Every once in a while there comes a film that leaves you completely satisfied as an audience. It’s rarer still to satisfy your appetite of cinematic hunger as a film critic. But then there’s Zoya Akhtar. Take a bow Zoya as Gully Boy does both! Entertaining and heart-warming at the same time, the film grips you visually from the very first frame. Zoya’s characters are both raw and real. They pull you into their world and you are left with no choice but to surrender to your voyeuristic streaks. The film begins with a shout-out to the original Gully Boys, Naezy and DIVINE and Zoya does complete justice to the struggles of these street hip-hop artistes who rose to prominence.
What is the film about? Gully Boy is a predictable story of an underdog who nurtures a dream of making his voice heard as a rapper. The underdog here is Ranveer Singh’s character – Murad, a college student who lives in an overcrowded tenement of Dharavi. Surrounded by the chaos of his environment, his orthodox family, an abusive father and poverty, Murad finds solace in poetry and music. He pours his anguish, helplessness and angst in his words. And soon realises that his salvation from the drudgery of poverty lies in music.
The only ray of sunshine in his congested ghetto life is his possessive girlfriend Safeena (Alia Bhatt), who doesn’t bat an eyelid before hitting out at any girl who dares to come near Murad. And Murad is no hero here, but he relentlessly pursues his dream of becoming a hip-hop artiste. That too despite the strong resistance from his father and relatives. In this quest, he is supported by another rapper Shrikant a.k.a MC Sher and later by a music producer Sky (Kalki Koechlin). The second half sees Murad being rechristened in the music world as Gully Boy. He goes on to have rap wars in hope of winning a prestigious opening act and a cash prize of Rs 10 lakh.
Yay: Strip Ranveer Singh of all the screen trappings of a Bollywood hero and he is one star who will still shine through. This is exactly what happens in Gully Boy. Unlike his previous two films, Padmaavat and Simmba, there is no herogiri or props involved to support him as an actor. So what does Ranveer do? He uses this realism and vulnerability as an actor to makes it his character’s biggest strength. Using eyes to channelise his pain and helplessness, his struggle feels real. He makes even the most ordinary stand out as extra-ordinary.
There’s also nothing fancy about Murad’s character – in terms of his look or even clothes – distracting you from the pure performer that Ranveer is. It takes guts to not be a hero and Ranveer aces it. Murad’s angst and his reluctance to succumb to the system and a life of crime even as he finds solace in music is translated brilliantly by Ranveer. At one point, the broody in him gives way to determination, and there is a noted change in Ranveer’s demeanour as he sings to himself in a car, Apna time aayega, Yeh shabdon ka jwala teri bediyaan pighlaega. These lines set the pace for his musical journey.
After he finds acceptance in the music scene as ‘Gully Boy’, Murad slowly finds confidence and it shows. Ranveer’s skills as a rapper don’t stand out until the second half, but it’s worth the wait! His lust for freedom from the chaos around him is tapped and captured beautifully. The strong lyrics convey that passion and Murad’s need to carve an identity. Not just matching up to Ranveer, but even outshining him in parts is Alia Bhatt. She proves once again that she is a brilliant actor. Her chemistry with Ranveer is electric.
As Safeena, Alia is street-smart and a firebrand, who is fighting her own battles. She owns Safeena and how! In fact, at one point Murad calls her daring and we must say that she’s earned that title as an actress too. Her brave choice in roles clearly proves it. Among performances, a special mention of Shrikant a.k.a MC Sher (Siddhanth Chaturvedi) is a must. The actor is a natural and holds his own inspite of Ranveer’s presence. The film is ably supported by the rest of the cast, including Moin played by Vijay Verma. Vijay Maurya’s dialogues are impactful and stay with you long after. Another highlight is Jay Oza’s cinematography which is enthralling.
The entire film has been shot at real locations and Mumbai in the film is not a city, but a character in itself. The contrasting ethos of Mumbai is brilliantly presented by Zoya. So, while she seamlessly integrates slum tourism into the story, on the other hand, she effortlessly shows the glitzy life of the super-rich! All this reflects in the music of the film too. In a scene that makes you smile at the irony, Murad is shown to measure Sky’s bathroom using his steps, as her washroom is far bigger than Murad’s Dharavi home.
Nay: While the film doesn’t disappoint on any count, there are moments when the film’s pace does slacken. The length also could’ve been shorter. Luckily even those moments are lifted up by Alia’s performance. Kalki as Sky feels wasted. There are some scenes between Sky and Murad that don’t seem to reach the depth that they could have.
CineBlitz Verdict: Watch it for the sizzling chemistry between Ranveer and Alia and their performances. Inspite of a brilliant first half, most films tend to go downward in the second half. Gully Boy is not one of those films! The pace actually picks up in the second half. It is a must-watch for rap and hip-hop fans too. The music and the rap battles are a major highlight of the film, as is the special appearance by rappers like Emiway Bantai. This is one of Zoya’s finest works as a director. She catches the nuances of each character and their relationships beautifully. Gully Boy is a must-watch!