Maurya (Murad’s uncle – also the movie’s dialogue writer), Vijay Raaz (Murad’s Father), and Vijay Varma (Moeen, Murad’s friend and his occasional savior) are the three Vijays who pretty much provide the most needed push (in a benevolent or in a malevolent manner) in Murad’s life when he needed them the most. Talking about the dialogues, even though I am not the best judge of “Mumbaiya”, the dialogues were so well penned that they brought out certain fresh dimensions to some scenes.
Murad doesn’t talk much. He writes and when he discovers he could perform after meeting his mentor of sorts, MC Sher (played brilliantly by Siddhant Chaturvedi), he raps or performs and continues to talk less. A tamed Ranveer excels in his role and it was simply amazing to watch him go through his road to his eventual success at a Rap Battle which would change his fortune for the better. Ranveer was Murad for the duration of the movie.
Is there a better female actor in Bollywood today than Alia Bhatt? My admiration for her started after watching Highway and it has only continued to grow since then. In this movie, Safeena is defined by that spunk, that firecracker attitude, and that boldness & possessiveness, all of which Alia absorbed and breathed out effortlessly. The first scene where Ranveer’s and Alia’s characters meet (how beautifully staged was that scene) presents you the entire character graph of Safeena, while Murad’s character continues to evolve throughout the movie.
Clocking at a little over 2 hours and 30 minutes (which didn’t bother me much, although I would repeat why I felt a good 5-10 minutes of the Sky episode could have been sacrificed), Gully Boy doesn’t pretend to be anything else.
It’s a story about dreaming big. It’s a story that questions the societal disparity but offers hope to the underdog who wants to give up fighting that disparity.
Unlike Eminem in Eight Mile, who even after that epic rap battle victory still walks away all broke and only with a smirk on his face and a jolt of confidence, Murad walks back to the slum as a local celebrity, 10 Lakh Rupees richer, and even gives away some cash to his grandma who once insulted him.
The fine line between an underdog success story that wants you to leave with a hope for tomorrow and an underdog success story that wants you to leave with the satisfaction of you achieving a dream today. That’s the fine line between what I expected and what I experienced.
Go. Root for this Gully Boy!
PS: Shoutout to the original Gully Boys – Naezy and DIVINE.