“The underdog story is embellished with towering performances and makes hip-hop aspirational”
Zoya Akhtar directed GULLY BOY is ‘brown and beautiful’ in the truest sense, as revealed in one of the brief and intricate scenes where the group of music lovers are on a night-prowl in the city and doodle this punch-line over an ad. Centered as a rise-to-fame story of an underdog rapper from the underbelly of Mumbai- Dharavi, the film not only pays an ode to the street-rappers Divine and Naezy who stirred up the hip-hop culture in India, but also beautifully casts a realistic eye on the underprivileged and lower strata of the society.
The defiance of that section of people is enlivened by the protagonist, Murad( Ranveer Singh) , a college-going son of a driver (played by Vijay Raaz), who pens hard-hitting lyrics voicing out the liberation and joins a group of underground rappers, thereby finding a channel to vent out the angst within. Gully Boy is the journey of Murad, amidst the odds and the challenges that life throws in and his self-discovery through poetry and rap.
The narrative unfolds lazily but Zoya and co-writer Reema Kagti create a lived-in milieu, which instantly connects with the audience through its keenly observed portrait of the Chawl life and its people. Zoya, who had gained an incisive insight into the lives of the extras during her stint in Mira Nair’s Kamasutra, emphatically builds a realistic world around Murad. It is not the suave people that we had seen in her earlier films, but the ordinary ones gripped with the mundane problems of life. Her usual trope-dysfunctionality in a family- plays along nicely in the plot where we see the abusive father strongly condemning the son’s musical pursuits and troubles erupting when he marries a much younger lady for the second time.
What also fascinated me was the easy-going equation that Murad and his girl-friend,Safeena(Alia Bhatt) shared. Safeena,even though hailing from a conservative Muslim family, is ballsy, spirited and heavily possessive for Murad – and thereby called tod-phod for all the right reasons. Alia is in crackling form and performs par excellence in the space assigned to her.
A little more than 2 hours and 40 minutes, Gully Boy feels stretched from the sheer perspective of being a predictable drama, but it’s the compelling performance of the key protagonist that kept me hooked throughout. Ranveer Singh is phenomenal – his Murad is a radical departure from the flamboyant and over-energetic characters played earlier. He is subdued, restrained and approaches his part very intuitively. His penchant for rap was already evident during the promotions of his first movie, but here he achieves extra-ordinary levels of delivery, sinking himself completely into the shoes of rap aficionado and portraying the rage with a brooding intensity.
Zoya surrounds Ranveer with a array of competent supporting cast – Vijay Varma playing his buddy, Vijay Raaz,Sheeba Chaddha,Amruta Subhash- playing his mother is achingly authentic and Kalki Koechlin – as Sky – the name indicating figurative inspiration to his dreams.But the one who stands out and holds his own admirably against Ranveer is Sidhant Chaturvedi, playing MC-Sher – his rap-partner.
Gully Boy also acts as a love letter to Mumbai , through its vivid capture of the underbelly – Jay Oza’s cinematography is splendid but what favors it is it the organic blending of music into the plotline – the soundtrack is composed of 18 tracks with myriad music composers , including Divine and Naezy. This makes the film special and truly aspirational.
I go with 4 out of 5.