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Saturday, April 27, 2019

Gully Boy - A Movie Review


It’s been a while since I have written a movie review. That is because, recently, none of the movies that I have watched have been interesting, different or interestingly different. Of course there were a few good movies like Andhadhun and Badhai Ho. However, despite being entertaining and fresh, they stop at a surface level treatment of the central subjects and characters. That is where Gully Boy stands out! On one hand, there is a raw and realistic representation of life in a slum, on the other hand, it is refreshingly stylish in treating its central theme - Hip Hop. 

**Spoiler Alert - Watch the film and then read the review.

Plot - Gully boy is a coming of age drama film about a young undergrad student named Murad. He comes out as a reserved person. His dysfunctional family and the evident class distinction that exists in our society are his two major concerns. Writing lyrics for rap songs is his escape from these miseries. When he meets a mentor in MC Sher, a rapper from his college, he is encouraged to try singing his own songs. He is thus motivated to develop his interest in the art form but most importantly, to fight the battles within himself and emerge confident and victorious. 

Story and Themes - Though not a biography, the story is inspired by those of real life rappers and their struggle. The story deals with relevant themes like Class distinction, Domestic violence, Dysfunctional family, Dignity of labour, Friendship, Love, Poverty and Struggle. However, I think the central theme of this movie is art; how art transcends everything else and opens up a new perspective towards life. 

Art - Art sets one free. It enables us to erase the differences we have created among ourselves in the name of caste, religion, race and class. One of the most important scenes in the film that subtly puts it through is when Murad (Played by Ranveer Singh) asks Sky (Played by Kalki Koechlin) - "Why are you interested in me inspite being aware of my background?" She answers - "You are an artist, aren't you? Where you come from, what you bring, doesn’t matter." That response puts forth a powerful thought that art is one of the, if not the only means to blur the barriers between people and it allows us to see each other as humans. However cliché to might sound, it is the truth and is beautifully depicted in this film. Although, it is important to note that the problem endures when one needs to go back and continue living in that world of differences. 

Class distinction and Poverty -  A classic scene that shows class distinction is the one where Murad is driving back his owner’s daughter from a night club. The difference in status between them prevents him from consoling her while she sits in the back seat, drenched in tears and depressed about something that is bothering her. In another scene, he is asked by the owner about his qualification. When he says that he is almost finishing his under-graduation, the owner warns his daughter that she needs to raise her standards from that of his level and pursue higher studies. In another scene, a bouncer at a pub shoos away Murad, a driver who is approaching to listen to the music being played inside. The director does not shy away from showing the reality. The display of poverty is raw and blunt. Despite the poverty that reigns over all the characters, they are survivors. They have learnt to deal with their situation and are dreaming to succeed in life. The scene in which a few foreign tourists visit Murad’s house in the slums is interesting as well. It indicates that poverty has now reduced itself to a level of attraction or entertainment and the poor too know how to encash on that (By demanding money for the visit). 

Dignity of Labour -  India is terrible when it comes to respecting daily labourers. Dignity labour is almost nonexistent here. The film, in various occasions,  tries to point out this flaw in our society. However, the best response is when Murad is referred to as "Naukar" (Servant) by his uncle. When his father accepts that allegation without an argument, he on the other hand responds thus - "Naukar hein kyon ki Naukri Karta hein, Mehnet Ka kaam hein, imandari ka kaam hein, kisi ka ghulam nahi hein…." (We are workers because we work, it is a labour, a work of honesty, that does not mean that we are someone's slave). 

Dysfunctional family - I think this theme is very evident through out the film. So, I would refrain myself from elaborating on it. It would be discussed further in various other sections of the review. 

Traditions and Beliefs - The film heavily mocks the traditions and beliefs that seem more important to some of the characters in the film than their freedom. Though not explicitly mentioned, many scenes show the mindset of an orthodox muslim family, that, in the name of culture, religion and traditions, tend to turn a blind eye towards the changing world and unapologetically embraces injustice. There is one scene in which Safeena tells her mother that her life is all about going to college, clinic and returning home. Her mother is shocked at this comment and asks her - "Toh Allah, aur kya karna hein tujeh?" (Oh God! what else do you want from life?). This shows how blinded one can be by their beliefs that other perspectives may seem highly irrational to them and most importantly, beyond their scope of understanding. There is another scene where Murad’s uncle tells his mother after she has left her husband - "You want to leave your husband and you expect me to help you in it?" Despite knowing all about the  abusive nature of his brother-in-law, despite the knowledge of the injustice done to his sister and the suffering that the family is enduring, he chooses to side his traditional values.  This is a sad truth in our society. It exists in every religion; in its own degree. People feel that they should give importance to the rites and rituals more than human emotions and interactions. 

Dialogues -  The dialogues in this movie deserves a special mention. They play a crucial role in taking the story forward. The beauty of these sentences are that they are subtle, but extremely powerful. They hide several layers of thought in them. Unlike being verbose and loaded with emotions, like in most Hindi films, these dialogues are concise. Here are a few that stand out - 

"Safeena ke bina mera zindagi naa... aisey ho jayenge jaise... jaise bina bachpan ke bada ho gaya jaise." (Life without Safeena would be like, having grown up without a childhood).

There is a fierce quarrel between Murad’s father and his mother where both engage in rapid exchange of sarcastic and hurting words between each other. While objecting to his second marriage, she says - 

"Doosre Biwi ko mere bistar mein lake sula diya, ye tameez hein?"  (Is it decency to bring an other woman and make her sleep on my bed?). 

He immediately defends himself with a counter attack, by asking - "Haan sula diya! Tune kya sejh sajake raki hein mere liye idar?" (Yes I have, as if you have kept my bed decorated every night). 

That line may seem very simple but hides a powerful insult. He is indirectly telling that she hasn't been sensuous or seductive enough. No doubt she is mad at that comment and asks him - 

"Tune kabi seeka hein muje kaise choona hai karke?" (Have you ever learnt how to touch me?). 

Again a one liner that paints a picture of domestic violence and abuse without being shown on screen. She goes further and asks him - 

"So, have I brought another man home? (For having been treated unfairly)."  

Another interesting conversation between Murad and Moeen  - 

Murad - "Mushkil mein paddela Hein bhai."  (I am in a difficulty Bro.) 
Moeen - "Assaan kiske liye hein?" (Who is it (Life) easy for then?)

And the best line of all - 

"Mein nahi badlta apna sapna, sachayi se mail kane ke vaste....Mein apna Sachayi Badlega,  jo mere Sapne se mail kaye." (I shall never change my dreams to match my reality. I shall change my reality, so that it matches with my dream). 

Vijay maurya who has written the dailogues of the film deserves all the credit. With his subtle but powerful one liners that enclose so many emotions within those few words, stimulates thoughts in the viewers mind. He also plays the uncle of Murad and does a fine job as a supporting cast as well. 

Screenplay and direction - 

Gully boy is undoubtedly Zoya Akhtar's best film till date. Screenplay of the film is incredible. Every scene seems to smoothly flow into the next and unfold this heart warming story. Some scenes do stand out though. 

The scene where Murad and Safeena meet for the first time is refreshingly new in Indian cinema. Without a single dialogue, a lot is conveyed about their relationship. 

Another in which Murad is listening to hip hop music in order to avoid the ‘noise’ outside when his father brings home his new bride is interesting. This scene shows the disconnect or escape he longs for from the reality and his chosen means to achieve it. 

The film is mostly shot in real locations as opposed to sets - The trains and play ground where they hangout, bus stand and a bridge in the slum where the two love birds often meet etc.

Undoubtedly the finest scene, not just in this film, but in world cinema would be the one in the car. Murad drives his wealthy owner’s daughter back from a night club. She is depressed about some unknown reason and is in tears. Murad feels empathetic towards her as a human but refrains from consoling her because of the class distinction that mentally separates them, despite their physical closeness. It is there that he writes the lyrics of his song Doori. Doori is one of my favourite tracks in the film. 

The song is very beautifully shot with montage of commoners and labourers blankly looking at the camera. This is typical Zoya Akhtar style that one can remember seeing in her movie "Luck by chance" and  the one she co-wrote the story for - "Talaash". 

This scene reminded me of an article I had written a while back about a dead body of an unknown man lying on a street and how people who were indifferent or ignorant towards him during his lifetime, suddenly take notice of his death, that in some way, seems to obstruct their daily routine. I have often introduced this theme in my writing. In my short story called Whisperers, a taxi driver talks about how he overhears the conversations of his passengers and that in some way makes him feel connected to them. However, they on the other hand,  do not take notice of him and ride along as though he does not even exist. In the movie, I simply loved the scene and the treatment of this subject. 

There is another interesting scene between Safeena's parents and the parents of the boy whose marriage proposal is being discussed. They inform them that their son is expecting a promotion and a transfer soon. Hence, they want to get him married because they feel that it would be difficult for him to live in a new city all by himself. For someone with a similar mindset, the scene would not seem funny but those who can catch the irony in this sentence can't stop laughing. 

Another brilliant scene is the one with Murad leaving home along with his mother and brother. During his confrontation with his father in an earlier scene, his grandmother had supported her son (Murad's father). But when she sees them pack their bags and leave, she is dumbstruck. She knows that the Raziya had been the working force in the house. It would be difficult, if not impossible to run the house without her. It is then that one feels how important she was in that family. Such was their dependency on her. The old lady looks at them walk away with a mixed feeling of uncertainty and fear. She simply says - "Ab mere kya hoyega?" (Now what about me?) Murad replies - "You have educated your son properly, haven’t you?" Indicating that since you claim that your son has been raised well, you would be taken care of, accordingly. That response by Murad is filled with bitterness and sarcasm towards the grandmother who changed her sides almost immediately. Layers and layers of emotion hides within this scene where one could see a woman turn against a woman, a blind love of a mother towards her son, despite his wrong actions. 

Moreover, there are many scenes in this film that necessarily do not take the story forward and could be easily omitted, but they are the ones which stand out and make you think about the central themes of the movie. They make the story telling much more interesting. For example, there is a scene where the grandmother enquires about the party Murad had driven his owners to, the previous night. She is curious to know how the rich live, will they sleep all morning if they partied all night? But beyond that it is also seen that she is more comfortable asking these to her grandson rather than her son who was driving the car before.

There is another one with Murad waiting for his owners outside a pub and the drivers are discussing Dhal making. I found that scene hilarious and very natural. The scene slowly extends towards pointing at dignity of labour when the Murad is silently shooed away when he approaches the pub to listen to the rap music being played inside. Social discrimination  is what tends to motivate the boy to pen down his frustrations and thus putting it all away. 

Another scene in which Murad measures the bathroom of Sky’s house is simply incredible. That scene says so much without a single dialogue in it. One more is when the Mother and the sons are having dinner in their new house. It is the only time that we see the younger brother speak. He is otherwise seen helplessly and silently observing the events that unfold at home. Walking away from an abusive father/husband seems to set them all free.

Another scene which made me laugh out loudly for its brilliance and timing is when the aunt , in middle of a very intense scene, comes to Murad and says - "If music interests you so much, why don’t you sing Ghazal? Your uncle loves them a lot." That was a brilliant dialogue and insanely funny at that very serious moment in the film. 

There are some scenes shot at night in the poem Doori that are brilliant. Such as, a car moving over a flyover and with street lights rolling over the screen as the car passes by and thus creating a beautiful light effect. The montage of daily labourers in the song Doori is again very well shot with a clair-obscur effect to the portraits. The candescent light illuminates the faces and presents clearly the emotions behind. Though all shots are amazing in the the song, my favourite are the one with a few men and two dogs, the one with a few Rajasthani looking women looking into the camera with a sad expression and the one with a construction worker eating a mango. 

Characters and performances - 



Murad - Murad aka Gully boy is quiet and reserved. However, he does not display any passive aggressiveness towards his abusive father. He does not revolt back until his father misbehaves with his mother. It is only then that Murad retaliates. Most importantly, his character seems real. The development in his character is very organic. It is not filmy in any sense. Art liberates him and introduces to certain people who help him shape his personality. However, art does not necessarily always feed your stomach. He has his friends and love interest who are a constant support to him. And just when one thinks that he is too good to be true, the writer introduces a flaw in him when he cheats on his girl friend and for a moment, gets carried away with his new found success and friendships. 

Speaking of Performance, this is one of the best performances of Ranveer Singh along side that in "Dil Dadkne Do". Ya, it does not have to always be over the top, loud characters like Khilji to prove acting abilities. An actor who has mastered subtlety and can convey emotions and ideas through silence is according to me, a fine actor. Unfortunately, many viewers consider characters that over-emote as superior. However, I do feel that he looks a bit older for the role but I can hardly imagine an other actor in his place. One of his best scenes is when he is showing his mother the music video he shot. That conversation is so natural that Ranveer totally disappears into being Murad in it. Underplaying this character, for Ranveer singh, would have been a challenge, given his loud and energetic personality otherwise. 

Safeena - Safeena is a girl who is extremely intelligent, ambitious and madly in love with her childhood friend. She can go to any extreme for him. She is often found masterfully lying to her parents to be with Murad. Hence she is innocently manipulative. She knows how to emotionally blackmail her father into getting what she wants. It is her survival tactics against her aggressive mother. As much as she is good with Murad and true to her love, she is flawed by excessive possessiveness for him and aggression towards those who she thinks have wronged her. Her mother is abusive and one scene where her mothers hits her violently hints at the source of her aggressive behaviour. Her mendacity is a result of restrictions that is imposed on her due to traditions and cultures defined by her religion or society. 

Alia Bhatt is spot on with her expressions. May it be when she is lying to her parents about Murad, in front of Albina, or when she is jealous about Murad making an album with Sky or when she is watching him record for the first time, she delivers a perfect performance. The fight scene between Safeena and Albina is hilarious and brilliantly shot.  Alia always rocks! And no, the fact that I am a fan of her acting has not biased me towards this appreciation. She is flawless in almost every scene. My favourite scene of hers is the one during her breakup with Murad. She really feels the emotion in the scene. Also, she successfully imitates the local muslim accent. 

Sky - Sky is a cultural shock for Murad. She is one of the most free spirited artists or person he has ever met in his life. She introduces him to the world of art and free thinking. I love the scene where she takes Murad on a night drive around the city along with her friends. For him, she comes out as a girl who is extremely opinionated about things. The song sequence conveys some interesting messages that questions body discrimination, racism and politics.  They go painting on the walls of the city and leave back notes such as "Brown and beautiful" in front of a fairness cream ad poster; a note saying " I am hungry, feed me!" kind of notes next to photographs of skinny models. While she and her friends, exposed to much more in the world, stand out as creative and opinionated, Murad, on the other hand, remains very naive while all he writes is - "Roti, Kapda aur Makaan (Food, Cloth and Shelter - The three basic needs of man)+ Internet" 

Kalki has done justice to this role. But she seems Kalki herself in it than the character. It appears to me that she has been playing only these kind of roles over and over again and it might be time for her to explore other dimensions as an actor. 

MC Sher - MC Sher is a very interesting character who encourages Murad to develop his interest in hip hop. He is a mentor and Big-brother kind of figure in Murad’s life. It is very clear from the beginning that Murad looks up to Sher. Siddanth Chaturvedi is impressive but at times he seems to put a lot of effort to appear cool. His favourite dialogue "Hard Hein bhai" seems less natural at places. But overall, he has done a great job and is undoubtedly a star in making. His best scene is when he looses the rap battle. His expression showed disappointment which he quickly covers up with the excitement to acknowledge his friend and disciple's victory. 

Moeen - Vijay Varma is out standing as Murad’s friend. Moeen is a completely messed up character, nevertheless,  a survivor. This is a grey character with some good traits and some flawed images. Though it is never displayed by scenes that he too is disturbed or affected by the fact that Murad now has new friends from the elite class, it becomes evident in one dialogue he masterfully slips in while discussing Safeena after she has a fight with Sky. He says -  "Even I deserve to be part of your english-speaking group of friends." 

Murad's Dad - Vijay Raaz is as always, brilliant. While on one hand he makes you hate him for his abusive nature, on the other, you sympathise with him in the end when Murad makes him realise that his beliefs could be wrong and just his perspective. He has simply accepted their reality as their fate. 

Murad's Mom - Amruta Subash shines in the role of Murad’s mother. One heart touching scene where she is at her best is when she has an argument with her husband about his second marriage. She turns hysterical when he ignores her and closes the door. That scene can make stones cry. 

Apart from these central characters, there are a few others who are refreshing. For example, the Grandmother is simply brilliant. Murad’s friend Salman has delivered a believable and noticeable performance. Safeena’s dad, who comes out as a liberal thinking, matured man stuck in an orthodox setup. He does understand his daughter’s concerns and tries to help her in the best manner he can while remaining in the boundary defined by the community or religion. 

One character that can easily go unnoticed is this boy who comes to see Safeena with a marriage proposal. He does not have a single dialogue in the film but he is outstanding in every frame that he is in. Initially when his parents are talking about his job and possible transfer, he is seen blushing at the praises and his achievements. There is slight shyness and lot of pride in his expression. 

Murad’s uncle played by Vijay maurya is an interesting character. He is a dominant personality and despite the suffering of his sister and nephew, he choses to remain loyal to his religion and traditions. 

Music - The music of this film is fantastic. Despite being mostly of the same genre, a noticeable variation in every song makes this album unique. 18 songs, for the first time in Indian cinema, does not look too much. This is a story about music and music in itself is a character in this film. My favourite tracks are - Doori (Poem and song), Jeene mein Aye Mazaa and Kab se Kab tak. The rest are great too but these touched me the most. 

Similarities - I don’t think I have seen any film of this kind before. The story did remind me though of the film "A guide to recognising the saints". It reminded me so much of this film that I was fearing that MC Sher would end up dying in this film like Mike in that movie. I simply could not watch that heart breaking scene that kills the most lively and ambitious character in the movie. Yes the background of Murad is very similar to that of Dito and the character of Moeen resembles that of Antonio from this film. But they could be just a coincidence. But apart from that they are completely different films. 

Undoubtedly, this is one of the finest films in the world of cinema. I feel proud that this is an Indian film and I am glad that Indian audience are getting used to subtlety. It is high time that we say good bye to melodramatic stories and elaborate and obvious dialogues and screenplays and make realistic cinema instead. Because if films do not evolve, so will not the audience. 

I leave you with the beautiful poem from the film called Doori - 


Doori 

Kehne ko hum pass hai par
Kitni doori hai
Yeh bhi kaisi mazboori hai

(Despite being so close by, there exists a distance between us. 
What kind of a helplessness is this?)

Tumse hum dardi bhi
Nahi kar sakta main
Mere bas ki baat nahi hai

(I can’t even sympathise with you, such is my status.)

Main yeh bahte aansu pochun
Utni meri aukaat nahi hai

(Neither am I worthy of wiping those tears)

Main bhi yahin hoon
Tum bhi yahin ho

(I am right here and so are you)

Par sach ye hai
Main hoon kahin
Tum aur kahin

(But the truth is that, we are poles apart)

Kehne ko hum pass hai par
Kitni doori hai
Ye bhi kaisi mazboori hai

(One may say that we are close by, But there exists an unseen distance between us. 
What kind of a helplessness is this?) 

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