A still from the movie 'Gully Boy'. Photograph:( Others )
It’s not just a story of a boy from Dharavi but Zoya Akhtar’s love letter to Mumbai and its undying spirit to never give up.
In a small cubbyhole in Dharavi, rapper Murad quietly records lyrics on a borrowed iPad in the dead of the night. As he pushes the play button to hear his recording, his grandmother mutters in her sleep to not talk to himself and instead sleep as it’s late.
A poignant moment in Zoya Akhtar's 'Gully Boy' which not only sets the tone of the film well but manages to put a smile on the viewer because of its reliability. Where Indian parents, having struggled their entire life, are unable to fathom the new ideas that their children present.
Akhtar's film is filled with such moments-each relatable in its own way. Murad may live in Dharavi slums in Mumbai, but his struggles, angst represent the sentiments of many in the country to a great extent.
A closet rapper, Murad knows the only way to be out of the slums is to study and get a decent job. He doesn't want to be a driver like his father who constantly reminds him that he needs to repay him for all the money he has spent on Murad's education.
A chance encounter with MC Sher a fellow underground rapper makes Murad discover the world of underground music which in no time the two start ruling. As he gains recognition and success, his equation with his friends, family especially his disapproving father and over-possessive girlfriend Safeena suffers.
Perhaps the greatest win for the film is its writing. It presents a human story where each of the characters is well written. It might be a story of a rapper from Dharavi but writers Reema Kagti and Akhtar herself give intricate details of each of the characters. So you know why Murad's friend steals cars out of boredom, you understand why Safeena is such a brat, your heart goes out for Sher when you see his family. It is rare to find such detailed character sketch in Hindi cinema and that's why Gully Boy manages to strike a chord.
The writing is ably supported by superlative performances by the entire cast. Be it Vijay Raaz who plays Murad's angst-ridden father or Kalki Koechlin, the Berkeley graduate music producer who harbours a crush in Murad or newcomer Siddhant Chaturvedi who absolutely shines as self-assured, bright MC Sher, Murad's mentor- all the actors deliver a memorable performance.
The film's leading lady Alia Bhatt plays the feisty, jealous Safeena to perfection. Give Bhatt any role, and she somehow always manages to sparkle in it. In ‘Gully Boy’ you root for her even though you know she is wrong at several occasions. Bhatt with smile, perfect timing delivers a solid, strong performance. As Safeena, she manipulates emotions of those around her to her own convenience with always a straight, innocent face that everyone falls for. It's a treat to watch her erupt on the screen every time a girl looks at her man.
Balancing Safeena’s feisty nature, is the cool and calm Murad. Played by the man of the moment Ranveer Singh, Murad only vents his frustration and anger through his music. Akhtar truly could not have found a better actor than Ranveer Singh to play the part. Given his offscreen persona, one would ideally not imagine Singh to deliver such a nuanced, restraint performance and that’s where the actor surprises you. He makes you forget Ranveer Singh the star and makes you root for the underdog. You smile with him, you cry with him and you celebrate with him. From the loud, boisterous performance in Rohit Shetty’s ‘Simmba’ just two months back to the subtle act in ‘Gully Boy’, Singh truly shows a vast range and it should be lauded. The film ultimately belongs to him and he is pitch perfect as Murad.
The other hero of the film is of course its music. Completely new and different from usual Bollywood music, Akhtar’s along with Ankur Tewari manages to bring some of the best rappers in the country to work for the soundtrack and the result is magical. It has Divine- on whose life the film is loosely based on- doing playback in several soundtracks and even Singh does his own playback. With poignant lyrics, the soundtrack of ‘Gully Boy’ will hopefully herald a new genre of music in Bollywood.
The film’s camera work by Jay Oza is praise worthy as the film makes Mumbai look picturesque. Each of the frames are so beautiful and yet never overpowers the main plot.
Some would say the film ultimately narrates a story that is predictable and known. After all the story of an underdog triumphing over odds is a story as old as time but still you will find yourself involved with ‘Gully Boy’. It’s not just a story of a boy from Dharavi but Akhtar’s love letter to Mumbai and its undying spirit to never give up. Murad represents scores of people in the city, who beat the odds on a daily basis.
There is really very little to not like in ‘Gully Boy’. You may or may not be a fan of underground music, but the film still will leave you with a big smile.