Gully Boy Review

Ranveer Singh as Murad and Alia Bhatt as Safina in “Gully Boy.” In his role, Singh proves he is a true-blue rock-super-star. Bhatt takes her performance to another level in the film. (photo provided)

Excel Entertainment & Tiger Baby present “Gully Boy”

Produced by: Ritesh Sidhwani, Farhan Akhtar & Zoya Akhtar

Directed by: Zoya Akhtar

Written by: Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti & Vijay Maurya

Music: Divine, Naezy, Spitfire (Nitin Mishra), Rishi Rich, Raghu Dixit, Karsh Kale, Midival Punditz, Vivieck Rajagopalan, Dub Sharma, Sez On The Beat, Jasleen Royal, Ankur Tewari, Mikey McCleary, Kaam Bhaari, Ace, Ishq Bector, Prem & Hardeep, Chandrashekhar Suraj AKA Major C

Starring: Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Vijay Verma, Vijay Raaz, Amruta Subhash, Jyoti Subhash, Kalki Koechlin, Shrishti Shrivastava, Sheeba Chaddha, Vijay Maurya & others

It’s all in the soul and the intention. The talent and expertise come later. Zoya Akhtar and co-writer Reema Kagti clearly want to present the case for Hindustani Underground Music and musicians. The idea is not to show two of the best and most saleable GenY stars as their starry selves but as normal people (Hrishikesh Mukherjee style) in a story that dwells only on the journey of the pains, passions, ambitions and journey of such hidden talents from areas – where any dreams other than basic ones are taboo.

Zoya Akhtar, a director who is happily becoming better with every successive film (“Luck By Chance,” “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara” and the very underrate “Dil Dhadakne Do”), returns to the world of the strugglers (as in her first film) but goes leagues ahead. Creating this world that becomes as real as in the dark/offbeat/dark and offbeat films we have watched centered around slums on general and the world’s biggest slum Dharavi in particular, Akhtar, however, uses this focused one-way road (of the dreams of the underdogs) as a medium for quickly spotlighting other social aspects.

And so, since protagonist Murad (Ranveer Singh) is a Muslim, we see Akhtar commenting on second wives, gender discrimination especially in education, and obstinate mindsets – in a scene or two, we spot faint but unavoidable resemblances to “Secret Superstar,” minus the “filmi” touches of that movie. Akhtar connects minus those. Cliches are also avoided, so there is no in-your-face effort to show that Murad’s true-blue benefactor is not from his religion, MC Sher (Siddhant Chaturvedi).

The story is a one-liner: inspired by actual Mumbai underground rappers Divine and Naezy (who have played a big part in the music here), it narrates how a young man with a penchant for rap is gradually made to dream of what can be achieved and, obviously, reaches where he wants in the end. On the fringes is Murad’s love story with Safina (Alia Bhatt), who is studying to be a doctor.

What makes the film stand out is the way it is treated, though Akhtar would have done well to keep the film at 2 hours and a few minutes – not that we are ever bored, but the overall impact would have been more punch-laden.

The film abounds in standout sequences, too many to warrant description here, but a few of them need to be mentioned, like Safina’s catfight with potential rival in love (Shrishti Shrivastava) and its aftermath in her father’s clinic, her fierce argument with Murad – in which we barely see the Alia we know and only find the character, the sequential progression of Murad’s old friendship with Moin (Vijay Varma), Murad’s conception of the song “Doori” when he is a part-time chauffeur, his altercation with his father Shakir (Vijay Raaz) when he beats his mother (Amruta Subhash), his reconciliation with Safina…the list is too long.

The writing scores exceptionally on two fronts: firstly, it creates vivid, memorable characters, especially Murad, Safeena, Shakir, MC Sher, Moin and Murad’s grandmother. Second, while Vijay Maurya (who plays Murad’s maternal uncle as well)’s dialogues are magnificently rooted in “Bambaiyya” language and full of pith, we must adore all those who have written the rap portions that seem to be authentically sourced and are artlessly presented with aplomb before the camera.

On the flip side, while we appreciate Akhtar’s contemporary style of not spoon-feeding the audience, there seems to be a lot of haste in wrapping up the climax and post-climax. This is at odd variance with the deft handling (editing) in the first 20 to 30 minutes of various scenes so that they are succinctly understood minus elaboration.

The technical side is excellent for the needs. The music, while obviously not meant to be memorable and long-lasting, is perfect and painstaking for the film’s needs. Here is where the lyrics in most cases excel, and of course the real wunderkind is Ranveer Singh with his incredible modulation.

And the word “wunderkind” is an understatement when we look at Singh’s performance. He is almost unrecognizable in his first shot as Murad, the dark, quiet, shy and introspective, slum youth who has within himself a volcano of not just emotions but angst-ridden rapping talent fuelled by them. Lover, rebel, idealist, wannabe performer – Singh chalks up a performance that will be predominantly called “lifelike” but is actually huge for a star of his stature. AND this stature’s gonna leap after this!

Here is an actor who can perfectly state, “Apna Time Aa Gayela Hai/Apna Time Chal Rela Hai (my time has come, and it’s on)!” in Murad’s lingo as a modification of the film’s rocking anthem song “Apna Time Aayega.” A small point: Singh’s enacting of this song is just phenomenal. In this sequence, he proves he is a true-blue rock-super-star!

Alia Bhatt is simply phenomenal as Safina. Every time you feel she is slipping back into a starry groove, she slaloms out to take her performance to another level. Pats again go to Akhtar for choosing THE two most versatile artistes in GenY for these roles.

Siddhanth Chaturvedi, as MC Sher, is tremendous. He is best when it is found that he is no longer in the competition and yet selflessly supports his friend Murad, whom he has always encouraged – on merit. His lovable smile lifts so many of his scenes. Vijay Varma is exceptional as the gray-shaded Moin. His character has a wonderful graph, and his eyes are wonderfully expressive.

Vijay Raaz and Vijay Maurya (the film seems full of Vijays!) are good and very good respectively, and Jyoti Subhash leaves a stamp as the grandmother. Amruta Subhash looks correctly dawdy and acts well, but her character seems confused, and she looks like Murad’s younger sister instead of his ‘ammi’ (mother)! As for Kalki Koechlin, she is average in the film’s only stereotypical and ‘filmi’ part.

“Gully Boy” does not have a huge budget. Its appeal may be restricted more by the background (Dharavi and Mumbai’s colloquial dialect, which isn’t flashy enough to connect like the Punjabi overdrives of other films!) than the music. But with an underdog story, the “Simmba” and “Raazi” stars in charge for the opening and word-of-mouth, we hope that for once, a Zoya Akhtar film will be a clean hit. “Gully Boy” deserves that, at least.

Rating: ****

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