What do all artistes have in common? Heartbreak, adversity, a society that doesn’t understand your art. No silver spoons. No privileges. Just the long, hard, lonely walk. Zoya Akhtar’s lead character Murad is the textbook example of the underdog who rises from the slums of Dharavi and doesn’t believe in Slumdog Millionaires. But he believes in telling his story through his music. His rap.
It is a pity then that Dharavi and life within a house where people outnumber the walls are treated with the rosy glasses of an outsider. Much like the foreign tourists in Gully Boy who come take a look inside the houses of Dharavi; a ticket of Rs 500 for a pass to this ‘other world’, selfie-sticks in hand. Zoya Akhtar is that very outsider in this world. Gully Boy scratches the surface. What we get in the film is a look from the outside. Peekaboo, end credits.
Murad is a ‘slumdog’. He measures his days waiting for Safina at the bus stop, humming to himself ‘apna time aayega’. Away from the classes in college and his parents’ bickering, cocooned in his space on the mezzanine floor of his 300-square-foot house, he pours his life into the pages of his notebook. The words are his own. He needs the beat.
Enter MC Sher. Murad falls head over heels in love with this rapper at his college. He follows every movement of Sher on Facebook and goes underground. Rap battles take place here, in this world out of Fight Club. The weapon is rap. People insult one another and get hit back right at their weakest points. Murad blends into the scene. His future is about to change. The viewer knows. The problem is the time it takes to reach that turning point.
Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy pieces together snippets of life from the slums and the Mumbai underground. There are contrasts thrown in. United Colours of Benetton meets the fake Adidas stripes here. Shweta is Sky and Murad is Gully Boy. Through their alter egos, these music-makers give voice to everyday issues and the contrasting lives.
Within Murad’s life, we meet Safina. The ‘childhood’ that Murad has been in a relationship with since he was 13 years old. She wants to wear lipstick, go out with boys, party, leave the hijab at home, pursue a career in surgery. But then there is her reality to deal with: getting married, running a home, sneaking out at 10 in the night to see her boyfriend on a big day.
Ranveer Singh throws his lot behind Murad. From the kohl in his eyes to the pain in his lyrics, Ranveer brings the story of a slumdog alive on the big screen. His accent is on point. He digs his claws into his character and comes out with a performance to remember. Not his best performance, perhaps (Alauddin Khilji would still take that cake), but a close second.
Alia Bhatt brings her effusive charm on screen in Gully Boy. She does not have a lot to do in the film and that’s a real shame. Safina’s story is not fleshed out in Gully Boy. Sure, the film is on Ranveer’s character, but we deserved more of Alia. In her limited screentime, the Bhatt kid shows what stuff she is made of. She beats up girls who try to flirt with her boyfriend. She is a feisty Muslim girl who neither the hijab nor the walls of her house can restrict. For every door that is slammed on her face, she finds a window to get ahead. Metaphorically and otherwise.
The supporting cast is cast perfectly in their respective roles. From a Vijay Raaz as Murad’s father to Sheeba Chaddha as Safina’s mother, to Siddhant Chaturvedi as Sher, Zoya gets her characters right. But what she doesn’t is the movement of the story.
Gully Boy suffers from a slow pace. The film takes its own sweet time to establish the story. And when it does, there is too little to bask in the glory of. The film ends on an abrupt note. It catapults its underdog to the big stage but doesn’t let the viewer soak it in. After investing 2 hours and 35 minutes in the film, you feel a little cheated.
The main star of the film is its music. The many artistes who are credited for the music of the film do a classy job with the soundtrack. If Ranveer Singh is the life of Gully Boy, the music is its soul. The lyrics, the beats all scream revolution. Azadi. Hindustan gets its asli hip hop in a Bollywood film.
In all, it fails to rise.
Apna time aayega. But today is not the day.
Gully Boy starring Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt is the big Bollywood release today. The film gets compelling performances from Ranveer and Alia but director Zoya Akhtar offers only an outside view of the Mumbai slum-life, says our review.
3 out of 5 stars for Gully Boy.