Gully Boy’s aim at authenticity is commendable. The locations, the texture, the music all build up an authentic world of the origin of Gully rap. But the protagonist, the Gully Boy himself is fake and hollow. Not false in the way many of the gully rappers are, wearing their hoodies and flat-rimmed caps just imitating the hip-hop pioneers, but in a way how clean-cut he is without any spunk, neither has a single negative nor a rebellious streak in him. Zoya Akhtar and co. have created a character out of their imagination of how an ideal rapper is, or rather ‘ought’ to be as per their standards.
A rapper is too wannabe, he ‘ought’ to be a poet, a sensitive poet. A rough and tough slum-dweller would not be aesthetically appealing, he ‘ought’ to be a clean-cut decent guy (poster boy of zero-toxic masculinity). Right from his clothing to his demeanour, everything is understated, subtle and sensitive. This led me to believe she was going for a repressed-frustration-and-anger-finally-erupting arc, which kept me invested in the movie. But of course the eruption never came, and then it struck me that Murad was just a fake empty imaginary character being served as a placeholder idealistic artist overcoming his circumstances through art.
The obvious argument against this would be that Murad’s expression of his anger and rebellion is only through his art. He kinda lives a double life, where he is ice, but his words are fire. Like a yogi in complete control of his emotions, just waiting for the right time to let it all out on the stage. Just ponder over this a bit, and it might be evident that this is horse-shit. It will appeal to people who listen to songs and go “Look, he is channelling his inner turmoil in this song”. I do not deny the inner turmoil expressed in songs. My point is – more than channelling it is spilling over of the emotional turmoil in the songs. When there is turmoil within, rage, frustration, are we always in control, waiting to express through art? Obviously not. It comes out in various forms, through our spoken words, behaviour and decisions. But there is no such thing with Murad. No anger, no abuse, no rash decisions, no indecent conduct, nothing out of line. Just soul-soothing poetry flowing out. The only argument the movie can make against this is that Murad is always high on weed. Permanently chilling on Babaji-ki-booti. If that’s the case, I rest my case.
On this thread of fakeness, I would want to draw your attention to Rockstar. My appreciation of Imtiaz Ali and Ranbir went quite up after seeing Gully Boy. Although Imtiaz went all melodramatic in Rockstar, the way the inner turmoil spills out and drives Jordan’s life outside his art, hit closer to the truth than the fake idealism of Zoya Akhtar.
The only time in Gully Boy where we get the anger and the outpour in a real tangible way is the scene outside the club when Murad is hanging out with the other drivers, feeling entirely out of place,
Listens to this beat from the club, goes closer, gets shooed away by the guard, walks back to the car in anger, shuts himself in the car, and then screams along with Naezy’s ‘Aane De’ with pure energy. This was the only time ‘pickchur aang ko lagi’ (movie hit me hard). Rest of the movie, its just Murad giving performances of outbursts. I would rather watch music videos of the original gully boys.
If you look at Gully Boy closely, all this artist, music, rapping is just window dressing for the main agenda of the movie – socio-economic divide. This divide is stark, real and part of everyday lives for all Indians. There are truly two Indias within this India.
One that works at our homes, our maids and the other is us, me and whoever is reading this. The goal set by Zoya Akhtar and co. is to tell the stories of the world of our maids, but from inside looking out. This isn’t as easy as it seems, especially for a meticulous director like Zoya, who wants to control every single thing in the frame to the tee. This meticulousness works wonders in a family,r sophisticated atmosphere of Dil Dhadakne Do. But in Gully Boy… ow!! She has to engineer and design every single thing from background actors in slums, things kept in the house, to every twitch on our slum-dweller protagonist’s body. Great actors like Vijay Raaz just get it, she can just turn the camera on, and they will deliver. But Ranveer Singh??? Difficult. This tediousness shows in Ranveer’s performance in Murad. To start with, the character Murad is pretty much lifeless, and on top of that,t you get Ranveer, who is naturally energetic, to perform as this sad, self-pitying poet. Its just plain boring. All scenes with just Murad on screen, are totally lifeless and hollow. The firebrands like Alia’s Saifeena, Siddhant Chaturvedi’s MC Sher and Vijay Varma’s Moeen add some spunk and life to the proceedings. The point I’m heading to (with many detours) is Zoya’s meticulous style can never do justice to these stories (inside looking outside), they will end up looking too engineered, less spontaneous.
To get my point completely just visualize Anurag Kashyap’s Mukkabaaz (same story at the core). You can still feel Vineeth’s passion and anger bubbling throughout. Do you feel the same way about Gully Boy? You can argue one is about poetry and one is about boxing. One is verbal, other is physical, but you feel the difference in the truth of the emotions. The car scene in Gully Boy, where Ranveer Singh is in a poetic circumstance, with the madam sitting at the back crying, he wishes he could console her, but this socio-economic divide is stopping him. Poetry 101. Empathy 101. Film-making 101. It is shockingly amateurish. If you want to see something real, something hard-core in this inside-looking-out territory, look no further than Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday, where there is a fleeting moment when Badshah (Aditya Srivastava) on the run, seated in a ferry and glances at an upper class girl. You can argue the specifics, but the discomfort of that scene is what is missing completely from Gully Boy. Murad is shown to be a pure soul unscathed by his environment and circumstance.
Gully boy also pales in comparison to Zoya’s own segment from Lust Stories. That segment had the discomfort that I mentioned. Bhumi Pednekar’s casting didn’t help at all (she doesn’t look like a maid), but the uneasiness in interactions felt real. When I watched it, I hated the cynical ending (no way out of circumstances). But it worked way better emotionally than Gully Boy’s faked optimism.
Before I wrap up, few words on the music. Over the past month, Gully Boy’s music has grown very close to me, not the entire album, but a select few. But the songs that really work in the movie are not even on the album. Naezy’s Asal Hustle (plays over the opening title card) and Aane De (Murad scream along in car) set the screen on fire with their energy. Then there is an English song that Murad plays in his earphones to drown out the shehnai playing during his father’s arrival with the second wife. It is used entirely to drown out shame and helplessness and turn it into an impersonal absurd happening.
This piece might come across as bitter and scathing, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the movie a slight bit. In fact, Gully boy is filled with some great moments, performances and film-making. Baradwaj Rangan and Rahul Desai dive deep into that and many more details in their respective reviews. They cover mostly everything and in much better prose. So adios!!!