Akhtar absolutely wants all those watching to feel what the characters are going through
Feels like ‘Gully Boy’ has taken an age to arrive but it’s finally here. Valentine’s Day came and went and ‘Gully Boy’ is now in cinemas, following a grand premiere in Berlin last weekend. The reviews from the Berlin International Film Festival 2019 have been positive and this has only fuelled the excitement for the film, which brings together Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt for the first time. Zoya Akhtar take the reigns again for this film which shows a depiction of a wannabe rapper trying to break out from his background and make it big. Does it deliver all it sets out to and do audiences come away feeling everything they should?
Murad (Singh) lives in Dharavi in a slightly dysfunctional family. However, staying in a slum isn’t the be all and end of all of his life, in his own head. He mixes with those around him and also has a girlfriend in Safeena (Bhatt) who he used to go to school with. While at college, he sees a rapper performing and he eventually gets drawn into an opportunity the rapper is providing, impressing on his first meet with him. This leads to further bigger opportunities after he meets Sky (Kalki Koechlin). But is this really enough to get him noticed in the way he wants to be?
Akhtar seems to arrive all over again with this film. Her screenplay, along with Reema Kagti, makes the audiences be absorbed the world of Murad and the other characters. You almost immediately invest in the feelings, the situations, the shortcomings, the positivies and the negativities alike. The carefully etched characters and scenes come together as a treat to the senses somewhat. The colour palette and the positioning of some of the shots show the different world that the slums are and the communities that live there. This is all aside from the actual storytelling that happens, showing the rapper community within Mumbai. It can be said that, as a viewer, you fall for this story fully and hard – the love, the struggle, the dreams, the realities. This is because you are positioned very cleverly amongst the community itself almost. This is particularly effective as a narrative perspective because, as a filmmaker, Akhtar absolutely wants all those watching to feel what the characters are going through. She achieves this exceptionally.
It has to be said that the most interesting character of the lot is Safeena and Bhatt plays her very well. Right from the first appearance when Safeena embarks on a bus right to the final glimpse of her as part of the concert audience, Bhatt shows how effortlessly she can creep into your psyche with each character she plays. Safeena is Muslim and trying to abide by the rules set by her parents but the way she finds her way through and follows her heart is so endearing. She stops at nothing to get what she wants and makes it known when she’s unhappy or even when she’s content. It’s difficult to imagine any other actress playing this role in quite the way Bhatt has. Her on-screen pairing with Singh is something very special. Their love story is well-rooted within the overall plot and their off-screen comfort level is easy to see as, on-screen, they are a couple who are trying to keep their reality away from their loved ones, which they’ve been doing for nine years. Singh’s rendition of Murad is truly delightful to watch. He totally transforms into every character he takes on and this one is no different. He camouflages himself perfectly right from the first scene and this is so important within the story – it comes across as raw and, more importantly, evokes a heart-wrenching and natural performance in him, which is the film’s USP. You don’t need to have watched any of Singh’s previous work to see that this is an actor who prides himself in pushing the boat. A huge part of what makes Singh’s performance a standout one in ‘Gully Boy’ is that he gets the body language completely spot on. As a boy from the slums, he shows vulnerability when he needs to but as he begins to get more noticed, he becomes a rap artiste and imbibes the attitude that comes with the art. You can see this body language changes considerably when Murad is around Safeena because of the comfort level he feels and at the same time when he’s around his family, you can tell there’s tension in his mind. Siddhant Chaturvedi is one actor that many will find familiar and that’s because he was the young man in Amazon Prime’s ‘Inside Edge’ who was an outsider trying to fit into the cricketing world. From playing that unforthcoming character to playing MC Sher in ‘Gully Boy’, his transformation is also evident and incredible. He plays the cool and suave MC Sher with much vigour and should be appreciated for his performance. Vijay Raaz as Murad’s father is someone who manages to set the tone of Murad’s life even when they’re not sharing scenes. The scenes they do come together in are particularly amazing to watch and are filled with emotions you can feel yourself in your own gut. Aside from this, Koechlin plays a refreshing and breezy role who moves the story along considerably. She’s got this kind of role down to a tee and should be appreciated in the way she manages to do this once again in ‘Gully Boy’. The other mentions are Manj from Manj Musik and Bobby Friction from UK’s BBC Asian Network making an appearance in the “rap-off” part – it’s good to see them have short roles in an important part of the story.
The music of the film has been raved about for so many weeks. The songs that stand out within the film are Teri Gully Mein and Apna Time Aayega. However, the other songs and raps as well as the background score go a long way in providing the right feel for the film overall.
‘Gully Boy’ is most definitely worth the wait and it deserves the praise it’s been receiving. The only thing that could have been better is its length. There could easily be half an hour cut out from the intricate story which would have made it engaging that much more. Having said that, this is a fitting tribute and highlight of the rapping communities within Mumbai. With Singh showing the struggles the community often faces, it’s evident that this was a story that needed to be told and there is noone better than Akhtar to tell it, quite frankly. She’s shown once again how much she understands her craft, the actors she works with and the needs of the audiences. While many are calling ‘Gully Boy’ a performance of a lifetime for Singh, it is still very much Akhtar’s baby. And it’s a baby that totally consumes you.