Zoya Akhtar's film, Gully Boy, has received much publicity thanks to its teasers and its PR machinery, that has been in overdrive mode, sending out feelers to all and sundry about what a promising film this is. Amidst all this hullabaloo are also underground rap sensations Naezy and Divine whose stories have come to the forefront, thanks to the buzz generated by the film's publicists. Even if you were not clued in to the underground rap scene in Mumbai earlier, there is no escaping the duo now. However, that is merely a great smokescreen, the truth is that Zoya Akhtar's Gully Boy, is actually a copycat Indian version of a 2002 Hollywood film, 8 Mile, based on the famous hip-hop rapper Eminem’s life, starring himself and Kim Bassinger. In Gully Boy, only the backdrop has been cleverly changed to suit Indian audiences so that there is that quintessential Indian connect.
Even the movie posters have a striking resemblance.
In 8 Mile, (the title is derived from 8 Mile Road that runs between a predominantly black settlement and a predominantly white settlement in Detroit, Michigan) Eminem’s family is poor, they live in a trailer and are about to be evicted. In Gully Boy, Ranveer Singh's (Murad) family lives in one of the world’s biggest slums, Dharavi 17, (pronounced Dharavi Satra) and eventually move out.
If Eminem's mother (Kim Bassinger) is having problems with her boyfriend, in Gully Boy, Ranveer’s mother is having problems with his father (Vijay Raaz) who has married for the second time and brought home his second wife to live alongside his family. In 8 Mile, Eminem has a kid sister and in Gully Boy, Ranveer has a kid brother. Though Eminem drives an Oldsmobile Delta in 8 Mile, where he and his friends hang out and smoke weed, Ranveer ends up as a driver and a reluctant car thief in Gully Boy, breaking into cars and taking them out for a spin late at night, just for kicks! And oh, he and his friends also hang out in stationary local trains. Also, Ranveer does not smoke weed, only cigarettes, but his friend and partner-in-crime, does deal in weed. In 8 Mile, Eminem, works on the shop floor of a car factory whereas in Gully Boy, Ranveer Singh, works in his uncle’s office. Then there is the scene in 8 Mile when Eminem freezes in front of an audience and the exact same thing happens to Ranveer in Gully Boy. (Need I go on? I’ll leave the rest for you to figure, if you eventually do choose to spend your hard-earned money on watching the film.)
Gully Boy, if watched in isolation, (for all those who have not watched 8 Mile) is quite a mediocre film highlighting the cliched stereotypes of expectations versus reality, women in purdah as opposed to the free woman or juxtaposing the lives of the affluent vis-à-vis the have-nots. But it must be said that the film does have its moments, thanks to the generous doses of humour, which come to its rescue and which have been well-infused into the film to break away from the monotony of the characters’ mostly humdrum lives. The slum tourism scene is a case in point.
About the performances, Ranveer is a cool cat with latent energy which, as the film progresses and his rapping gets better, turns into a kinetic energy of sorts and he is a delight to watch, as always, thanks to the power of his versatility. However, it is Alia Bhatt (Safina) who is kicking some serious ass in the film and once again in Gully Boy, we get to see her stellar performance where she takes the role of a possessive girlfriend to a whole new level and shows that love is an art. Both Ranveer and Alia have delivered very good performances, but Alia Bhatt, more so, because she is singular and is not aping any character from 8 Mile. The other actors in the film have also been cast well, such as Kalki Koechlin as Sky and Siddhant Chaturvedi as Shrikant a.k.a. M.C. Sher, who also deserve praise because they do full justice to their roles.
Gully Boy definitely isn’t a crash course in the parsing of words or learning the nuances of the iambic pentameter. It has got its fair share of clash of words, yes, but then, India always had the tradition of the Qawwali, as a genre, where one group, accompanied by a lead singer, took on the other group and we also saw a clash of words there. This is not very different; it is a war of words, yes, by a solo performer, where poetry is set to a rhythm. Only here, the themes of abject poverty, muted anger and social injustices are often draped in crass words as opposed to a Qawwali which mostly dealt with amorous themes and had exquisite words strung together.
If words like “Tu nanga hi toh aaya hai, kya ghanta lekar jayega,” are right up your gully, go watch the film, otherwise, it is easily avoidable, because frankly, the Urdu and Bambaiya Hindi words are merely tukhbandi (rhyming) and nothing more. The words in Gully Boy are jagged, raw and brazen and in that they come very close to Eminem’s song-writing style.
Gully Boy is that kind of a film which you can watch maybe, six months down the line, when you want to while away time, when there’s nothing much on TV and when you’re too lazy to switch on your laptop and log into your favourite streaming platform. Whether the poetry in the film will act as an aperitif to stimulate your mind really depends on the kind of person you are.
(The story was first published in The Week)