What 'Gully Boy' Got Right
What 'Gully Boy' Got Right

Gully boy, Zoya Akhtar’s sixth film as a director rolled out in Indian cinemas on 14th of February. Seeing as it was released on Valentine’s day, I perceived it as another masala film, this time about rap music, that is until my friends took me to watch it.

Gully Boy is a story of dreams, of falling down and getting up, of following your passion so it heals all of your pain caused by mistakes being made, by wanting to break free and through it all, it is a treat. It stars an ensemble cast of names like Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Kalki Koechlin, Vijay Raaz, Amruta Subhash, and Siddhant Chaturvedi. It paints a picture of the abyss between the haves and the have-nots which is so in-your-face it’s almost painful. But the best part is that it is all believable.

From the opening scene itself, I fell in love with Zoya Akhtar’s direction and the way she and Rima Kagti had weaved the story that is based on the lives of real rappers – Naezy and Divine. Throughout the film, I could see each character beautifully placed, with each of them getting a complete storyline, each of the arcs drawn to the fullest.

In front of me was a story of a young boy living his tough life in the Dharavi slum, going to college but escaping life’s heat through his poetry. I loved how this film took so much effort to portray the raw vulnerability of people stuck in similar circumstances to the fullest. I could see young Murad try to go after rapping because he loved it, be an underdog, be scared in his first rap battle and go meek, screw up, and then eventually get to where he deserved after all the hard work he put in, being humble the whole time.

Kudos to the way the hero gives representation to the real boys of the streets – no big entries or heavy personalities, just a young guy coming to terms with his insecurities and troubles through his art who eventually echos so many of us young souls when he asks why is it that others should tell him who he is.

It paints a picture of the abyss between the haves and the have-nots which is so in-your-face it’s almost painful.

Like any other college boy in love, he meets his girlfriend Safeena every day, who was more than a pleasant experience to watch. This character is impressive on so many levels. She steps out as the typical college student, but in the very first scene of her appearance, she displays her rebellious side without even speaking a word. And when she talks, she is feisty because that’s how you survive in a world where everyone has their own ‘reasons’ to try to chain you.

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She is not the typical Bollywood heroine who is just there to be the romantic interest for the titular hero, or the one who gives up everything to fulfil his dreams or just ends up making space for the boy. She has her own set of dreams to worry about. She seems all sweet and obedient to her parents but resists their expectations of her to wear a headscarf, stay at home and get married. She knows how to fight for what she loves and how not to get walked all over by a boyfriend who is just starting out his way to stardom.

Both the characters in the lead pair are honest and human in their own ways. The boy strays from his way when he starts to become a star and the girl basically physically abuses people because of how aggressively possessive she is of him. While it in no way justifies the behaviour, it portrays the reality of these vulnerable characters.

I could imagine how so many girls would see themselves when they see Safeena crying in front of her father begging him to let her study, but I also hope they got the message that they have the right to dream and find enough courage to not give up.

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The lead’s mother, Raziya, played by Amruta Subhash offers a glimpse into the life of a wronged woman whose husband just brought in another wife. I could see the helplessness she felt because her own brother, who was much better off, did not want to help her. She wanted to restart her old business, but she was a woman who had been left behind. Her only escape was her son, who protected her.

This makes me wonder about the women who do not have sons – what about them? Or those much like Raziya whose family thinks every sorrow in her life is her own doing. I was impressed by how with just one sentence, the film conveys how women suffer more because the other women do not stand with them. She is a victim of her husband’s thinking who believes your dreams need to fit your reality. She depicts a clear portrayal of women who are victims of the flawed ideology that is fed to a majority of our nation and is passed down to generations.

At first glance, I’m sure you would think Kalki Koechlin’s character as Skye was not given much space. But I think it does the job it’s meant to do, it symbolises that art cuts across class. A Berkeley student from a rich family who otherwise will not even talk to a slum boy like Murad invites him in because of his art. She also helps to bring out the vulnerable side of Murad who is as susceptible to making wrong decisions at the spur of the moment as any other twenty-two-year-old boy we would know. Sky reminded me how even though she and I are feminists, our privilege makes us see everything in a different light, especially with regard to equality. She protests against body dysmorphism, pollution, and the obsession with fair skin while Murad just wants everyone to have roti, kapda, makan and internet.

She steps out as the typical college student, but in the very first scene of her appearance, she displays her rebellious side without even speaking a word

The only thing that irked me was that the film sang to me of everything going on around us, all in a smoothed-over manner. The song ‘Azadi’, which was originally made to symbolise the protest of Delhi students against caste and religion hate crimes, skips over words like ‘manuvad’  and ‘sanghvad’, which made me think how films that revolve around highlighting inequalities in the society are too sanitised.

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Gully boy explores how unfair life somehow seems to the have-nots of big cities like Mumbai where the youth constantly lives in a moral tussle between what is right and what is easy, but I still found a bit of myself in every character that I saw onscreen. I have felt some oppression, the urge to rebel, sadness, frustration, kinship, love, fear one or the other way, and I can only imagine how those people must have felt, who actually live in slums where foreigners come on ‘poverty tours’.

Featured Image Source:Times Of India India Times

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  1. The article sums it all up quite holistically, it gave the true essence and depicted the actual sense in just words, of what the director must have probably thought of delivering to the audience while filming

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