Gully Boy

wogma rating: Watch for sure, preferably in theatre (?)

quick review:

You are not once distracted from the run-down underdog story, the almost voyeuristic gaze at the poor, and even the touch-and-go attitude towards a range of serious issues like wealth and gender inequality, domestic violence, drug abuse and parental pressure. That’s the power of its dialogue, lyrics, production design, performances, and of course its music.

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Director: Zoya Akhtar
Running time: 155 minutes
Genres: Romance, Social
More Movie Info

Gully Boy - Preview

The Gully Boy trailer is full of striking contrasts. The milieu is raw, and in some sense, crude, and yet the first word that pops to your mind while watching it is “refreshing”. The lyrics and the dialogue are written with a lot of thought, but they still seem honest coming from whatever you can make of the character.

Ranveer Singh’s character itself accommodates both a shy, diffident public performer who is actually quite sure of himself and what he wants. Alia Bhat seems like she is the usual loud-mouthed stereotype of a liberated urban woman, but still the stereotypes are being broken.

And of course, I am looking forward to a Zoya Akhtar film that steps away from the themes of camaraderie within the upper/upper-middle-class socio-economic strata and takes on a story in a completely different social setup.

Some of the lyrics I heard too don’t say anything new, but still, carry energy that make you look forward to listening to them within the context of the film. While we gear ourselves not to be disappointed this Valentine’s Day, we have much appreciated 18 songs to keep us company.

Gully Boy releases on 14 February 2019.

Music Reviews:
Bollywood Hungama – "3.5/5"
Firstpost - "A rousing, eclectic soundtrack that sets the benchmark for a trailblazing genre"
Music Aloud - "4/5"
Times Now – "3.5/5"
pinkvilla - "80/100"

- meeta, a part of the audience

When you have a run-of-the-mill story to tell, you have to compensate for it using the other means at your disposal. And seems like the makers of Gully Boy were well aware of the ask. The tone, texture and technicalities of the film are used to such an advantage that the predictability is forgiven. Almost.

And yet, I want to watch the film again. Yes, even an underdog film with a training montage! Hey, it uses rap to preach, so that’s a change!

Regular readers would know how much I value a good story in my films or even how much a standard approach to a typical story irks me. At the movie’s interval, I was stumped when I realised that nothing much has happened in the story. And yet I had to keep up with so many things—the undercurrents, the performances, the background music, each character’s milieu, and of course the snappy lyrics and dialogue. There was so much going on constantly, even when the story was almost at a standstill.

And that might be the most disturbing bit. It’s not like in and itself, the story is not compelling. You can’t but think that the stories of the two real-life inspirations behind the film, rappers Naezy and DIVINE must have had a little more meat in their lives than regular filmy obstacles. Yes, the father, the girlfriend, the friends all seem like forced obstacles to accentuate our protagonist, Murad’s struggle. Were it not for these people, Murad would have smooth-sailed his way to his goals except for a bit of a confidence issue.

But then again, even for this bit, two things work in the film’s favour even. The details of how these complications play out are done very well. And the optimist in me loves the fact that sometimes things to fall in place for the unfortunate. You feel like brushing aside the naivete that “follow your passion”, “believe in yourself” are just formulae where you plug in the value for x and lo and behold, success!

The details in the writing make you want to believe in the inherent goodness that human beings can have. Even if the angsty lyrics don’t seem to have a relevant background in the character’s life, it is written so well and played out even better.

When the performances are as refined as they are in Gully Boy, a person watching them cannot (or maybe even should not) be looking for words to describe them. How can one describe the meaning interpreted by a slight shift in Ranveer Singh’s eye or how relatable Alia Bhatt’s frustrated cry for help is or the amusement deduced by Siddhant Chaturvedi’s smirk? While now we know that the first two performances have to be seen to be enjoyed, the new-comer Siddhant’s act is equally unmissable. He plays what we would usually call the lead’s side-kick, Sher. But not really. His act makes him more than that, more than an alter ego. He claims his right to the screen presence he ought to have.

It is also in part because of how the character is written. Similarly, Alia’s Safina is quite fleshed out. She didn’t have to describe how much she loved Murad beyond her jealousy, we just knew.

There was so much going on constantly, even when the story was almost at a standstill.

The funny thing is many bits are obviously forced like say Sher’s backstory or a music producer, Sky’s role. But once you accept them for what they are, there is so much to like. For instance, a peek into a shoe fetish or a streak of feminist angst. And I felt something beyond too. Little observations like a locked cupboard for shoes in a house that’s in a chawl (low-income housing) or a slum dwelling chauffeur being shooed away for bobbing his head to the music leaking through the front door of a pub keep you with the characters.

At the same time, you wonder whether it is because it is coming from makers who might not have seen this in real life. Usually, I try not to connect the real-life personas to the films. But, it is almost as if Zoya Akhtar cannot avoid it. She makes an excellent comment on how problems for people higher up on the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs are still problems. And that when the poor see them, they don’t necessarily resent the attitude. Whenever I think of this film, that one scene of Murad driving his boss’s daughter out of a pub will always come first to mind. And of course, Gully Boy has many, many such gems. Romantic rendezvous on bridges over rivers of plastic sewage, the subtlest of entries for the male lead, the bromance, music depicting the two worlds that one person lives in at the same time, some intriguing fusion music. And all sewn together reasonably well too.

So much so that Ranveer Singh’s clean-shaven chest, a brand new suitcase coming out of a house in a slum, Amruta Subhash looking too young to be Ranveer Singh’s mother because Ranveer Singh seems too young to be a college-going student, some self-referencing by Zoya Akhtar--all stick out. Of course, they can all be explained, but at first instance, they do stick out. Then there is the constant thin line that Gully Boy is treading—becoming a film about poverty tourism in the name of exposing wealth inequality. And yet, I want to watch the film again. Yes, even an underdog film with a training montage! Hey, it uses rap to preach, so that’s a change!

It is difficult to pick whether I want to watch the film again for the performances, or for the spark in the dialogue or for the fresh treatment to the romance and entertainment or to catch up on what I might have missed. But yes, being very aware of how much more could have been better, watch it again, I will.

- meeta, a part of the audience

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Plot Summary

An Indian slum-dweller wants to be a rapper.

What Worked

  • Alia Bhat’s Big B impression when she approaches the girl who texts Murad.
  • The catfight
  • The stolen kisses
  • All the rap scenes
  • The line that Murad says to describe his life without Safina
  • The subtle remark on patriarchy when a character’s mother has given her a punishment but she is still pleading to the father for relief from the punishment to convey that if he said yes, the mother’s punishment wouldn’t matter.

What did not

Note: This section simply lists the things that I did not like in this movie. This is not the overall impression about this movie. Please read the full review here

  • The training montage
  • The video in the slum felt too voyeuristic
  • Safina’s acceptance didn’t go with her character

Parental Guidance:

  • Violence: A few scenes with people being beaten up, including domestic violence
  • Language: A few abusive words, especially in the lyrics.
  • Nudity & Sexual content: A few liplocks. Bare-chested Ranveer Singh
  • Concept: An Indian slum-dweller wants to be a rapper.
  • General Look and Feel: A sepia tone that works well even in an otherwise entertaining film.

Detailed Ratings (out of 5):

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Gully Boy - Cast, crew, links

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155 minutes
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