My Review of Zoya Akhtar's Gully Boy starring Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Siddhant Chaturvedi & Kalki Koechlin

Inspired by the lives of Mumbai rappers Naezy and Divine, Gully Boy is the story of Murad (Ranveer Singh), Safeena (Alia Bhatt), Sher (debutant Siddhant Chaturvedi) and everyone around them in the underbelly of the city of dreams.

A coming of age musical drama that reiterates that every dream is relevant in a fresh new package for Hindi films that is entertaining through out and makes you a part of it slowly and steadily with it’s calm and singular narrative.

The film Directed by one of the most meta film makers of our times; Zoya Akhtar, who is so far known to be making great movies but through rich people’s stories takes a leap of sorts to a world possibly unknown to her with the help of her co-writer Reema Kagti.

It’s also a rare attempt to show the contemporary representation of muslims in popular Hindi cinema, that is not about war, religion, revenge, politics or crime in itself though making passes and dwelling on some of the cliches, it normalises it as a heedless information in the larger narrative after a very very long time in my memory of Hindi cinema.

Nagesh Kukunoor’s 2005 hit Iqbal is one movie that I remember in context; also an underdog story and a coming of age story, of a poor farmer’s son who is told every time he doesn’t cut through that his life can not get better and his dreams are irrelevant but eventually realising his dream with all the hardships and sheer talent and will.

All the characters in Gully Boy are on an unmitigated passage set by themselves, which is pleasing, what is problematic though that they don’t come to a close in the end of the film. You don’t find out what’s going to happen with all the characters other than the lead Murad. There’s no closure and Zoya depends on the audience’s interpretation based on the information she has given about each of them.

The soundtrack of the film that drives you to the theatres is missed at times within the film. Jingoistan is played in the background of a conversation, while Jasleen Royal’s soulful cameo is cut short to take the story forward. Azaadi is misplaced in a montage where Murad seeks independence by stealing cars on Mumbai streets.

There’s a longing to feel and hear the music the way it should on the big screen that you will have long after you are out of the theatres. The Rap battles are fun and use the rappers from Mumbai’s street as and when to full advantage and purpose.

Cinematographer Jay Oza is the real star of the film, he lights up the film so well and gives you the indie vibe of the film so right that you stay on with everyone despite the fault-lines in the script. There’s one short scene during the breakthrough recording of Murad’s first track in a small studio in a chawl where the camera stays on Ranveer while he is singing on the mic and looking straight to the camera and you can feel that he is singing to you and his naysayers and telling them #ApnaTimeAyega.

There are no punches in the story but everyone else contributes to pack little blows in this Indian/Mumbaikar 8 Miles (2002 movie starring Eminem with pretty much the same plot). Nitin Baid edits the film well but keeps it plain, calm and simple, making it lack pace and urgency to achieve the hero’s goals!

Ranveer is all heart in his performance, with Gully Boy performance you are guaranteed that Ranveer Singh not just looks his parts but he becomes them. He is an extremely physical Actor, he doesn’t just changes his garb for the films, he becomes the character right from the physicality of it, age, language, energy, perspective and might.

He is what he plays on screen and not the flamboyant superstar when he is off of it which makes us the audience invested in his characters as much as Ranveer Singh the star and him one of the best storytellers of our times. He has done everything right in Gully Boy, he adds to the story with sheer work that he’s put in to hide the loopholes in the screenplay with performance in a largely unidirectional story.

Alia Bhatt as Safeena is everything. Under-utilised so much that the makers can make another film just to tell her story well and I’ll pay to watch it. Her presence lights up the scenes as a daunting, overzealous, violent but insecure girlfriend who is pro-choice, fights for her rights with her orthodox middle class parents, keeps her education before her love but knows how to get everything. Alia Bhatt is such a natural that you can watch the movie just for the feisty performer.

The debutant Siddhant Chaturvedi as Murad’s mentor MC Sher is such a discovery! Between Alia & Ranveer who can overpower any co-actor with their brilliant performances, Siddhant shines the brightest. When you can easily become a shadow of the lead pair, Siddhant who plays the part of the more experienced street rapper takes the driver seat in this drama. His dialogue delivery, rapping are all real matching the might of his superstar acolyte through and through. He is a very bright actor with immense screen presence. 

Other characters in the movie are wasted even when they do their parts right. Kalki Koechlin (Shweta/SKY) is wasted completely. Vijay Raaz, Vijay Verma bring their A game as Murad’s father and friend respectively while Vijay Maurya the dialogue writer keeps it simple and effective as Murad’s uncle. The unforgettable Amruta Subhash (Raman Raghav 2.0) is such a brilliant actor as she plays Murad’s mother, you feel her pain with her. Everyone else in the film are caricaturish and are given dialogues and scenes just to tell Murad’s story which makes the screenplay look broken in parts which despite brilliant casting by Karan Mally & Nandini Shrikent fails your expectations of the film that could have been a masterpiece but misses the mark there.

The costume, make-up, art and production teams contribute to their roles and give a very very realistic looking characters and film that looks beautiful even in the dirt and madness of Dharavi.

Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti’s writing takes away from the film, what it gives. It is an engaging film that falls on the burden of expectations it gives with its Marketing, trailers and blockbuster music. You wanted more and expected more from the maker of cult films like Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara and Luck By Chance.

The film closes abruptly and then shows montages of Murad’s making it large moment in a fully lit theatre (PVR in my case) as if they didn’t get the memo that there’s more to the film before the curtains should’ve come down.

In the end, my expectations let me down more than the film in it’s entirety which is vibrant and entertaining in most parts with winning performances. I’ll give it 3 and a 1/2 star.