Ranveer Singh has often stated that versatility and surprising audiences with each film is what he seeks most. His performances stand true to this statement, which in itself is fairly surprising for Hindi film stars. Regularly, they tend to come up with moth-eaten, repetitive statements that become redundant the moment a film hits theaters. With Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy, he has reiterated his versatility again. He swings hip hop like an experienced performer, his body language blends the natural born hesitation of underprivileged youth along with the swagger of a street poet. Ranveer has visibly leaned down for this part of a young man.
While the actor has evidently poured himself into this part, portions from the trailer resonate with the other great hip-hop film, 8 Mile. The catchphrase - his music will set him free - rings true to the storyline of 8 Mile, which straddled the interesting premise of a white boy, not typically the skin color of hip hop, having a passion to become a rapper. In the film, Eminem’s character battles a violent boyfriend that his alcoholic mother has, and uses hip hop and a victory at a rap battle to realize his potential. The film holds up a simple theme - hip hop, with its energy, latent anger and street connect, helps the film’s lead character to find himself. Gully Boy seems to follow a similar, linear pattern to the discovery of Naved’s abilities. He also has a suffering mother, an angry dad and a supportive girlfriend (Alia Bhatt as Sakina). Zoya Akhtar has confidently put out the film’s plot in the trailer, inviting audiences to experience this journey of Indian hip hop. Always criticized for making films about the super rich, a microscopic section of India’s elite that can afford to travel on luxury cruises with a posse of posh friends, Akhtar’s knack for capturing human relationships in all their complexity and with minimal fuss is often overlooked. One assumes she took on the story of Gully Boy as a challenge- with none of the beautification and gloss that a super rich life offers. Knowing her penchant for capturing humane responses and behaviour accurately, this film will potentially have her presenting her most honest, direct take on relationships and people.
As he stated so clearly at the trailer launch, Ranveer Singh was born to play this part. He has tackled physical requirements with ease, by pulling down weight and looking leaner. Beyond that, he has prepped extensively by working with India’s original hip hoppers Divine and Naezy. Ranveer has often gone a step further for his roles. In this one, he has trained his voice, his language, diction to get the tone of a Gully Boy, someone from the city’s slums and crowded neighbourhoods. He has also rapped like a pro, which is a win, given the hype and publicity that most actors create around some basic Auto tune based playback singing. Ranveer’s touch, of playing a role just as it should be done, is fairly unmatched amongst contemporaries. In this too, he blends into the backdrop of the gully without fuss.
He is on top of his form as a star and performer presently. Simmba has him pulling out commercial cinema shenanigans and carrying a mass-oriented role well. Then there’s Gully Boy, on the other end of the spectrum. Is this smart timing or just a coincidence? Either way, it does serve the purpose of putting Ranveer in a place of his own - versatile, eager, committed and a constant pleasant surprise.
While shooting for Gully Boy, Ranveer was also balancing his preparation for Simmba, where he needs to physically transform into a muscular cop. That must have been a fine balance to strike. More interestingly, he spent months getting into the mold of a hip-hopper, interacting with street and hip hop aspirants from Mumbai slums and bastis during his free time. He would speak to them, stick around them to figure out their universe and thinking. Singh comes from a privileged background, so becoming a gully boy must have taken some time. More importantly, to switch from his previous parts, he would have definitely needed a break, as gully boy has taken time to shape up.
When one looks closely at the life and times of hip hop legends, their stories tend to have points of commonality. Almost all have dealt with grief and trouble before becoming music icons. 8 Mile, with Eminem at its center, got this story bang on. Gully Boy’s resonance might be also because of the fundamental nature of hip-hop as a genre of music- it’s angry, temperamental and connected to common issues. Gully Boy, with Ranveer Singh as the hip hop aspirant trying to find himself, battling prejudice due to financially underprivileged backgrounds, promises to present an Indian side of this form of music and it’s far-reaching impact.