Gully Boy Film Review: It is Slumdog with Swag! Ranveer ka time aa gaya!

Zoya Akhtar serves up ‘Slumbai’ with pulsating rap music and heart-achingly real performances

Film: Gully Boy

Starcast:  Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Kalki Koechlin, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Vijay Raaz

Director: Zoya Akhtar

This is a faadu picture! As they would say in the streets. Sorry, the gullies. It’s Slumdog with swag. A mainstream rap musical about a Muslim boy from the slums of Dharavi in Mumbai with an ambitious dream, Gully Boy opens on a strong note.

A mild-mannered Ranveer Singh aka Murad Sheikh, who later earns the rapper name Gully Boy, is an unimpressionable lad from a matchbox tenement in an overcrowded slum which foreign tourists pay to see and take home pictures of poverty in Mumbai. He’s a regular collegian who notes down rap lyrics in his notebook, smokes a joint on the tin roofs, from where director Zoya Akhtar pans the camera to the single-roomed houses, trash-filled sewers and narrow streets of Asia’s largest slum.

Stills from Gully Boy

The shy boy has a feisty girlfriend in Alia Bhatt aka Safeena Ali, a middle-class Muslim girl aspiring to be a surgeon whose temper hits stratosphere when she finds other women moving in on him. Then she explodes. And breaks a bottle on singer-producer Sky’s (Kalki Koechlin in a brief, bittersweet role) head in an Irani cafe for getting too close.

Safeena’s flashes of violent jealousy work in symphony with Murad’s insecurities of making it big, the fear of dreaming more than reality has unfairly dumped him with. Murad meets an amateur rapper MC Sher, Siddhant Chaturvedi in a debut standout breakthrough role, who encourages him to write his own lyrics. Murad does, milking the most out of his own life’s trials and tribulations.

Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt in a still from film Gully Boy

Vijay Raaz as Murad’s father gets a second wife and adds to the young lad’s humiliation at home, making him seek respite in friends like Moeen (Vijay Varma) who is a smalltime drug dealer and steals cars to make small bucks. These bits and pieces build up the film’s 2.33 hours’ anonymity-to-fame story in which Murad fights all odds, rebels against socio-economic disparity, and goes against his father who limits his dreams.

What works for Gully Boy are some terrific lines by Vijay Maurya who also plays Murad’s uncle in the film, trying to bind him to a stable job, as he remarks, “Ek naukar ka beta toh naukari hi karta hai.”Backing Zoya’s and co-writer Reema Kagti’s iron grip screenplay (with a few flaws) is lyricist Javed Akhtar’s poetry clubbed with the Hindustani rap soundtrack that’s composed and performed by Indian musicians including Divine and Naezy who are the original inspiration of Gully Boy and Sez, Rishi Rich,Dub Sharma, Jasleen Royal, Ace, Ishq Bector, MC Altaf, MC TodFod, 100 RBH, Maharya, Noxious D, Viveick Rajagopalan, and others. Names that wouldn’t ring a bell unless you were part of the underground Indi hip-hop scene.

Stills from Gully Boy

In the US, where it originated, rap is the music of suffering. A black man pouring out his soul. In Gully Boy, Zoya makes it the chant of the slum boy who wants freedom from the shackles of his subservient life that confine his dreams to the poverty he’s been born into. The foot thumping numbers, which are the nationwide rage at the moment, Azadi, Doori and Asli Hip Hop, hold the film together seamlessly, extracting thunderous applause from the audience.

The Safeena-Murad chemistry, the contemporary Indian rap culture, the sights, sounds and smells of Mumbai on celluloid, and Zoya’s extraction of heart-achingly real performances from every actor in the ensemble cast works in the film’s favour. No prizes for guessing it’s Ranveer’s show. His time has come. He owns every frame except those in which Alia runs solo because she is outstanding too. You know Gully Boy will have a predictable ending but stick to your seats when the credits come up. Picture abhi baki hai, and Gully Boy comes home to a hero’s welcome and reconciliation with the family he disowned and left behind.