It’s Feb 2020 and I finally watched Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy a year too late – it released Feb 2019. It’s been creating a lot of buzz in India’s film award circles and one can’t help but be curious. It was also India’s offical pick for the Oscars. So it’s safe to admit that before I streamed it on Amazon Prime, I already had heard a little too much about it. So I went in with the mindset ‘oh, let’s see what the fuss is all about’. Which is not a positive mindset.
Gully Boy stars Ranveer Singh, who plays Muraad AKA ‘Gully Boy’, a boy from the rotting streets of Mumbai’s slum Dharavi, who has an uncanny love for rap. He also has a psycho/aspiring doctor girlfriend, played by Alia Bhatt, who is ready to beat the shit out of any woman who as much as sends a flirty text to her man.
The film starts off at a posh locality in Mumbai, where Muraad’s friend is casually walking at first and then steals a car. Interesting. Muraad is from a poor family, his father is a driver, who barely earns enough to put his kid through college, but enough to get a second wife home, in a match-box tin hole house. Rap helps Muraad escape his grim reality and his life takes a turn when he discovers a local rapper called ‘MC Sher’. A dude who gains an instant fan in Muraad while performing at a college fest.
Rest of the plot is about Muraad’s transformation and journey into becoming ‘Gully Boy’, the rapper. The script is pretty good, but falters in the middle, where it becomes slow and sluggish. I don’t understand why Bollywood directors have a ‘romance quota’ that they must squeeze into a film, even if it’s not needed. Kalki Koechlin looked out of place as a music student who produces a rap video for Muraad. Their brief encounter, which does not even qualify as a fling, just slows down the film. Thankfully it picks pace again. Just like Kalki plays a momentory distraction in Muraad’s life, her scenes are also also just a distraction that the makers could have done without.
All the rap songs and rap battles in the film blend perfectly into the storyline and are a delight to both watch and hear. The lyricists have written anthem worthy songs that describe class struggles and aspirations of the less fortunate. I liked the song ‘Doori’ best, which is about how despite being in close proximity, people are so divided and disconnected with each other due to class barriers. The cinematography is real yet artsy and manages to capture Mumbai and its slums in a manner that does not hit you too hard. We are shown the dust, the dirt, the filth, but in long fleeting shots. Don’t know if it was a conscience attempt?
Zoya tugs the heartstrings of the viewer with a quintessential rag to riches story. The make-up and wardrobe guys did a neat job with making Ranveer Singh look like a boy from the streets. Singh himself manages to shed his real life persona of a loud, boisterous, over-confident fashion icon and gets into the skin on Muraad, who is just another boy from the streets, with identity issues and a rare passion for words and rap songs.
Siddhant Chaturvedi who made his debut with this film, is a revelation as ‘MC Sher’, he even manages to upstage Ranveer Singh when he comes on screen. The dude gets the whole ‘rapper’ attitude so right, that it made me wonder if he was a real life rapper.
Zoya Akhtar made a good entertaining film, with a near perfect climax, a photo-finish for Muraad, the Gully Boy. But was India right in sending it as the Oscar pick? Nah.