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Gully Boy, the rapper from the wrong side of town

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Of course, audiences have already gone ga ga over Gully Boy, all praises heaped and every actor given his due in reviews.

Gully Boy, the rapper from the wrong side of town
Gali gali mei shor hei... Gully Boy hit hei. Depicting poverty in cinema or literature has always been a class war; talking down, talking for them, to ‘other’ them, all of this is more common than not.
The have-nots are an aspiring lot, so to distract them with fantasy and larger than life stories is perhaps smooth. But to dig deep into their psyche, into their chawls and slums, their hearts and hopes, we had to wait for Gully Boy, the rapper from the wrong side of town. All the clichés about music, that it heals and unites, hit the right note with so pitch-perfect a film.
Of course, audiences have already gone ga ga over the film, all praises heaped and every actor given his due in reviews, but the biggest takeaway as far as people are concerned is the levelling powers of cinema.
We are always hearing of rags to riches stories, but that only talk of material gains; to see a spiritual evolution, an ascent of the soul, with confidence and self-esteem slowly built breath by slow breath is a treat.
In Perumal Murugan’s novels yuppies did read about a tenderness that transcended class barriers; in the conversations between husband and wife, mother and son, between lovers, there is only the triumph of love.
Poverty is brought home to us in powerful lacks, in focuses beyond our privileged gaze, but always the lens is trained on the human aspect. In Zoya Akhtar’s film too the lack of money is a factual, taken for a granted statement. The cash divide is patiently and pertinently conveyed via equality stakes. No one – not the makers, not the watchers – make anyone look big or small. There is just the deep smell of mankind.
The plot, the acting, the dialogues, the casting – most of the time not a step out of rhythm. More about misery than the glorification of destitution, more a slice of life than any attempt at a masterpiece, the absence of melodrama makes the subtle points come alive.
Of course, there are flaws, but none so great to take away from the whole experience. For instance, there’s an incongruity in Ranveer Singh’s character writing verse in English when Hindi or even Urdu would have seemed more apt; Vijay Raaz couldn’t have come around so quickly in the end; and Alia Bhatt’s character really needed to go see a psychiatrist... But these are minor gripes. By and large, this is a film that hit the spot – balancing audience voyeurism with personal identifying.
Yes, Ranveer was too dark, too buff, but he was also endearingly shy and diffident. Even in the scene where he steps up and takes his mother away from his father, there is no macho Hindi film-hero swagger. In fact, viewers sigh at the delay. A Bachchan or a Khan would have told the dad a thing or two to the sound of applause and whistles and led the mother, preferably blind, away when her souten first arrives.
Where mindless entertainment is the norm, movies are expected to titillate, be flamboyant escapism. We depend on filmmakers to tell us what we want to see. Rarely does come along a film that reverses the flow. What we got in Gully Boy was real life, a rare commodity on reel.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.
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