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GULLY BOY - A winner in its realistic execution and performances but along with being clichéd, missing the explosion found in its soundtrack and lyrics, ending on an abrupt note. (Review By Bobby Sing)

14 Feb, 2019 | Movie Reviews / 2019 Releases / ALL ABOUT INSPIRED MOVIES / Inspired Movies (Alphabetical) / G

Based on the story of an underdog making his way to the top in the hip-hop culture of his city, Zoya Akhtar’s GULLY BOY is a fine, path-breaking attempt with many noteworthy merits for sure bringing in the good news. But it frankly also left me unsatisfied in the end, asking for more, with a few superficial references and unattended sub-plots concluding on an abrupt note.
Made on the script by Zoya written along Reema Kagti (officially borrowing from the life story of Naezy and Divine – the Indian hip-hop stars), GULLY BOY instantly grabs your attention with the uncelebrated intros of its leading stars (Ranveer and Alia). And then the authentic dialogues make a solid impact right from the opening scene, written by Vijay Maurya, who also confidently plays an important role in the film of Ranveer’s uncle (mother’s brother).
The film further impresses with its eye-catching cinematography, realistic ambience and intense performances taking you into the life of Murad (Ranveer) who gets introduced to the world of rap/hip-hop music through his helpful friends. His longtime girlfriend Safeena (Alia) also supports him lovingly, along with hiding her real self from her well-educated but conservative parents at home. The narration and its onscreen execution no doubt remains way ahead of the usual Hindi films as more real and hard with a fresh and rich colour tone differentiating it from our routine cinema. But at the same time it all remains completely predictable in terms of content and unexpectedly calm too with no explosion of any kind till the very end.
Would love to give you the real picture dividing the review in the following sub-heads with all the required details.
The winning performances
As witnessed in Zoya’s earlier movies, GULLY BOY also has performances as the second most appreciable merit of the film, after its original soundtrack. Once again proving his mettle on screen, here we have Ranveer Singh in a different avatar of a silent angry young man, who rarely becomes violent, mostly conveying his anger through his eyes and facial expressions. Despite enacting an entirely predictable underdog, Ranveer brings in his own swag to the role delivering one of his best performances till date (singing his verses too), but I really wish the director had allowed him to explode instead of just being calm (strictly following her inspiration – disclosed in the later part of the review).
Alia Bhatt, playing her love interest is just terrific as Safeena, being more verbal and violent in her angry expressions than Ranveer. Her chemistry with Ranveer is appealing and she simply glows in her unusual get up of a bold and beautiful Muslim girl. But at the same time her role has nothing to do with the actual storyline of the film and it more or less occurs as a forced parallel track running along the main plot. Kalki Koechlin as the America-returned music producer does her best in the given clichéd role forming the same old familiar love triangle and the rest of the well-chosen supporting cast shines brightly featuring Amruta Subhash (brilliantly playing the suffering mother), Vijay Raaz (as the uncaring father), Vijay Verma (as the friendly crook/drug peddler), Sheeba Chaddha (as Alia’s mother) and more.
However the one actor who honestly turns out to be more relatable and impressive than even Ranveer Singh is Siddhant Chaturvedi as MC Sher, who is so adorably natural scoring the most becoming one of major highlights of the film. Just watch him in the scene where he loses the contest to Ranveer and you might have MC Sher playing more with your mind while walking out of the theater instead of Murad.
The appreciable moments of GULLY BOY
Despite progressing on a very thin, familiar plot of a struggling underdog, GULLY BOY still hits it right with many well-written, appreciable sequences that keep coming in at regular intervals, never allowing you to lose your interest in the film. 
Stating the key ones, it begins with giving no special attention or intros to its leading names defying the set rules of Hindi mainstream cinema. And then has some great lingo used in its dialogues representing the locals having a mass appeal.
Secondly, just look at the names chosen for its characters as the ambitious Ranveer is named Murad meaning Wish, who later gets renamed as Gully Boy just as we have Gully Cricket in our localities. The helpful rapper friend is called Sher, which has two meanings of a lion as well as a couplet in Urdu (representing lyrics). Alia, the girl Murad loves is named Safeena, meaning boat, who helps and encourages him to reach his destination and Kalki, the American returned musician girl is called Sky (representing heights of success).
In another scene, the group goes on painting the town at night writing revolutionary phrases on the glamorous and political posters and billboards. And you just can’t stop praising the thought when one of their friend writes “Brown and Beautiful’ on the board of a fairness cream and Ranveer writes ‘Roti, Kapda, Makaan + Internet’ on a wall. 
Interestingly this particular sequence reminded me of a similar one seen in Shashilal K. Nair’s ANGAAR (1992), in which Om Puri while passing through a newly painted board, picks up the brush and adds ‘is’ in between ‘Bombay’ and ‘Dyeing’ making it ‘Bombay Is Dyeing’.
A thoughtful scene in the film very smartly points towards the way foreigners are too keen to visit our slums for their own social media pictures holding the selfie sticks. And the slum-residents very smartly charge them too for visiting their houses taking a few pictures.
But more importantly, may be it was an intentional political statement made by the thinking director, but it was good to see both the key protagonists as young Muslims interacting with their Hindu friends and the foreign returned musician too without bringing in any kind of religious reference in the present scenario of forceful divisions being created by some vested interests. 
A technically rich film by all means, GULLY BOY also stands out as a new-age path-breaking project in terms of its cinematography and colour-tones used offering you a different kind of experience watching a Hindi film. Enlightening the viewers only watching Hindi cinema and nothing else, such experiments are regular in our own Indian cinema made in various regional languages, which sadly don’t reach or get seen by a big majority.
The avoidable minuses 
The biggest minus in GULLY BOY is its slow pace, long length and the absence of any major explosion in its screenplay. In other words, you must have felt great watching the amazing, fiery energy displayed by Ranveer in his every stage performance, interview, TV show and advertisement wearing strange clothes representing the hip-hop culture before the release. In fact he appeared to be so spirited in his every promotional activity giving you a completely different idea about the character he is playing in the script.
But surprisingly, nothing of that sort is there in the film and you keep waiting for the explosives promised, which never get delivered right till the end (expect partially in the songs). So the film is in sharp contrast to the image displayed by Ranveer in his promotional acts to be straight which should rightly alarm you to scale down your expectations before watching it.
Secondly GULLY BOY seriously falters in its portrayal of two female characters, who have nothing substantial to do in its story progression. Though Alia as usual makes her presence felt in her every single scene with or without Ranveer, but she actually doesn’t have much to do in the film, which is certainly a loss for both the film and for her huge fan following together. The character is there just for the sake of it as we do need a heroine in our Hindi films or just because it was also there in the original film in a different form (discussed in the later part of the review in details). In short, Alia as Safeena certainly deserved more with a proper attention and conclusion as I strongly felt.
Kalki playing the second female character is again simply there just because the writer-director wished to insert the usual love triangle in the story progression, which in turn brings in the most dull moments to be honest. This particular character was not at all required in an otherwise focused film and God knows when the Hindi filmmakers will get over the love triangle inclusions in their films!
Thirdly as a musical based on a particular kind of music, GULLY BOYS never tries to explain the style or genre and never deals in the anger behind the expressions in details. In fact it exactly looks as if the young singers are practicing or preparing for some kind of “Indian Idol” contest. And this competition angle also brings in the most clichéd moments in the film missing the novelty factor.
Mentioned in the merits above, the camera work surely excels but it also paints a very glossy or rather poetic picture of the slums aiming at the multiplex viewers in particular. In other words, here the slums are not as we have seen them more descriptively in many other Hindi films of the past and certainly not as we recently got to see in a National Award Winner, regional language gem titled KAAKKA MUTTAI (Tamil/2014).
Besides, the film also has some superficial reference made just for namesake like in one sequence Murad gets seriously disturbed looking at the kids working as drug peddlers employed by his friend, but later the ugly truth gets forgotten and he has no issue with it at all. Also the college and the studies both Murad and Safeena are involved in create confusion, since one is studying medicine and other is too poor to afford college studies (in any stream) living in a small matchbox size house in the slums.
Lastly after more than 150 minutes, the film ends on a sudden abrupt note exactly like dropping a mike by an artist and leaving the concert without any proper announcement. So where such climax might be okay for a section of viewers, it also might not work for other meeting mixed reactions. As for me, I certainly wished to see a better conclusion bringing me onto the edge of my seat which rarely happened in the film once or twice.

The Biggest Star Of The Film That Actually Deserved More
This is an easy guess, as the biggest star of the film obviously is its soundtrack and the killer tracks such as Jingostaan, Sher Aaya Sher, Meri Gully Mein, Azadi, Apna Time Aayega and more. Music plays the backbone or the real soul of the film (which is surely a rare happening in the present scenario in Bollywood) and the screen brightens up every time you hear the beat tapping your foot to it. 
Having said that, the hard hitting, socially relevant lyrics with fire in them, sadly don’t get a fitting portrayal on screen as they do not have much to do with the single line plot of the film. As a result, you might enjoy listening to the songs as individual tracks in your systems at home, much more than the experience of watching them in the theater.
Sharing my personal thoughts, I was hoping the screen to explode with a beginning of few tracks but it never actually happened bringing in the disappointment. 

The Major Inspiration Behind The Creation/Adpatation
Coming to the most revealing part of the review, though GULLY BOY is supposed to be based on the real life experiences of  the Indian Hip-Hop stars Naezy and Divine, it actually takes major inspiration from Curtis Hanson’s 8 MILE (2002) featuring Eminem, Kim Basinger, Brittany Murphy, Omar Benson Miller and more. The following description of the film and its scenes will give you all about the inspiration.
A young (white) rapper among his (black) friends willing to make it big in the underground circle of freestyle rap contest is the central character of 8 MILE played by the controversial American rapper Eminem himself (reportedly inspired from his own life). 
Living with his mother and a kid sister he actually has a dysfunctional family as the mother is having an affair and he is still struggling with a job opted just for money. His group of friends keeps supporting him in his passion for rap and a host of such rap-battles happening in the local nightclub is also his friend believing in his potential, willing to bring him in. 
So we have all similar sequences of freestyle rap contest in the film wherein in one sequence the hero also chokes up and isn’t able to sing anything in answer to his opponent and in the other he comes to rescue a fellow rapper being humiliated on stage (as seen in GULLY BOYS too).
Here also the hero has a girlfriend with whom he had a break up as she lied to him and then comes another girl with whom he gets into relationship resulting in an intense, sensual scene shot in a deserted place. At home, his mother has her personal problems with her lover and in a state of distress even expresses her sexual urges openly. In one scene, the conversation with his mother’s lover gets heated up and the hero even beats him hard in front of the little sister (all exactly as seen in GULLY BOYS treated differently)
Further, visuals of travelling in the bus writing lyrics on messy papers, the family getting evicted from the house, the hero suddenly quitting the day from his job and reaching the rap contest venue winning the semi-finals and the finals becoming the champion is all there in 8 MILE. And yes in this film too the hero mostly remains silent and calm expressing the anger through his eyes, occasionally becoming violent, exactly as the character of Murad in GULLY BOYS. 
Moreover 8 MILE also ends right after the competition, but with a fitting concluding scene, nowhere there to be found in GULLY BOYS.  
Concluding it all,
Zoya Akhtar surely has delivered a fairly enjoyable film for the Hindi films viewers in particular, who might not be well-versed with this specific genre of music or lyric-writing. But the film isn’t any masterpiece putting it in all honesty despite having many great performances. 
However it does one great favour to our Hindi filmmakers for sure, reminding them the value of a well-made, dedicated soundtrack and hit songs in a film, which probably they have all forgotten since last decade or so.

So do watch it in the theaters but holding on to your expectations raised by Ranveer himself. 
Interestingly a dialogue in the film rightly conveys it all and it says, “Zindagi Mein Kuchh Achha Miley Na, Toh ChupChap Le Lene Ka” 

But how I sincerely wish this was much more just good. 
Rating : 3 / 5 (inclduing the additional points for its killer soundtrack and a big team of creators, probably being the first Hindi film soundtrack with such a long list of contributors.)
Note : Sharing a noteworthy irony, this might help in giving a broader view to many in respect of exploitation of events by business houses.

3 years back Zee News made it big in TRPs airing the JNU-Azaadi shouts controversy, making it prominent national news cursing the said event.

Now after 3 years Zee Music only is the copyright holder of the Hit soundtrack of GULLY BOY which has a killer track made out of same Azaadi shouts titled 'Azaadi'…………….!!!!!!!!! 
Give it a thought!

(The track was originally made by Dub Sharma 3 years back posted at Youtube which was then recreated for the film as the present version.) 

Tags : GULLY BOY Review by Bobby Sing at bobbytalkscinema.com, New Hindi Films Reviews by Bobby Sing, New Bollywood Movies Reviews by Bobby Sing, Inspired Movies from the West, Gully Boy and 8 Mile (2002)
14 Feb 2019 / Comments ( 4 )
M Dharmakirthi

That's an excellent and very informative review of Gully Boy. Thank you, Bobby for sharing all the relevant cross references.
Would watch it very soon.

Bobby Sing

The pleasure is all mine Dharma Kirti,
The film is certainly good but I really wished it to be a lot more.
Do let me know how you liked it after watching.


Very well written review. Especially the inspiration from 8 MILE  is a big revelation. But despite the limitations pointed out in the review, I strongly feel that is another milestone film for the Hindi Cinema. Solid and understated performances with excellent direction. A subject on Dharavi easily lent itself to abusive language, vulgarity or too much bloodshed and they would have been used in abundance in the hands of a male director like Kashyap etc. But a woman director handling this dark subject has made all the difference. And Kudos to Zoya Akhtar for that! She has created the right ambience without resorting to vulgar scenes or language & bloodshed. I only wished she had reduced Alia-initiated kissing scenes which sort of diverted from the strength of Safeena's character which actually successfully broke a lot of stereotypes. But overall, she has proved her genius as a director by handling a DIL DHADAKNE DO with its high-flying sophisticated characters on the one hand and the underdogs, underprivileged, uncouth characters of Dharavi with equal ease in GULLY BOY on the other.

Bobby Sing

Thanks Jai ji for the appreciation. 
But as I see it,
ONE - An undisclosed inspired film remains an undisclosed inspired film and a well polished borrowed work exactly like the good films made by Mahesh Bhatt in the past.

and TWO - for me this interpretation of the slums was certainly like experiencing something not so good looking......beautifully shrink wrapped in a gift pack. For me this was making Dharavi looking good targeting the multiplex viewer to be straight which remains the truth of today's cinema unarguably.


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