Gully Life: Behind the scenes of the compelling new documentary that traces the rise of DIVINE
By the end of the 50-odd minute documentary, the parts that resonate most are those pertaining to DIVINE’s personal life
Red Bull Media’s new documentary Gully Life focuses on rapper Vivian Fernandes aka DIVINE
DIVINE has spent more than a decade building his image and music to find a place in Indian mainstream culture’s consciousness
Now he has Gully Gang Entertainment, the record label and company which is also part of the presenting team for Gully Life: The Story of Divine
At the recent press screening of Red Bull Media’s new documentary Gully Life, its subject — rapper Vivian Fernandes aka DIVINE — walked into the venue almost nonchalantly, even though he was among the most awaited individuals in the room. He found a corner among his crew and as the screening progressed, Mumbai rappers such as Ace and others flowed in.
Together, they were the only ones in the room who are cheering, hooting and laughing loudly at the footage — friendship is paramount to DIVINE, a rapper who’s spent more than a decade building his image and music to find a place in Indian mainstream culture’s consciousness. Now he has Gully Gang Entertainment, the record label and company which is also part of the presenting team for Gully Life: The Story of Divine. He said in a post-screening interview, “I don’t look at myself as a boss in this company or anything. Gully Gang Entertainment is family more than a record label.”
Even the story that Gully Life — made by Mumbai digital content company Supari Studios’ co-founder and director Akshat Gupt — weaves in and out of family and personal stories more than just the usual spiel about doing something for hip-hop in India. The rapper, who was involved in seeing the documentary as it took shape, says, “What was interesting is that I never thought it would be this as a whole. I looked at it as, ‘Maybe they’ll show the music part of things’. But they showed more of my life. Sixty percent is about my life and 40 percent is the music.”
As one fellow scenester told me, by the end of the 50-odd minute documentary, the parts that resonate most are those pertaining to DIVINE’s personal life. It’s not just about how he can wisecrack about all his friends as he introduces them while getting a haircut, but also how he talks about his mother — a friend and pillar of support through many years. Animated segues — perhaps in the style of Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck — show DIVINE’s early life as one spent with a father who mistreated him and a grandmother who lovingly cared for him even as he waits for the day he can bring his mother back to live with him.
So when DIVINE says “Mein mere Maa ke liye jee raha hoon” in “Farak” (which has over 24 million views since its launch in 2017), he truly means it. Filmmaker Akshat Gupt says, “I really identify with the fact that he’s close to his mother and he values his relationships. I was also bought up by a single mother, so I was taught to value the relationships, because you’ve already lost a couple. I think that’s really helped him stay grounded.”
With more than a year’s video footage of travelling with DIVINE to his shows, including his own Gully Fest and hiring a camera crew in Canada when Gupt’s visa was rejected, Gully Life packs in a lot. If there are any glaring omissions — like collaborator and singer-rapper Raja Kumari, who featured him on her song “City Slums” — it’s probably because the rapper and his team didn’t want it in there. Raja Kumari makes a brief appearance in some behind-the-scenes footage, but there’s barely any mention of the once-close musicians.
What are perhaps surprising inclusions are comedy collective Tadpatri Talkies’ rappers Sidharth Raveendran (Gari-B) and Anmol Gawand (EMF/Bad Boy Bandya) — who certainly profited off of parodying the ridiculousness of desi hip-hop, and then some. The first to appear on screen to talk about DIVINE, however, are actor Ranveer Singh and director Zoya Akhtar, whom the rapper worked with for hip-hop biopic Gully Boy. While both DIVINE and rapper Naezy have not exactly become pally with Bollywood following the release of the film, Gupt did intentionally want to put Bollywood up first when it came to an outsider opinion of DIVINE.
Gupt says, “I feel like you still need to use pop culture and Bollywood to get people’s attention. Today, they are household names because of Gully Boy, whether you like it or not. They’ve taken them to the mainstream, to the eyeballs. I wanted to do that, to show that they’ve taken notice and are speaking for him, which means you should pay attention too. I don’t think it’s bad. I think if there are famous people and artists who are willing to give them a voice, why not?”
As for the rapper, he maintains that none of his moves are made and none of his advice comes from inside the music industry. “I don’t go out and ask for advice because whoever I am and whatever I have done is solely because of my family, friends and myself,” he says.
Gully Life: The Story of Divine aired on Discovery channel on 1 July, and will receive its digital release on Red Bull TV on 15 July. Watch the trailer here:
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