Movie Review: A Divine (and Naezy) inspiration led to the making of this movie on the Indian Hip-Hop music scene.

Rating: 4/5                        
Language: Hindi
Cast: Ranveer Singh as Murad Sheikh

Alia Bhatt as Safeena Ali

Kalki Koechlin as Sky

Siddhant Chaturvedi as Shrikant/MC Sher

Vijay Raaz as Aftab Sheikh

Vijay Varma as Moeen

Amruta Subhash as Afreen Sheikh

Director: Zoya Akhtar

Music: Various Artists

Music composed by: Shankar–Ehsaan–Loy

Production company: R Excel Entertainment, Tiger Baby Productions

Screenplay: Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti

Produced by: Ritesh Sidhwani, Zoya Akhtar, Farhan Akhtar​

Cinematography: Jay Oza

Happy Valentine’s Day! Especially to Zoya Akhtar who has once again won hearts as she did with ‘Luck by Chance’ and ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’. Friendships, emotions and especially family dynamics are her forte. She has infused life, soul and passion into the characters, at once making you cheer for – the rebel who jumps into the sea from a cruise ship in ‘Dil Dhadakne Do’; the underdog who goes AWOL from his mundane 9 to 5 job to follow his passion or ‘junoon’. Inspired by the rags to riches story of real life ‘gully’ boys Divine and Naezy, it is a coming of age film for the Indian rap music scene.

Gully Boy is the stage name for a rapper from Dharavi, the infamous ghetto in Mumbai, India, in this film. It is his musical journey that is chronicled in this movie. Though it is filmed in the underbelly of Mumbai, this film gracefully steers away ‘poverty porn’ (Slumdog Millionaire unfortunately made that their selling point). Instead it focuses on the human, the humane and small joys of life. Kudos to the cinematographer especially for the music video of the song ‘Gully Boy’ which is aptly shot entirely on the narrow ‘gullies’ of Dharavi.

Despite being a movie loaded with hip-hop, rap, gritty lyrics and music, it still plays out as a slow ballet or at times a waltz without falling into the boring zone.

Ranveer Singh just gets better and fitter. As the muted, subdued chauffeur, he touches the heart. As the passionate fiery rapper he hits the nerve (not just in the film but also in a live performance when he jumped into the audience apparently). However Siddhant Chaturvedi as MC Sher gives Ranveer a run for his money and that is saying something! As the lion-hearted, kind, positivity-oozing mentor to Murad; he exits the stage graciously when he is overpowered by a new wave of talent and leaves a sweet mark.

Alia as an actor is long past being ‘Student of the Year’. She keeps rising on the acting graph. She plays the fiesty, empowered, valiant yet deeply possessive character of Safeena naturally. A go-getter herself she encourages Murad to go after his dreams so confidently, that he can’t help but ask her how she manages to be so bold. Her one-liner dialogues pack a punch and are all the more effective cause she delivers them dead-pan. Vijay Raaz as the father does a good job. Amruta Subash as the mother was not very effective. Kalki plays a typical role that one has come to expect of her after repeats in many movies.   

One person who I want to mention is the actress who plays the role of Murad’s ‘mami’. Trying to promote ghazals instead of rap songs in order to get him to appease his mama, is our own ex-DJ from Singapore’s Radio Masti, Rohini Ramanathan who makes a blink and miss appearance that you should look out for.  

The dialogues in typical Mumbai Hindi are so authentic that I had to refer to subtitles at times. The music is outstanding.

Though music is credited to the triumvirate of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, the soundtrack is composed, and performed by a myriad of Indian musicians, MCs, and producers, such as Divine, Naezy, Sez on the beat, Rishi Rich, Dub Sharma, Jasleen Royal, Ace, Ishq Bector, MC Altaf, MC TodFod, 100 RBH, Maharya, Noxious D, Viveick Rajagopalan, and others.

It was heartening to know that real life Indian rappers like Emiway Bantaai, Stony Psycho, Dope Daddy, Kaambhaari among others got both screen time as well as an opportunity to present their rap through the movie.

Watching in GV’s Gold Class added to the movie experience, but that experience is worth another post in the future.