The time is right (Reviews)

Deepa Gahlot
Thursday, 14 February 2019

Gully Boy
Language: Hindi
Director: Zoya Akhtar
Starring: Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Vijay Raaz and others
Showing at: Cinepolis, CityPride, E-Square, Inox, PVR
Rating:
****

Dharavi, often referred to as Asia’s largest slum, gave birth to an underground rap scene, their rhythms, costumes and attitude strangely inspired by a form popularised by inner city blacks in the US, rather than the angst and anger soaked poetry of the Dalits in India, culturally closer to the underprivileged slum kids, who find their voice in slam poetry.

Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy picks this music and the stories of the people behind it obviously because they lend themselves to an underdog-to-winner story so popular with filmmakers. They usually revolve around sports, this one around local hip-hop. The young audience is already reeled in, and they are not likely to mind the predictability too much, because they have found a hero in Ranveer Singh and an anthem in Apna Time Aayega before the film even hit the screens.

Murad is in college and hoping to escape a future of petty crime and drug-peddling that his buddies have got into. However, the life of an office drudge — which his father envisions for him — is not too appealing either. Murad’s father (Vijay Raaz) is a driver, who at the beginning of the film, brings home a young second wife, alienating his first wife (Amruta Subhash) and two sons.

The bright spots in Murad’s life are his fiery and over possessive girlfriend Safeena (Alia Bhatt), studying to be a doctor, and the tormented words he scribbles in his notebook. He gets enamoured of the music of MC Sher (Siddhant Chaturvedi) and when he walks into a room full of boys — it is mostly a male world, interestingly captured by a female director — of boys spitting out rebellious songs, he knows this is where he belongs.

Sher, whose life in a chawl with an alcoholic father, is as mundane as Murad’s, is large-hearted enough to promote and groom a potential rival. Murad becomes Gully Boy, a YouTube sensation, and a subject of attention from music producer Sky (Kalki Koechlin) — the song Meri Gully Mein — that she shoots is similar to the number by rappers Divine and Naezy whose lives inspired this film; there was also Eminem-starring 8 Miles to pick from.

However, what is remarkable is the youthful energy, the fabulous production design, the hyperactive cinematography and Vijay Maurya’s (he also acts as Murad’s uncle) dialogue that is brilliantly authentic Mumbai street-speak. Vijay Verma as Murad’s spunky friend and newcomer Siddhant Chaturvedi are outstanding in every scene they are in. Several Mumbai rappers make appearances too, lending the film’s soundtrack (composer Amit Trivedi) the flavour and variation it needed. The supporting actors are all perfectly cast and make the film look real.

Alia Bhatt is explosive as the domineering Safeena, but the film is meant to belong to Ranveer Singh, who loses himself so completely in the part, that you cannot believe this shy boy is the same actor who played the boisterous Simmba and evil Khilji in Padmaavat. He has proved he is the best actor of his generation.

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