Gully Boy: Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt's 'apolitical' views and edited Azadi song betray the film's authenticity

Uday Kapur

Feb 18, 2019 16:46:33 IST

This past month has seen a media blitz spurred on by the release of Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy. Almost every brand has attempted to jump behind the movie, and it’s been a bit surreal to watch the language and lifestyle of a scene that was struggling to get regular shows up until a few years ago, take over the mainstream Indian consciousness. Divine, Naezy and Sez On The Beat’s 'Mere Gully Mein' will go down as a significant cultural moment — helping introduce the voice of a community that wasn’t given space in our cultural conversations — with Gully Boy serving as the culmination of their legacy.

One of the primary concerns that members of the community had was whether the film would represent what they’ve built over the past decade with authenticity and care. With Divine and Naezy on board as consultants, along with scene veteran Ankur Tewari as the music supervisor, it was impossible for them to miss this. The movie is littered with the references to the actual recording processes employed by the duo, such as Naezy’s use of a channi (tea filter) as a stand-in pop filter while recording his debut single ‘Aafat (Prod. by Natiq)’. Songs such as ‘Doori’ and ‘Sher Aaya Sher’ act as replacements for Naezy’s aforementioned debut and Divine’s breakthrough hit ‘Yeh Mera Bombay (Prod. by RJV Ernesto and Sez On The Beat)’ — the latter taking lyrics from an unreleased Divine track.

 Gully Boy: Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatts apolitical views and edited Azadi song betray the films authenticity

A still from Gully Boy. Youtube screengrab

The film is peppered with smaller bits of music from the hip-hop community — the title slate using Naezy’s ode to Mumbai ‘Asal Hustle (Prod. by Sez On The Beat)’ and further contributions by veteran Mumbai rapper Ace, Borivali-based upstart Kaam Bhaari and members of the multilingual hip-hop crew Swadesi. However, Gully Boy offers a surface level look at the community, preferring to give space to composers Karsh Kale, Rishi Rich and Ankur Tewari to provide the score for pivotal scenes in the movie wherein actual producers from the scene, such as Delhi-based hip-hop phenom Sez On The Beat or beatmakers like Babloo Babylon and Profound, could have provided a much more suited score for the same.

At the same time, battle rap as a format is presented honestly, even though the artists behind that scene, such as EMF, MC Kode, etc. are absent from the screen. Gully Boy also fails to highlight the struggle to get hip-hop artists and fans into venues; the number of artists having a healthy touring circuit is still really small, and a lot of the organisations backing the battle rap and hip-hop scenes in this country, such as B3 and Spit Dope Inc., still face a battle to get venues to just host their events. There’s a point in the movie where Murad and MC Sher meet Skye, the producer who represents Sez On The Beat (the producer of 'Mere Gully Mein') and contract terms are discussed wherein a 50-50 deal is offered. This is perhaps the best joke in the movie, considering the ongoing dispute regarding the same contract between the producer and the original label. Gully Boy is not entirely a reflection of the difficulties most artists in the community face, opting to cherry-pick instances in order to move the plot forward. These, however, are small issues in front of a much larger one that made the whole experience of watching what was otherwise a solid movie.

Throughout its two-and-a-half-hour runtime, Gully Boy deals in tropes about class inequality in Indian society and the interviews given by Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt and Zoya Akhtar in the media spectacle that has surrounded the film have only served to highlight the different spaces we occupy. ‘Azadi’, one of the standout tracks on the soundtrack, has Divine delivering his best verse in years and is yet a toned-down and heavily edited version of the original which was made by Chandigarh-based producer Dub Sharma in tribute of the student protests led by Kanhaiya Kumar. The fact that track is now owned by Zee Music Company, part of the Essel conglomerate that owns Zee News, which was instrumental in spreading false narratives about the JNU protests, is a haunting example of how movements can be co-opted and profited from. The Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress are now gleefully using the song as if they were engaged in a rap battle — seemingly ignorant about how Divine’s first verse condemns both their governments.

Amidst all this, Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt gave one of the most tone-deaf interviews in recent times, with Singh stating that he was “apathetic to politics”. This is where Gully Boy fails for me. Stars as big as Singh and Bhatt know exactly how much influence they and their industry have over people, as can be seen from the massive branding exercises they have undertaken. To disengage completely from the society that you profit off of and effectively minimise all the pressing issues spoken about by Mumbai’s rappers (whose story you’re co-opting) is to nullify the hip-hop movement itself. Bollywood is and has always been great at serving the masses empty rhetoric for change and progress while cosying up with and being complicit with the very people that divide us. From Amitabh Bachchan’s ‘Khoon se khoon ka badla lenge’ speech on Doordarshan in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots to Gully Boy, the stars of this industry are complicit in keeping the status-quo while profiteering on narratives that promises a fairer, progressive society. Singh and Bhatt’s performances are outstanding, but the way they approach the socio-political issues that drive hip-hop music in Mumbai serve to underline that they did not truly connect with the community.

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Updated Date: Feb 18, 2019 17:45:56 IST