Cast: Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Sheeba Chaddha, Vijay Raaz, Amruta Subhash, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Kalki Koechlin, Vijay Verma, Vijay Maurya
Director: Zoya Akhtar
Rating: * * * ½
A neatly packaged, diligently sanitised, conspicuously Indianised and smartly inspired version of Eminem’s ‘8 Mile’, this Bombaiyya account of a gifted rapper’s struggle to get out of the ‘Ghetto verse’ he is born into, is an exhilarating and totally immersive experience. It may not be as sharply edgy, vituperatively disingenuous or violently obscene as its inspiration, but it has a heart and soul that is incessantly pulsing with an energy and vibe that is hard to look away from. You may not be a fan of Hip-hop rap but you will certainly take away a lot more from this uniquely individualistic experience than you would from any mainstream Bollywood movie you’ve seen in the last decade or so.
By mainstream Bollywood standards, this is a brave film with an audience drawing heart-throb, Ranveer Singh, playing the central character Murad with all the craft, enthusiasm and energy that he is famed for. The fact that it’s a niche story, with non-stereotypical Bollywood music and gritty non-glossy takes, does not take away from the fact that it’s a big production and is being marketed in a forceful manner across all media, typical of big-budget mainstream efforts.
Now coming back to the story set principally in Dharavi, among Asia’s largest slum colonies – Murad and firecracker Safeena (absolutely delightful Alia Bhatt) are childhood sweethearts. Murad, a final year college student, is looking for an out from his depressing family situation which includes a younger sibling, heart-broken mother (impeccable Amruta Subhash) and a father(Vijay Raaz breaking away from the stereotype he was caught-in of late) who has just taken on a much younger second wife. Safeena, an A grade student is on her way to becoming a Doctor, provided her overbearing mother (the wonderful Sheeba Chaddha) sees it fit to let her continue her education after finding out about her relationship with Murad. The supporting characters include fellow rapper MC Sher (mesmerising debutant Siddhanth Chaturvedi), Uncle (Vijay Maurya), Moeen-a helpful friend (an edgy Vijay Varma), producer of Rap music videos – Sky (Kalki Koechlin), and many real life rappers like like Emiway Bantaai, Stony Psycho, Dope Daddy from Dopedealicz, Kaambhaari and Brodha V.
The script here gives more weight to the human relationships and uses them to power Murad’s development into a rapper of repute. It also plays safe by keeping its lead character away from major criminality – and in a circumspect manner makes sure the audience continues to empathise with his plight. The rap culture in India hasn’t really taken off in a big way so this film by way of its rap analogies hopes to create a buzz for that music form that is much closer to poetry than song.
The lyrics (much of it by Javed Akhtar) gain rhythm from contentious contemporary issues that have disrupted life and well-being in the past few years and give voice to current angsts that plague the youth of today. This is by far Zoya’s most accomplished directorial effort and she has managed to get some of the best ever performances from her assorted cast of veterans and freshers.
While Cinematography by Jay Oza is completely enveloping, a little more sharpness in the edits by Nitin Baid would have made this film a much more powerful experience. The scene in the cop station after Safeena breaks a bottle on Sky’s head wasn’t necessary and the one where Ranveer suddenly marches into Moeen’s den and warns him about using children to package and sell drugs, appears forced.
The movie is mainly about human relations and inter-personal dynamics connected to individual hopes and aspirations. And Zoya Akhtar balances those elements with that of rapper’s development into a celebrated artist with a wide following. She makes you laugh, cry and applaud while stringing together wondrous moments of intimate acuity. ‘Gully Boy’ is as much her triumph as it is a brilliant representation of Bollywood’s hitherto untapped riches!