TL;DR – A story about finding your voice through rap in the slums of Mumbai hits just about every beat perfectly.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is a scene over the first part of the credits
It has been a while since I have watched a movie about becoming a music superstar that had any kind of weight and substance behind it. Usually, they are content just to ride on the fact that people know the music very well, and as long as you drop those classic songs every now and again people will lap it up. Today we get to look at a film that doesn’t just rest on its laurels and call it a day, it instead focuses deeply on what it is to come from nothing and try to make it in a very competitive world.
So to set the scene, we open in Mumbai, India, specifically the Dharavi slums on the outskirts of the city, and we start immediately in a moment of tension when Aftab (Vijay Raaz) brings home a second younger wife, much to the annoyance of both Murad (Ranveer Singh) and his mother Razia (Amruta Subhash). Murad is working hard at school, working hard on keeping his relationship with Safeena (Alia Bhatt) on the quiet, but he has a real passion for rap. In his quiet time, he watches videos on YouTube and works on his own lyrics. However, he doesn’t have the confidence to take it to the next level, which is when MC Sher (Siddhant Chaturvedi) gives him the push he needs.
I have to say that this was a really interesting film for me to review because I am a super white guy getting
to see a film about rap in India. This is one of the joys of world cinema because you get to see worlds and
stories that you would not have seen before. It also means that you are dealing
with a different set of cultural norms. Which means that while the experience
of rebellion from parental control might be universal, how it is outworked here
is going to be different than it would be in say Australia or Brazil. I wonder
how that cultural context will impact the film in western audiences where they
might not understand that when Murad goes to Safeena ‘you want me to get killed’ after she kisses him in public, he was
being literal not melodramatic. However, this also cuts both ways, because
throughout the film there a lot of casual violence, especially directed towards
women, which goes uncommented about.
This is at its core a film about music and the power it has to shape the lives of the people in and around it. Now this means that you have to make sure that all your actors are convincing in the roles, and rap is not something you can just fake your way through. There is a power in the words themselves, but also in the delivery, which can be like a rapid-fire gun shooting off into the night sky. The two leads Siddhant Chaturvedi and Ranveer Singh really accomplish themselves well in this regard. They bring the power and charisma to their roles and help bring this world to life. There are these moments in the film that you can help but sit back and go ‘oh damn’ which only works because they are convincing in the roles. For example, you have the time they first sort of meet where MC Sher is running a concert at the local university. Only for these trolls in the audience to heckle the lady playing on stage. So MC Sher gets on stage and asks them if they want him to perform, of which they say yes, and so he obliges and publicly castigates them for being rude, entitled, well you can use the sentence enhancer of your choice. It also helps that when the film gets into the rap battle section at the end, they use members of the local rap community as the supporting cast, and this gives those moments significantly more impact. Oh, and the film kind of cuts away to do a full-on music video for one of the songs, and it is amazing. Now, I am in no ways an expert on rap, let alone, Indian rap, but I found all the song to be engaging and well produced.
it is a story about rap, and that is at its core, it is also a story of wealth,
power, and class. Murad grew up in the slums where getting a job where he won’t
be someone’s servant is seen as the best life can offer. Indeed his farther
says repeatedly that ‘his dreams much
match his reality.’ This is reinforced throughout the film where the class distinctions
are laid bare for all to see. For example, you have the time when Murad is
driving for a family because his father hurt his foot. The father is having a
fight with his daughter about getting a graduate degree and asks Murad if he
has an education and says, with Murad right there, that if he could have a degree
then it is nothing special and his daughter has to do more to stand out, like
dude he is sitting right there. Or when he goes to record his album at Sky’s (Kalki
Koechlin) house only to discover that one of the apartment’s bathrooms is
larger than his entire house that seven people have to fit in. With that power
and money comes the ability to skip over many of the social constraints forced
on everyone else. Indeed that power does not have to be money, it can be the power a husband has in the family
to do pretty much whatever he wants, like bring a second wife home.
While it is a really interesting film, it did have some issues with consistency. There were some characters that kind of bounced across the emotional scale like it was meant to be endearing that they glassed someone else, or uses kids drug mules. There were the before mentioned issues with violence that permeate the film. Also, finally there is the problem that this film is two and a half hours long like it has an intermission it is that long. This length itself wasn’t an issue, but you could see that the film could have been a bit more tightly constructed and been better for it.
In the end, do we recommend Gully Boy? Yes, we do. There were some issues in and around the margins that do hold it back a bit. However, this is a compelling story about someone daring to dream bigger than his reality. It is well acted, the production values are there, and it has one of the most banging soundtracks I have heard so far this year. Give it a look if it is showing near you.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Gully Boy
Directed by – Zoya Akhtar
Written by – Vijay Maurya
Screenplay by – Zoya Akhtar & Reema Kagti
Based on – the lives of Divine and Naezy
Music/Songs by – Karsh Kale, The Salvage Audio Collective, Divine, Naezy, Dub Sharma, Ankur Tewari, Spitfire, Sez on the beat, Rishi Rich, Raghu Dixit, Midival Punditz, Karsh Kale, Chandrashekhar Kunder, Jasleen Royal, Mickey McCleary, Ace, Ishq Bector, Prem-Hardeep, Viveick Rajagopalan & Kaam Bhaari
Cinematography by – Jay Oza
Edited by – Nitin Baid
Production/Distribution Companies – Excel Entertainment, Tiger Baby Productions, AA Films, Zee Studios International & Cinestaan Film Company
Starring – Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Kalki Koechlin, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Vijay Raaz, Vijay Varma, Amruta Subhash, Ikhlaque Khan, Sheeba Chaddha, Rahul Piske, Jyoti Subhash, Nakul Roshan Sahdev, Shruti Chauhan, Vijay Maurya, Srishti Shrivastava, Malika Singh, Tina Bhatia, Rahil Gilani, Abdul Quadir Amin, Svar Kamble, Chaitnya Sharma, Jasleen Royal, Michaela Tanwar, Mohan Kapoor & Kubra Sait
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Germany: na; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: na