Gully Boy: Deewar Gets a New Beat

What a good movie! Not original, but also original, and perfectly executed. Reema and Zoya continue to be the Queens of the industry, and Alia is the Empress. Ranveer is okay too.

Something about the tone of this movie, the anger and rawness and sort of confused social message that didn’t really say anything, but was more of a scream into the night, started to feel really familiar to me by about an hour in. And then at a rap battle, Ranveer’s partner throws a coin on the floor for him to pick up. And I realized, it’s Deewar. Not in anything specific at all, but in that fresh anger coming up from the streets, it’s Zoya’s birthright to tell this story, it’s Javed’s words being used all over again, and it’s the same money being thrown at the face of the poor and they are expected to scrabble on the ground to pick it from the dirt.

There are a few moments that feel forced, a few things that aren’t quite right about this vision of poverty, but overall it doesn’t matter because the big moments land. This is a film about one person pulling himself up, but it is also about the whole community that is down in the dirt with him, that is helping him to rise, and which he will turn back to and help in turn. That’s the bigger story, not a romance or a birth of an artist, but the anger and injustice that drives him onwards.

Image result for gully boy poster

There is a moment in the film when Ranveer is inspired to write a poem, “Doori” (Javed’s poem). The first draft is about how he feels a distance from the young woman he is working for as a driver. She is crying in the back seat, and he can’t ask her what is wrong or try to comfort her. They are close, but kept separate. The first draft of the poem, and the first sequence in the car, it is very poetic and kind of high poetry, the romance of the servant and the princess, close but far. And it is inspired by her, by the distress of this rich young woman that Ranveer is unable to help. That could be one way this movie goes, a sensitive soul who writes poetry to escape the poverty in which he lives, who fits better in the clean world of the wealthy and writes for and about them.

But then we come back to the poem, we hear the full rap inspired by it, and it’s not about that young woman after all. It’s about all the people she never sees and what she is doing to them, about the wealthy living lonely lives in huge homes while the poor struggle to fit into small spaces, the increasing gap between rich and poor, the superficiality of their lives while people are literally starving outside their walls. That’s the movie this wants to be, not a poetic self-satisfied story of an artist, but an angry rant at the injustice of society, at what the rich have done to the poor, at how nothing is as it should be and one happy story won’t solve all the problems.

When I first saw the trailer, I was worried about all these rich people (Zoya, Ranveer, Alia, Kalki) being able to capture the story this should be. I shouldn’t have worried. I forgot that Zoya was Javed’s daughter, her family invented the angry young man, she can still tap into that anger. And I forgot that Alia was her father’s daughter, the man who made Arth and Naam and Sadak and Zakhm. She may have been raised rich, but she was raised by a man who was very aware of the other side of the country. Alia is amazing in this movie, truly different from her previous roles, fiery and angry and also cocky and confident and young. Not saying it is perfect, there are definite slight moments of miscalculation, but Zoya captures something really good here.

Remember how I worried about this song video? Yeah, in context it is supposed to be a bit shallow and a bit lighter than it should be

Ranveer, I was a little right to worry about Ranveer. It comes together in his final performance, I see why they wanted him. In real life, people talk about how Ranveer suddenly turns “on”. Press conference, party, filming, he will bring more energy than you know what to do with. But until that time, he can be very very quiet. That’s what this role needs, it isn’t a character who is a natural star, isn’t one anyone would particular notice, until he comes on stage and is driven by the power of his words. But the problem is, his character is only supposed to come “on” in that final performance, that’s what makes it the exciting finale of the film. Which means until then we are stuck with Ranveer in “off” mode. It needs someone who is a quiet brooder, who can draw us in with a still face, and that is just not Ranveer. I don’t know if it is anyone in Hindi film, when I tried to think of names the best I could come up with was Dhanush. Or Vijay Devarakonda. Have the northerners forgotten how to brood? Is that just a southern thing now?

What makes Ranveer’s lacks particular noticeable is that he is surrounded by such a strong charismatic group of men. Vijay Raaz plays his father, that is of course going to be a wonderful performance. Although a little disconcerting, because the last two times I saw Vijay he was playing comic gangsters in Dishoom and then Sanam Teri Kasam. Seeing him back in the “art actor” realm was a shock. Vijay Varma plays his friend, and easily steals the movie from him. Just immediately arresting on screen. It would be Vijay’s film, except Siddhant Chaturvedi is even better. Again, part of this is clearly purposeful, Ranveer is a follower first in Vijay’s group and then in Siddhant’s, he is not the one who is noticed, he keeps in the background thinking until the very end. But it’s also a little more than purposeful, Siddhant and Vijay are just amazing, easily overshadow Ranveer.

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Vijay Varma, I remember being impressed with him in MCA too.

And Alia overshadows him. She is the second lead, if anyone is, the one who gets the most time in her own orbit and world, outside of Ranveer. But she is still “just” the love interest, one part of the story that is being told along with family and career and friends. And yet the shades she brings to her character and their relationship are so strong that I found myself rooting more for the love story than the hip-hop story. Partly because this is a very different kind of a love story, we don’t see the beginning and we don’t see the end, we just get a slice of the middle, and I wanted to see more of that different kind of story. But mostly because Alia makes it all feel so alive and real.

And the music overshadows everything. We get little bits of everything in the soundtrack, “Doori” and “Apna Time Aayege” and “Mere Gully Main” and “Azadi” and “Train Song” are the only ones that play straight through, but we hear everything else, plus more stuff I can’t even recognize from Western rappers. It’s just constantly there, the background of their lives, not just the lives of the artists shown in the film, but everyone, all the people who can’t afford anything else but at least have this to speak for them.

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10 thoughts on “Gully Boy: Deewar Gets a New Beat

    • Oh yeah, I was at the not-usual Indian theater, and it was still about 3/4ths full, and the audience felt like it was right there with it. I’m guessing it will have a blockbuster box office both in India and overseas.

      On Sat, Feb 16, 2019 at 11:23 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  1. I saw it at noon today in suburban Philly and it was a huge theater but only about 25 or so people, but still pretty good for that time of day. And there are other Indian films showing at the same theater.

    I really loved it! The best parts for me were Ranveer’s performance and the strong supporting roles/performances. So, I have to disagree with your take on Ranveer’s suitability for the role. In the first few scenes when he’s dealing with the arrival of the second wife and the poverty tourists, he comes across broody enough. But that’s been done enough in the Hindi hero/angry young man stuff…in Murad you actually do have the seeking hero, the sensitive artist, etc. In the early scenes of the rap battles and his exposure to the rap scene, you see an honest awe and also a lack of confidence that seems so much more real. I like that his connection to rap doesn’t necessarily come from these deep wells of anger, but from more of a questing spirit, someone who is struggling to dream beyond his restricted existence…who has an affinity for words but just literally needs someone (Sher and Kalki’s character) to give him the tools to make that dream come alive. It’s a performance of banked intensity, not just because it’s Ranveer playing the role, but because Murad as a character doesn’t yet realize what to be intense about, what he “desires.” He finds this in protecting his mother, building friendships, fighting for his relationship with Safeena eventually, and in the poetry and performance of rap.

    As much as I enjoyed Alia as Safeena, I thought she was acting in an edgier version of Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, not this subtle and nuanced film. Though the best laughs came from her torturing Ranveer’s friend Salman.

    And I can’t decide whose supporting performance I liked the best: Vijay Raaz, Vijay Verma, or the new guy playing MC Sher. I also thought the actress playing Murad’s mother was really good.

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    • I was impressed with the mother too! Ready to have your mind blown? She played Rani’s role in the original version of Aiyyaa!

      One thing i did really appreciate with Ranveer’s performance is how he let himself come alive with Alia. With his friends and family, he is just an okay unnoticed guy. But when he is alone talking to Alia, he lights up. Its a subtle way of showing what her love means to him, to have one person who sees him as special. And explains why he pulls away from her when he starts to find the ssme validation from something else. Only to come back when he has worked through his feelings of love versus artistic fulfillment.

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  2. I personally did find Ranveer sufficiently brooding to portray the character. Though someone who can brood better – V Massey? – might have hit pay dirt with this.
    It’s Ranveer’s silky shiny perfectly cut and coiffed hair just felt extremely out of place, esp compared to all other characters having dirty or messy or kinky hair.

    Maybe a few too many songs in the middle. I wouldn’t cut a single scene, but it could come down to 2 hours with a song edit.

    Otherwise a perfect film. Really exemplary of world building, harkens right back to Luck By Chance, insofar as Zoya’s ability tho recreate an entire world for us to witness and experience for a couple of hours. Usually we think of Sci Fi or Fantasy when we think of world building, since in those genres they actually do have to build a world from scratch. This movie rises to that quality, detail, and envelopment

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      • YES HE WAS!!!!

        Inside Edge, his TV show, has Angad Bedi and Sanjay Suri (from Jhankaar Beats) in it too. Just a wealth of talented actor hotness, which makes me very much want to watch it. Oh, and also Viviek Oboroi. But you could fastforward his scenes.

        On Mon, Feb 18, 2019 at 11:34 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Yes to the world building!!!! And without doing too much of it either. We got so little backstory for the characters, another film would have given us a flashback to Ranveer and Alia meeting, or even Ranveer and Vijay Varma. But instead we were just presented with their relationships as they are now and given enough to fill in the gaps.

      And that also, I think, helped with the message of the film. When I see a street kid or a struggling college kid, I don’t need to know about their dying father and siblings crying for milk or whatever we would see in other films to sympathize and understand their life. I can just see them now, as they are in the present, and still feel sympathy based on how this film helped us see them as people, now, without any need for excuses. Does that make sense?

      The location shooting was also phenomenal, going from Ranveer’s poor environment, to the fancy clubs and other urban spaces that are shared, to the public transit, it really gave you a sense of how extreme poverty and extreme wealth exist side by side.

      On Mon, Feb 18, 2019 at 11:31 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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