After an entire day’s work, everyone heads back home in the local. All tired heads dropped, some even sleeping. A dream of keeping their family survive lived for another twenty-four hours and performance independent – they have one less day to live. Standing between them is him. He, who keeps his head high for his dream begins after he leaves his office. His dream is in his head and he just can’t let that fall.
Zoya Akhtar has laid down a result we have known for ages through a story and some characters that will be looked back upon for decades. The performances, cinematography, editing, music and the design all intent towards one scheme of things. One where rebellion is a language, rapping is divine (pun intended) and dreaming the only escape point.
Gully Boy is the story of Murad Ahmed (Ranveer Singh), who hails from a Muslim family in the Dharavi slum area of Mumbai. He is an almost-graduate and his life is caught between his education, his girlfriend Safeena (Alia Bhatt) and his friends. Moreover, his father (Vijay Raaz) has brought home his second wife which means lack of money isn’t the only problem looming large on the household. Because Murad’s problems originated and elevated in the gully, the answers too needed to come out of the gully. He forces his tears onto his words, and his words onto his confidence. He walks around knowing what breakthrough (artists he listens to) and no breakthrough (his father) would look like. Just like the Gully Boy himself, his dreams have layers too.
From Zoya Akhtar’s intent to work the underdog’s story through real-time familiar stories of family complexities, social divides, art, and relationships, we get an unfamiliar tale of honesty and wavering confidences. I think that’s where she won it. Unlike most movies, Gully Boy does not capture you in a different offbeat world. Rather it exposes you to the one world stretching your eyes wide in the process. Its story and characters’ relatability originates not only from the characteristics of their personality but also their introduction to the story. You know them all – a trusting girlfriend, a toxic father, a loving mother, a couple of supporting friends – and you expect them to make their marks on the primary.
Akhtar played the oldest tricks in the books right while having rap battles in the background. Like life most of the times, there were no twists which couldn’t have been predicted. There were no Dangal-esque sequences as well where Aamir Khan couldn’t get to see his daughter win the Gold Medal because of being locked in a room. It was a story from Dharavi 17 – the Dharavi 17 from the living universe we have all fought and lost in. Murad was on screen, yes, but the layering in his problems while also acting as a catalyst for the one single solution meant that Murad was also a creation in our minds. Safeena, yes, was a possessive girlfriend, but the specificity in everything she did showed that our hearts do get particular and there are no alternatives. His father (Vijay Raaz) was violent and abusive, but answering him back was something we had already done before Murad could. For there was his father to let reality always knock on his head, there was also his friend and rapper MC Sher (Siddhant Chaturvedi) to remind him that letting reality win means more of the same he has lived through.
153 minutes of an absolute energy battle between characters met with desires and desperations meant special acting performances. I, for one, am not to lay too much importance on acting because I feel it always gets its due recognition. But my word, Ranveer Singh has given us something just the size of life itself and not in one scene can you see Murad being anything but the boy with hard-hitting words. Alia Bhatt was in her most decisive form and Vijay Raaz steals the show being the only human obstacle for the well-intended conclusion.
To have good things coming your way is luxury, to expect good things to come your way is part optimism and part lunacy. But to believe there are good things because there are bad, and to write, rap and fight towards it while the bad haunts you was Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy. It might go down in history as trendsetting, record-breaking and even one of the most motivational of a generation. But what it will always remain, I hope, after countless viewings while a dreamer looks for his inner Murad (inspirational pun intended) will be a fable of people believing you for a hundred reasons after you gave them one to. Bohot hard.
- Mayank Malik