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Saturday, September 30, 2023

Gully Boy Movie Review: Zoya Akhtar’s Revolutionary Narrative of Rag to Rap

Gully Boy has made huge waves at the world premiere in Berlin International Film Festival and it is a special film.

Murad (Ranveer Singh) is a 22-year-old student from the Dharavi ghetto in Mumbai.

He is a rapper and the story is his journey from realising his love for rap, to chasing his dream and to inadvertently transcending his class.

Authentic hip hop in India is a recent phenomenon and like anywhere else in the world, is rising from the streets.

It is the only true political space in music right now and it’s coming from people that have nothing to lose, the colonised poor.

How effective is this Zoya Akhtar directorial? Here is our review.

An iconic film for Hindi cinema

Gully Boy is a revolutionary film and we say this because this is the first Bollywood film to present the rising hip-hop culture in India.

We have seen stories of aspiring singers, but this is one of the first Hindi movies to highlight rap music as an art and a form of escapism/hope for Mumbai youths.

As such, it also seems like Mumbai is an additional character.

Camera shots signifying Dharavi with wealthier part of the city makes a strong statement about the current condition of Mumbai.

Songs like ‘Doori’, ‘Azaadi’ and ‘Jingostan’ exhibit social injustice.

In many previous works, Zoya highlights the themes of patriarchy, class disparity and even feminism (to a small extent).

Many of these themes are prominent in this film too but the way she incorporates these motifs into a gritty and humorous atmosphere is pure genius.

The filmmaker captures the milieu of Dharavi in a realistic manner.

From the homes to the public transports, the film is shot in organic locations.

Zoya Akhtar’s marvellous vision as a filmmaker

We cannot help but admire Zoya Akhtar’s cinematic vision.

Through her choice of scenes and camera shots.

For instance, a shot of Murad sitting in a black car and sparkling lights are reflecting on the vehicle.

This scene is symbolic of how he is currently in a dark space, but the lights represent how his future can be bright… Hence he utters, ‘Apna Time Aayega’.

The technical aspect of sound is used to depict Murad’s escapism.

Murad is at a wedding and rather than listening to the shehnai he listens to his rap music in his headphones.

This sequence is emblematic of how he wishes to escape his current surroundings and pursue his passion as a rapper.

The good thing is that the dialect is not stereotypically tapori as we’ve heard previously in Hindi flicks like Munna Bhai MBBS and Vaastav.

The speech style seems like how any ordinary Mumbaikar would talk and the movie speaks the language of the youths and of the locals.

As such, Akhtar avoids repeating these mundane tropes and that is the beauty about Gully Boy.

In fact, we have seen such colonised depictions of slums.

Zoya smartly uses the colonised representation in a comical fashion to highlight that life in Dharavi is not all gloom and doom, as seen in movies like Slumdog Millionaire.

More than the surroundings, there is a strong emphasis on human emotions and a special mention also goes to the writing which is poetic and thought-provoking.

Not only are the dialogues/lyrics relevant to the film’s narrative, but also to life in general.

Powerful performances by Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt

The performances of the cast are phenomenal.

Ranveer Singh is flawless in essaying the aspiring rapper.

He has an affinity towards hip-hop music and that translates seamlessly through his performance.

His facial expressions, body language and dialogue delivery are so natural and powerful.

Ranveer is so consistent with essaying the character and this definitely ranks amongst his best performances.

Alia Bhatt is another dynamite who explodes on celluloid.

Her character Safeena is an aspiring surgeon who has a traditional exterior but is rebellious.

Small nuances like threatening people and then smiling are so in character with Safeena’s personality.

Alia’s ability to build-up her character and then outburst into anger/emotion is just marvellous.

This movie is another feather to add to her hat.

Both characters of Murad and Safeena are written so well.

The duo, despite living ordinary lives, has a storm that brewing inside them and zest to make the most out of their life.

Gully Boy, in a way, becomes their self-discovery story.

Plus, Ranveer and Alia’s chemistry is quite strong, therefore it doesn’t take them much convincing that they are love interests.

Kalki Koechlin plays Sky, a music producer who supports and encourages Murad’s talent.

Though seen briefly in the film, Kalki makes an impact through her performance.

Who else really makes an impact is Siddhant Chaturvedi. His performance as MC Sher is formidable to the core and has a solid screen presence.

Undoubtedly, he is another exceptional talent to look out for!

What’s wrong?

Gully Boy is one of those few Bollywood films which have no major flaws.

However, there are a few predictable areas in the narrative which make the movie a typical Bollywood film.

It would’ve been better if the conflict of love interests did not arise. But in turn, if the focus continued to be more on the circumstances, this would’ve been more effective.

Also, it would’ve been nice to know a bit more about Sky’s character.

Whilst she is the most well-off in comparison to all the other characters, it would’ve been nice to get a glimpse of what her trials and tribulations are in life. 

The good thing is that the movie does not drag.

There is never a moment where one feels exhausted by the pace or length.

There is a cohesive flow to the film and even when the credit rolls, one feels that they could continue to watch this piece of art.

Final word

On the whole, Gully Boy is a revolutionary Bollywood film which fully exhibits the rising phenomena of Hip-Hop culture in India.

Until now, in films set in the backdrop of Mumbai’s underbelly, all we had seen is the grim world of crime, poverty and helplessness.

However, it is so refreshing to see that a practical and progressive take on people living in the slums.

There could be so many people like Murad and Safeena in today’s society, which is why this movie is important.

It really shows that there is always light, even in the darkest of times.

In our view, this is Zoya Akhtar’s best work to date. Go and witness this phenomenal piece of cinema!

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5 stars)

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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