Loosely based on the lives of rappers Naezy (Naved) and Divine (Vivian Fernandes) who went from slums to stardom, Gully Boy explores the life of Murad (played by Ranveer Singh). Murad is a destitute university student living in the slums of Mumbai, whose dreams and ambitions do not match the reality around him. Murad’s reality includes an abusive father who has taken a second wife, a suffering and broken mother, deadbeat friends and no respite from the interminable life of poverty he is born into. Amidst this life of squalor, Murad is inspired and encouraged by a dj and rapper, MC Sher, to discover his talent for rapping and channel his angst through poetry. Sher mentors Murad after he chokes during his first rap battle : “Apnay andar ka lava phat kay bahar aanay dey”.
A Gripping Narrative
MC Sher takes Murad under his wing and introduces him to the world of underground rap in Mumbai. Gully Boy is, however, more than just a story about Murad’s talent for rapping; it is a coming of age which depicts the palpable struggles of surviving in the adverse part of the city of dreams, juxtaposed against the lives of its more affluent residents. Zoya Akhtar uses emotion, humor and brilliant cinematography to depict the stark dichotomy between these two very different worlds that exist within the same city.
The songs and lyrics play a huge part in bringing the narrative together. Hefty lyrics paired with familiar beats are strewn across the movie with a natural progression and do not seem forced. While the rap battles may have dragged on a bit too long for some of the audience, the lyrics keep you hooked.
This compelling narrative comes alive through exceptional performances from the entire cast. Ranveer Singh slips effortlessly into the role of Murad. His portrayal is both sensitive and restrained. It is a far cry from the usually flamboyant actor we are used to seeing onscreen. This role isn’t about showcasing Ranveer Singh, but rather, about adding depth to the wider narrative. His facial expressions and attention to detail are testament to his incredible acting prowess.
Murad’s longtime girlfriend and confidante Safeena Firdausi (played by Alia Bhatt) is the fiesty, intrepid and ambitious female character Indian cinema needs more of. She is passionate about her love for Murad and at the same time, is equally passionate about being a surgeon. She’s not afraid to speak her mind and doesn’t shy away from confrontation. Safeena and Murad’s love story is one which makes us root for them – they share an innate comfort with each other which is incredibly tangible on-screen. Alia Bhatt is captivating as Safeena and Gully Boy is another feather in her burgeoning acting cap. She switches between demure and gritty with remarkable ease.
The supporting cast helps elevate the movie from good to outstanding. Siddhant Chaturvedi delivers a breakout performance as the vibrant MC Sher. Siddhant has a very likable screen presence and he plays the character with instinctive honesty. Vijay Verma as Murad’s crooked friend Moeen is perfect for the role; he casually swings between likable, loyal and straight up detestable, making a layered character like Moeen seem easy to play. Another exceptional performance is that of Vijay Raaz who plays Murad’s father; he is a stern, traditional patriarch who adheres to the belief that “naukar ka beta naukar hi rahay ga”.
Kalki Koechlin’s role is short and perhaps the only weak link in the movie. It seems slightly forced and contributes to the long running time of the film.
Gully Boy is a must-watch. Murad’s journey is believable and relatable. It is a strong reminder to nurture your talent and not give up on your dreams. Murad utters poignantly while having stayed awake all night waiting in the car for his employer to exit an A-list party: “Apna time ayega”. These words stay with us, as the dreamers amongst us walk out of that cinema. Suddenly, the world is full of a million possibilities!