Gully Boy Review
The film's Opening Card is a shoutout to - Divine & Naezy, the O.G. 'Gully Boys' and that's where it focuses on. It's through the virtue of their mother tongue, that the film celebrated it as well. This language is: RAP & its grammar is: Hip-Hop!
Zoya Akhtar & Reema Kagti's new collaboration - Tiger Baby's first outing comes in the form of a shoutout to two of the finest collaborators from the bustling Indian Hip-Hop/Rap scene(or at least the Mumbaikar shades of it). The word RAP(as one of the film's pivotal characters, Shrikant or M.C Sher says) is basically just - Rhythm And Poetry while Hip(in one of it's many meanings) stands for popular & informed. Consequentially, this film is - Rhythm & poetry at both the surface and at its metaphorical levels while being Informed(woke) and filled with Popular beats, making it a media for what the film calls - 'Asli Hip-Hop se Milana Hindustan ko'.
It's also vital to realize that while it seems that music is the soul and rhythm of the film's narrative, its actually more concerned & focused on the metamorphosis of the new-age 'Gully Boy' and his life, aspiring to poignantly etch out his aspirations (perhaps, a contemporary manifestation of what turned into films like - 'Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai?', in the 80s).
The opening scene says it all(even through subtext) - It is an AntiPasti, an appetizer that gets your palette ready for the flavor of this film.
The film chooses Moeen(enlivened by Vijay Varma's performance that is both, brusque and yet full of heart) as our guide into this world. It's rhythmic because while one 'Gully boy' takes us in, we leave along with the other as he breaks out to the scene, at the film ends. It's almost axiomatic when the film portrays three young Muslim men as the opening scene's trio. The three cajoled by Moeen's ways with a harsh life break in and steal a car.
Salman is the middle edge(lost, silent & timid - even getting overpowered by the vibrant energies of a strong-headed Safeena) while Moeen & Muraad are the two opposite faces of this coin(extremes of the spectrum - their circumstances and choices) - Something that's common to all of Zoya's films(multiple characters with individual struggles, sharing a bond - ZNMD & DDD for e.g.).
This scene also is indicative of how the film's lens views these characters. There is no hero(lead). Just a group of boys coping up with this city, led by Moeen( with experiences that rendered his interpretation of this world rather dark). Music acts like a completely different individual who acts in parallel to these events - for example, this scene opens with a jazz-like symphony and then leads to a Punjabi song in the stolen car(highlighting shades of Murad's ideologies about the superficiality of such music & life).
While Murad's lingo is that of Rap/Music, his father-Aftab's language is violence/need for survival-money.
There's a scene where he puts in earphones and listens to western rap music on his phone and his father plucks them out snapping him back to the music that's intended to welcome his father's new bride('Nayi Ammi') and his life in these slums with its harsh truth. In a scene, Murad's father says, 'Kaise fail ho jaayega. Raat-din paise jodd kar padha raha hai, Usko Maaloom hai ek din sab lautana hai'(even familial relations are transactional). Aftab's pulling the earphones out of Murad's ears is symbolic of the dynamic they share and here too, music plays an instrumental role - The 'Music of Life' that both of them sense/feel(despite being on the same note) is starkly contrasting(There's a rift but they're still strongly connected by their struggles and the will to survive).
The subtext (fact) to realize here is that Murad's sense of life & his ambition seem alien to Aftab, just as western rap would seem to someone who grew up listening to the typical music of these gullies. Truth is that Aftab and Murad are character studies into the lives of contemporary men from two different ages, separated 30 years apart. While Moeen, Salman & Murad represent the 3 facets of contemporary young Dharavi, Aftab-Murad is more of a trend analysis of the slum life spanning from the 80s till now.
Aftab's time was comprised of films like - Salaam Bombay & Dharavi while Murad is from the age of movies like Slumdog Millionaire & Beyond the Clouds. In simpler terms, the only division between the two is Ideologies shaped up by their respective socio-economic backdrops.
The impediments caused by his father's autocracy and the friction between his parents along with a new stepmother(who's the same age as Murad), a younger brother, an aging grandmother & financial distress in a world of claustrophobia-inducing spaces has rendered Murad repressed. He has the angst & the urge but lacks the voice & courage. Ranveer Singh recreates the magic from his performance in Lootera(2013) with an extremely loud internalized act.
In one of the scenes, Murad's mother points out -'Aise khudse baat nahi karte'. But that's Murad's method as he was accustomed to talking about his ideas in an intrinsic, personal sort of manner by writing it down in his notebook - Less Action, More poetry. Perhaps, that's why in the music video for 'Doori', it's just him singing while all the other people are present as silent figures.
It comes out in the light when Murad 'chokes' at a rap-battle after being dissed for being poor and from a gully. This could also be sensed from the way Murad uses earphones(music) & poetry(smoking and writing alone at night) during the earlier stages of the film - His escapist approach. That's why Safeena & Sher play such a pivotal role in his life (romance & bromance).
Uske bina Main aise, Jaise bina Bachpan ke Zindagi" - A life without a childhood.
In a delicate moment, Murad uses the above to describe the bond he & Safeena share. It's not just about love. Safeena is both book & street smart. She is bold, brave and vocal, complementing Murad beautifully - They're childhood sweethearts. As such without her, Murad will be a bit devoid of voice, words, knowledge, & feelings - exactly like someone who had weak foundational years of life.
Safeena's reason like true love is quite simple - 'Main Jaisi hoon, Waisi rehne deta hai' (He lets her be herself). She, as we discover has grown in a household where violence is a valid form of communication(Her mother threatening her of the same in a public place or even going at it when at home). Her upbringing also included restraints for girls/women, expecting her to be a certain way. Safeena however, has aspirations and the talent to fulfill them. Over the years, Murad has become her only avenue to experience life and the world without her mother's constraints and also, Murad anchors her anger down. Murad thus is absolutely crucial to her survival, making her possessive (in a dangerous manner, at times).
Their story's aspect for the film is not that of a quintessential Hindi film romance rather, they're the new age Metropolis couple who meet in public transport, date at a bridge and spend evenings in a parked train while keeping the privacy of their relationship intact(this angle of the film reminded me heavily of Aadish Keluskar's wonderful film - 'Jaoon Kahan Bata Ae Dil').
Sher, in a scene, says - 'Jab apni likhi baat tujhe nahi bolni, toh main kaayeko bolu'. This echos the name & philosophy of - 'Salim Langde pe Mat Ro-1989'( films like these are only a sub-domain to Murad's world. Music takes the center stage.)
This film, it's makers & the characters - nobody is sorry for themselves and then there's MC Sher(Shrikant). It's easy to believe that in Murad's story, Sky is the white savior when in fact, it's Sher but even he is not a savior(although he does that in sorts during his intro scene) - Sher is an enabler. 'Sher' in Hindi, means 'Lion' - the difference between a Lion & Tiger(intriguing how the film's production company's named - 'Tiger Baby') is that unlike the solitude-loving tiger, Lions thrive in packs. Also, Lion is the King of the jungle(in case, you missed Disney's lovely lesson). That's this character for you and for Murad. We get short glimpses into his life & layers like - his brother, alcoholic father and also about his mother but Lions are also mysterious when on the prowl.
The track - 'Sher Aaya' is befitting to both Sher & the actor, Siddhant Chaturvedi who arrives in an absolutely groundbreaking avatar following his previous performance as Prashant Kanaujia in 'Inside Edge'.
Murad's first positive experience of the Socio-economic divide with an affluent person sets his voice free kickstarting a chain reaction towards success.
Until this point in the film, Murad was repressed and hesitant about his financial status and talent. He used to write in his notebook(of which rappers like Eminem & Nas were just a page of, much beyond Murad's reach due to the cultural gap between his world & USA) and choke at local underground rap-battles. Here for the first time, he sees this divide in a positive aspect(with empathy rather than fear) - how despite these distinctions we're all connected through emotions & pain. This motivates him to write about it and under Sher's guidance, he even gets his first music video(and even his identity - 'Gully Boy' which is interesting because he gets it when he actually takes the first step out of the 'Gully'). Sky, a student from Berklee College of Music sees this video and offers Sher & Murad a collaboration - their first mainstream break. Eventually, this divide is covered between Murad & Sky(hailing from the elite society) and ends up as a beautiful friendship in the final scene.
The issue with Sky's character is not that it's too conveniently used for the plot's advancement but that both the actor & character are underutilized being lesser explored despite their immense potentials. This perhaps is the only significant flaw with the film. It's almost as if she was supposed to help Murad break into the mainstream scene while exposing his flawed side that had so far remained unknown under his virtues(teetotaller, non-violent and devout) - making her character seem more like a plot device (The poetry is on point but the rhythm is somewhat lackadaisical). The bottom line for Murad here comes actually as a lesson - Why its essential to be who he has been, for that's where the authenticity of his words come from.
Speaking of flaws and distractions, it comes to my mind how the film treats the subject of alcoholism. Murad refrains from it while Sher's father is an alcoholic. In the very first scene, Murad calls out Punjabi music for its typical elements(one of them is also - alcohol). Interestingly, it's a bottle that Safeena smashes on Sky's head in the confrontation scene and A bottle that's spun during the Rap-Battles in the final act. My loose interpretation is that in Murad's story Alcohol is 'Distraction' or 'Self-Harm'.
It's also the 'Rockstar' for contemporary times - a Metropolis, Humble Backgrounds, Love & Alcohol.
The film reminds of Ranbeer Kapoor-Imtiaz Ali collaborations like Tamasha and even more of - Rockstar(2009). There's a time gap between the films but it's interesting how both Janardhan(from Chandni Chowk) & Murad(Dharavi) are character studies that could be connected & compared. While Janardhan grows up to become a 'Rockstar' called 'Jordan', Murad turns into a 'Rapstar' known as 'Gully Boy' - music being the constant. The way they handle love - Janardhan's heartbreak sends him to a path of Alcoholism(self-destruction) while Murad stays away from alcohol and manages to reconcile with Safeena (more credit for this goes to the women that these two are with). Perhaps, the difference in their times, these women, their cities(the culture of Delhi & Mumbai) and also their religion are the key factors here. Also, while Janardan's story spanned even after he became a star, Murad's is only about how he breaks out to the scene.
Up-Beats to the Rap:
- This film's about music and uses it in a unique manner starting from the very first shot. There's no doubt that the background score(partly done by Karsh Kale) and all the music that's been created by multiple collaborators in this film is its soul.
- A big chunk of credit for the film's lasting effect goes to Jay Oza's cinematography, Vijay Maurya's 'kaam-bhaari' dialogues & the film's production design that makes sure a multicolored city like Mumbai and all its different shapes are beautifully portrayed that too in fluidic coherence.
- The film makes sure it gives ample footage to its heart - The Gullies. Moments that majorly standout in this regard are a shot of an alley in the dim sunset light that Murad walks into after his day at college and with friends. The other scene is the one giving a humble glimpse of one of the famous Khau-Gullies.
- Through her earlier works, especially the ones like - Dil Dhadakne Do & Lust Stories, Zoya Akhtar has proven that she's a master at envisioning and portraying human emotions with a tinge of humor & poignancy. Take the scene in this film, for example, where 'Chotti Ammi' tells Murad - 'Mujhko accha laga' about his song after his father beats him for it - This is followed by his mother putting her hand on his hurt cheek and inquiring - 'Kya boli vo?'
- Although for Murad, there exist typical mainstream problems of love-infidelity, mother's pain, father's abuse & hopes, familial issues, aspirations etc. The film also portrays, the real problems of his world like it do in the scene - Where Murad tells Safeena that he is 'short on cellular data' and as such it'll be a tough night at his driving job.
- It's brilliant how the film uses music with lyrics that were initially meant for totally different situations and yet beautifully fits them into the subtext of its own plot and narrative. 'Doori' might sound like a hurt-in-love sort of track but it's actually a commentary on socio-economic disparities. Similarly, 'Azadi' is a politically aimed song but here it's used to convey the loss of creative freedom & personal choice as a financially challenged Murad is forced to resort to crime(something that he completely despises). Also, for Moeen it means the loss of free-will as he eventually will land into jail due to the course of his actions.
- The way religion is viewed by and in the film. It's shown through slightly subtle moments and yet used to convey and express important facets of Murad's life but never entirely focused upon(much like it is and should be in real life). Take the example of 'Wudu' the Islamic ritual of purification before the 'salat' prayer (shown while Murad seeks help for his mother from his denying maternal uncle). It was interesting how in one scene, 'Mamu' even asks his daughter to fetch some water for him during dinner.
- It's also intriguing how Murad's life is transformed through the medium of Nas - his inspiration. Nas' full name is - Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones and yet when you'll look up his Wikipedia page you won't find a Religion tag/category (healthy food-for-thought).
- It's one of those films that you're compelled to watch twice in order to review it because the first time you were too busy feeling it. The second time I was really being a speedster moving my eyes to and fro between the screen & my scribbles.
- Moeen & Sher are both elderly brothers like figures to Murad. While Sher encourages him to fly high, Moeen keeps him under reality check - In a particular scene, he tells Murad - 'Apna bhi mann karta hai ke tu kabhi leke jaaye apun ko apni 'English talking gang' me.Sab dikhte hain tere chool-chapaate mereko'(I can see through your fake-game). Sher and Moeen are very different individuals but both have hearts of Gold('Tu mere bacche log ko khaana khilana' - feed my kids - he cares for them even after he's compelled to use them for drug trafficking).
- The film announces at it's beginning that its dedicated to Naezy & Divine. It makes an earnest effort to capture & showcase their themes & philosophies. There's a micro-hint at which character of the two guy rappers in the film, is derived how. One can use this as a reference point to imagine how Sher & Murad's lives would have shaped up to be, post the film's end.
- The tribute to other rap-idol in Murad's life comes in the form of a striking resemblance that the Sha Rule-Gully Boy Rap-Battle(and even the finale) bears with the climax of the movie - '8 Mile, 2002'.
- The song & video in the film's closing credits resembles that from the film - 'Cidade de Deus a.k.a.City of God(2002)'. Though not exactly similar, it made me realize the parallel that they share and also of the following words...
You can take the homie out of the hood but not the hood out of the homie...
There's a reason Murad's story abandons us after his breakthrough to stardom. By the end of this journey, Murad outgrows his only identity of being a -'Gully Boy' but that being said this will always stay a part of his self - At heart, he'll always be a 'Gully Boy'. The film's parting message as such is to 'Stay real, Stay you' even if the world tells you that it's an impossible pursuit. Never give up on your dreams, your passion(the dream that makes you stay awake) because as the anthem says - "Apna Time Aayega!" and after all aren't we all a 'Gully Boy' of our own respective 'Gullies'.
#5StarNahiDoonga -> "Because let's just get real and also Murad is now a Star himself! "
- Sarthak Awasthi
"Through the 2 lenses of my spectacles"
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