Gully Boy music review: A rousing, eclectic soundtrack that sets the benchmark for a trailblazing genre

Swetha Ramakrishnan

Jan 26, 2019 09:40:24 IST

(Disclaimer: Several references are made in this review to the lyrics of the Gully Boy soundtrack. It would not be possible to translate these without diluting their original meaning.)

"Dhanda kuch nahi, bas garam hi garam hai. Angaar hai" — With this, the 46-minute-long soundtrack begins.

It is time. It is time for the world to get a peak into the Gully. The artistes from the Gully. The sound of the Gully. The vibe of the Gully. It is time.

"Asli hip hop se milae Hindustan ko"

And with this, let's dive into the 18-track album of Zoya Akhtar's Gully Boy, being pegged as a story of the rise and rise of Mumbai's gully rap/hip-hop. Are you ready? Because this is going to be a wild ride.

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 Gully Boy music review: A rousing, eclectic soundtrack that sets the benchmark for a trailblazing genre

Ranveer Singh in Gully Boy. YouTube

Much before Zoya Akhtar released the first look or trailer of Gully Boy, but much after the announcement of the film, videos of Ranveer Singh rapping (impromptu) with Mumbai-based rappers started doing the rounds of the recommendations section on YouTube. He wore a brown suit and hat, rocked his twirly mustache like he usually does, and merged into the crowd like he wasn't a celebrity at all. But Ranveer Singh's ability to seamlessly metamorphose into his characters isn't the topic of discussion.

The culture, lingo, swag and trend of Mumbai's gully rap was a unique phenomenon that not too many people were privy to, before the release of a) Disha Rindani's documentary Mumbai 70 (which premiered at the MAMI film festival in 2014) and b) Rappers Divine and Naezy's uber-popular song 'Mere Gully Mein' — also Ranveer's choice of track to rap to in the video. The original song by (then breakout artists, now genre veterans) Naezy and Divine went viral in no time, quickly becoming the go-to song whenever anyone mentioned Mumbai, rap and hip-hop in the same breath. The socio-cultural relevance of what then came to be known as "gully rap", exploded. It was only time that Bollywood would come around to it.

A still from 'Mere Gully Mein' from Gully Boy

A still from 'Mere Gully Mein' from Gully Boy

It is with great pride then, as an avid follower of Mumbai's rap/hip-hop, for me to announce that Ranveer's version of 'Mere Gully Mein' is not the best track on the Gully Boy album. Quite far from it actually. Why pride, you ask? Because in a soundtrack that boasts of Ranveer Singh rapping (for the first time ever), and songs from much-admired artists like Raghu Dixit, Ankur Tewari and Jasleen Royal — it is passion and love for the genre that stands out and is given precedence.

This is an eclectic ensemble of a soundtrack, all of which points to one thing only (not star power, not a Bollywood-isation or mainstreaming of gully rap) — 'Asli hip hop se milaye Hindustan ko'; asli being the operative word.

Ranveer's version of 'Mere Gully Mein' can be considered an homage to original, but its improper mixing stands out as compared to the several other original tracks on the album. It feels like Ranveer merely rapped over the original song — and while this may work for an Instagram live, it doesn't on an album. It's great for karaoke though. Ranveer fans, hold your horses. He totally redeems himself in the next track, 'Doori'. Written by Javed Akhtar, Divine and composed by British producer Rishi Rich, 'Doori' is insightful and emblematic of the duality of living in Mumbai. It is the most contextual song on soundtrack, giving those who haven't yet had a peak into the world of gully rap a socio-cultural context. 'Ek duniya mein do duniya, ujala ek andhera / ek sethji aur ek chela / kahi toh moti mahal main, koi jee raha hai akela / kahin toh local dibbe mein, hai rehle pe hai rehla / unki seva, inki meva, haan' — sings Ranveer, and as compared to his version of 'Mere Gully Mein', this is hard-hitting. You can feel it: this is the quintessential Mumbai song.

The best thing about the Gully Boy soundtrack is that not one song feels stretched. Each track is paced well; in fact, very often you are left wanting more.

Ranveer Singh in a still from Gully Boy. Screenshot from YouTube

Ranveer Singh, Siddhant Chaturvedi in a still from Gully Boy. Screenshot from YouTube

This is often in the case with Dub Sharma's most brilliant two tracks — 'Azaadi' and 'Jingostan'. Politically relevant, and true to the origins of the genre (hip-hop is widely considered to be an expression of rebellion), 'Azaadi' and 'Jingostan' will make you feel like you're part of a revolution. This could partly be because 'Azaadi' was written during the JNU-Kanhaiya controversy that broke in 2016. Dub Sharma merged Kanhaiya's "azaadi" speech into a rousing number, which has been recreated by Divine for this album. 'Jingostan' has the zing of an anti-establishment song: "2018 hai, desh ko khatra hai!!" exclaims Dub Sharma. These are arguably the two best tracks on the album.

As a listener, you are given a break from the chest-thumping rap with melodious numbers like 'Train Song' (by Raghu Dixit), 'Jahaan Tu Chala' (by Jasleen Royal), 'Goriye' (by Prem & Hardeep), 'India 91' and 'Jeene Mein Aaye Maza' (by Ankur Tewari). Some of them work, but some don't. 'Train Song' and 'Jahaan Tu Chala' don't seem to belong to this soundtrack, with no thematic relevance. It's possible once the film is out, we will find a relevance. 'Jeene Mein Aaye Maza' as a standalone song is delightful, but what is doing on the Gully Boy soundtrack? It would be better suited to a Konkona Sen Sharma film.

For those of us who have been following Divine's music, 'Sher Aaya Sher' is bliss. It's a typical Divine number, replete with snarls and his signature swag. Rappers like Kaam Bhari and Ace showcase their talent in tracks such as 'Kaam Bhari', 'Har Gham Mein Khushi Hai'. That Ranveer's other rap songs, 'Kab Se Kab Tak' and 'Ek Hi Raasta' stand on the same plane as these songs is a testament to his talent. These are rappers who've been part of the underground rap scene for years. You don't need me to remind you that Ranveer is a Bollywood actor. But most importantly you sense the brotherhood. These artistes have been brought together for a larger purpose.

The Gully Boy album is a game-changer (just don't ask me which track is my favourite).

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Updated Date: Jul 09, 2019 12:50:29 IST