Highly anticipated and critically acclaimed, Zoya Akhtar’s “Gully Boy” is a tightly packaged, beautifully authentic love letter to the underground flourishing rap scene particularly in Dharavi, the most densely populated slum in Mumbai. Loosely based on the lives of rappers Divine and Naezy, the film opened internationally at the Berlin Film Festival ahead of its Feb 14th release.
Zoya Akhtar and the whole team eat, sleep, breathe their craft and it absolutely pays off. The story is rich in texture, every character realized and necessary to the world Akhtar and writing partner Reema Kagti have created in the gullies of Dharavi. The screenplay and story is abundant with layers; a musical, a love story, a class struggle, a coming of age narrative, a family drama, a tale of friendship and of discovering your passion.
Vijay Maurya helms the script and dialogue, achieving remarkable authenticity in his script, the slang evolving with each situation — distinct and natural. Supervised also in part by Emiway Bantai, MC Altaf, Kaam Bhaari and others, it is due to diligent observation and research that the characters, their interactions, and spaces they inhabit ring true and strike a chord. And it’s not just the slang between friends or the terminology of the rap scene that is elevated by Maurya’s being there. His vision permeates into every interaction of the film. In a memorable scene, a concerned relative helpfully advises our protagonist Murad, after a tense moment, that if he has to sing, why not sing ghazals, leaving the audience in splits.
Arjun Bhasin and Poornamrita Singh dress the cast in pieces readily available in the Chor Bazaars and visible on college campuses, alternating hoodies and kurtas with jeans and pathani suits. Taking Zoya’s lead, all the characters are dressed similarly and true to their respective socioeconomic backgrounds. Ranveer Singh is devoid of the flashy fashion we’ve come to associate him with all promo-season long, and it does wonders to help the audience forget who’s playing these characters. We really believe we are only watching the come up of a young boy from the slum who tackles pressing problems in his personal life while pursuing his passion.
Suzanne Caplan Merwani fully knocks it out of the park with her production design, ensuring Dharavi itself is given an authentic portrayal. That the camera and the audience live and breathe a version of the gully is a testament to the careful way she crawls through pre-established locations in Dharavi to enhance the reality. The result is a stripped down, clean shot, free of the melodrama and “glitzy grit” that traditionally flavors Bollywood narratives of poverty. The city takes on a life of its own in “Gully Boy.” Mumbai is as we’ve rarely seen it before, channeled through the eyes and experiences of “just a gully ka ladka (gully boy),” Murad.
Ranveer Singh is just something else. Workshops and endless conversations with Akhtar have allowed him to shed his superstar persona and slip into Murad’s skin. He lives the role as if the camera is not watching, letting his silence and facial work do all of the heavy liftings for him. He is sensitive, credible, and simmering under the surface. The eruption is a slow build and blast, but even under it, Singh manages to hold onto Murad’s vulnerability. As Murad becomes Gully Boy, advancing in skill and stature, Singh’s eyes betray Murad’s disbelief and vulnerability.
Jay Oza follows Singh closely with his camera, thrusting the audience into the deep end of the claustrophobia that often overwhelms Murad’s life. The camera work is natural and quiet. Oza pulls back when necessary, creating sweet moments of serenity for Murad and longtime girlfriend Safeena as he calls her from the steps behind her house and she watches him from her bathroom window. He traces the tensions of the characters, making the audience participate equally in their highs and lows.
Alia Bhatt, a personal favorite, is entirely unexpected in her role as Safeena. From a relatively more affluent background, she faces her own struggles of strict, conservative parents in the face of her dreams to be a surgeon. Still, do not be fooled by Bhatt’s small frame or Safeena’s meek looks — she packs a mean punch, possessive when it comes to her boyfriend and determined about her future, she’ll fight any and everyone who comes in her way. She’s resourceful and volatile, but she’s also brimming with love for her family and for Murad.
Their first scene together leaves you wondering why no one has thought to cast them opposite each other before. For a minute, we are unsure about what is happening. The camera tracks both Murad and Safeena, paying a subtle game of covert looks at one another from opposite ends of the bus, but no one says anything. Do they know each other, or is this a first meeting? Then Safeena’s mother gets off the bus, leaving Safeena to slide into her rightful place beside Murad and take one of his earbuds for herself. Without a word, their near decade long relationship has been beautifully explained.
MC Sher might be one of my favorite characters of all time. He, too, is an up-and-coming rapper in Mumbai, and it is through him that Murad is introduced to the world of Mumbai rap. Sher takes Murad under his wing and encourages him at every turn, forging a fierce and rewarding friendship. Newcomer Siddhanth Chaturvedi is a complete natural (and it doesn’t hurt that he’s damn gorgeous as well).
In fact, the entire supporting cast of “Gully Boy” deserves accolade after accolade. Vijay Raaz is brutal as Murad’s abusive, but broken father, and Amruta Subhash is the perfect, heartbreaking foil as Murad’s mother. Heavyweights Iqhlaque Khan and Sheeba Chadda add to the film as Safeena’s parents. Her mother is physical and oft cruel, while her father is indulgent but troubled — they wordlessly show exactly why Safeena is the way she is.
For me, Vijay Verma as Moeen steals the show. It is his narrative, his dabbling in drugs, stealing cars, landing in jail, that underpins Murad’s fateful come up, locking the audience to the reality of Murad’s world and not letting anyone forget it.
Kalki Koechlin in her brief role as Sky, a well-to-do Berklee-educated music producer, is fine. She shows up, causes a scene, makes her video, and propels the plot forward; unfortunately, there’s just not that much for her to do. Living in the apartment below her parents, spray painting graffiti across billboards in the city — her resistance is leagues away from Murad and his world, and she pales in comparison.
The inclusion of this character seems like a rare low point in Akhtar’s direction and screenplay, but is she meant to be out of place or is she there to remind us that we, too, are out of place? Many of us belong to the very same group that benefits from Dharavi’s suffering.
There are a few other moments in Zoya’s direction that stray from greatness. Murad and Moeen’s decision to steal cars comes at a low point in Murad’s trajectory, but the desperation of the moment is diluted by an almost music-video-like sequence, backed by a bass-heavy beat.
A scene in the music video “Doori” seems uncomfortably voyeuristic, with its countless steady shots of poor citizens of Mumbai, especially compared to the later “Mere Gully Mein,” where the residents of Dharavi reflect dimension beyond their poverty. Perhaps the uncomfortable quality is purposeful. Akhtar understands she is a visitor and a privileged one in this world — that all of us, including herself, are complicit in its creation. She won’t let us forget it, either.
At a running time of roughly two and a half hours, “Gully Boy” stretches a little long, but every single moment is worth it. Each character is deserving of completing their story, and Zoya doesn’t play favorites.
“Gully Boy” will leave you thinking, dreaming, loving and pursuing. It restores the concept of storytelling in Hindi cinema. Zoya Akhtar is a master of her craft; she has topped her filmography with this one and created something both Bhatt and Singh should feel honored to add to their showreels. “Bahut Hard.”
It’s never a dull moment with your girl gang; some shots and conversations about sex, right? If you agree, you’re in for a treat with Karan Boolani’s directorial venture, “Thank You For Coming,” which had its world premiere at the 48th annual Toronto International Film Festival. This coming-of-age story unapologetically begs the answer to a very important question: Why should women be left high and dry in bed?
Kanika Kapoor (Bhumi Pednekar) is a successful, 32-year-old, Delhi food blogger who makes a huge revelation on her 30th birthday: She’s never experienced an orgasm. This dirty little secret (no pun intended!) has now become detrimental to her self-esteem. She feels so down and out that she even accepts the proposal of a very boring suitor, Jeevan-ji (Pradhuman Singh Mall).
But, it’s not like she hasn’t tried. Kanika’s been a monogamist since her teenage years, starting with puppy love in high school — unfortunately, their sexual endeavors coined her as “thandi” (cold) by her first boyfriend — all the way to dating in her adulthood. But, regardless of how great any relationship was, nobody had her achieve the big O. All until the night of her engagement with Jeevan, when the drunk bride-to-be leaves the party for her hotel room and gets into bed. What follows is her very first orgasm. Ghungroo, finally, tute gaye! But, with whom?
The morning after, an initially-satisfied Kanika works herself into a frenzy of confusion and frustration as she makes her way through the list of potential men who could’ve been in her room the night before.
Was it one of her exes? She’d simply invited them to come to wish her well.
Was it her fiance?
Or, God forbid, was it actually the rabdi-wala (ice cream man)?
Boolani takes a straight-forward and on-the-nose approach to drive the point home. There are no cutting corners, no mincing words, and no hovering over “taboo topics.” The dialogue is raunchy, the characters are horny, and no one is apologetic. It’s important for a film like “Thank You For Coming” to be so in-your-face because the subject of women achieving orgasms can’t really be presented in any other way. Anything more conservative in the narrative would feel like the makers are being mindful of addressing something prohibited. And there is no room for taboos here.
But, there is room for a more open conversation on the reasons why many women feel the need to suppress their sexual needs in bed; how generally, women have been brought up to be the more desirable gender and hence not cross certain boundaries that would make them appear too brash. The fight for the right of female pleasure would have been a little more effective if the modesty around the topic was addressed. But, that doesn’t mean that the point is remiss.
The plot moves swiftly along, never lulling too long over everything that seems to be going wrong in Kanika’s life. “Thank You For Coming” is full of all the right tropes that belong in a comedic, masala film, too; the direction very seamlessly takes classic fixings like the abhorrent admirer (enter Jeevan-ji) and effectively plugs them into this contemporary feature that will remain perpetually relevant.
And now, let’s come to the star of the show: the well-rounded characters.
Producer Rhea Kapoor has mastered the formula of a good chick flick and her casting is the magic touch. She’s got a knack for bringing together the right actors — cue, “Veere Di Wedding.” So, just when we think that it doesn’t get better than the veere, Kapoor surprises us with a refreshing trio — they’re modern, they’re rebellious, and they say it like it is. Thank you, Dolly Singh (Pallavi Khanna) and Shibani Bedi (Tina Das) for being the yin to Kanika’s yang — and for the bag full of sex toys your homegirl oh-so needed!
To complete Kanika’s story, we have her single mother, Miss. Kapoor, brilliantly portrayed by Natasha Rastogi. She is the face of a headstrong and self-assured matriarch and a symbol of the modern-day Indian woman. Rastogi’s character exemplifies the fact that with access to education, and a stable career, women do not need to mold their lives around men.
I love the fact that Miss. Kapoor is almost villainized by her own mother (played by Dolly Ahluwalia) in the film because she had a child out of wedlock in her yesteryears, she chooses to remain single, and she brings her boyfriends around the house to hang out with. But, there’s a point to be made here. The fact that Kanika’s mother is being antagonized just highlights that she is challenging the norms and pushing the envelope for what is socially acceptable for women. Miss. Kapoor definitely deserves an honorable mention.
Pednekar’s unexpected yet impeccable comic timing is the highlight of the entire film. Everything from being a damsel in sexual distress to a woman who unabashedly chases self-pleasure, Pednekar puts on a genuinely entertaining act for the audience. From being portrayed as a high-schooler to the 32-year-old, independent woman, Pednekar is fit for each role. Her naivety as a teen wins you over, as does her gusto as a full-blown adult with a broken ankle and some very messy relationships. This also speaks volumes about the versatility of her looks.
And, of course, Pednekar is not new to films that address social topics, but “Thank You For Coming” challenges her to balance Kanika’s droll with the responsibility of delivering a very important message to the viewers. Mission accomplished, Ms. Pednekar!
“Thank You For Coming” is a through-and-through entertainer. Everything from the casting — a huge shout out to the rest of the supporting cast including Anil Kapoor, Shehnaaz Gill, Karan Kundra, Kusha Kapila, Gautmik, and Sushant Divkigar, without whom this roller coaster would have lacked the thrills — to the homey locations and even the glitz and glamor in the song sequences, they’re all perfect pieces to help drive home a powerful message: Smash patriarchy!
“Ghoomer,” R. Balki’s latest directorial venture, had its world premiere at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne 2023 (IFFM), earlier this month, and the moment was nothing short of memorable. Lead actors Abhishek Bachchan, Saiyami Kher, and Angad Bedi, were present to unveil their labor of love to the world, and all three were left speechless at the reaction of the global audience; the film received a standing ovation on opening night, leaving the team extremely emotional — a feeling that Bachchan tells Brown Girl is one he cannot put into words.
“Ghoomer,” tells the story of Anina (played by Kher), an exceptional cricket player who loses her right hand in an accident. Downtrodden and with no will to live, Anina finds a mentor and coach in Padam Singh Sodhi (played by Bachchan), an insensitive and brash failed cricketer who helps her turn her life and career around; Anina also has the unwavering support of her husband, Jeet (played by Bedi). Sodhi teaches Anina unorthodox techniques to make her mark on the cricket ground once again. Enter, ghoomer, a new style of bowling.
Balki checks all the boxes with this feature — his protagonist is a female athlete, the film is his way of giving back to cricket (a new form of delivery), and he highlights the idea that nothing is impossible for paraplegic athletes. The heart of Balki’s film is in the right place — Kher mentions that the film is meant to be more of an inspirational movie and less of a sports-based movie. One can only imagine the impact that a film like this would have on an audience that’s hungry for meaningful cinema.
And, to chat more about “Ghoomer,” Brown Girl Magazine sat down with the stars of the show. Bachchan, Bedi, and Kher came together to talk about their inspiring characters, the filming journey, and how their film aspires to change the landscape of cricket and paraplegic athletes in the country. It was all that, with a side of samosas.
Take a look!
The featured image is courtesy of Sterling Global.
March 20, 2023March 21, 2023 4min readBy Nida Hasan
If you are a South Asian, born in the ’80s or the early ’90s, chances are your ideas of love and romance are heavily influenced by Hindi films — that first gaze, the secret love notes, that accidental meeting somewhere in Europe, over-the-top gestures and dancing around trees. While reality may have been far from what was promised on reel, you still can’t stop pining over a hopeless romantic, with chocolate boy looks, chasing you across the earth and many universes; in the life here and the ones after. Somewhere deep down, you still dream of that possibility despite your husband sitting and sipping his morning coffee right next to you. And much of the credit for weaving this dreamland, that we can’t resist happily sliding into, goes to the legendary Yash Chopra. Award-winning filmmaker Smriti Mundhra’s docu-series, “The Romantics,” that released on Netflix on February 14, chronicles Chopra’s prolific career; offering an illuminating look into the highs and lows of his journey, his unblemished vision for Hindi cinema and sheer love for filmmaking.
I wanted to look at Indian cinema through the lens of it being a major contributor to the global cinema canon and Yash Chopra seemed like the perfect lens to explore that because of the longevity of his career and the fact that he had worked across so many different genres. His films, for so many of us, defined what Hindi cinema is.
— Smriti Mundhra
As “The Romantics” unveils, in a mere episode — a challenging feat in itself — Chopra did experiment with multiple genres as a budding filmmaker, initially under the shadows of his elder brother B.R. Chopra. From the religiously sensitive “Dharamputra” and the trendsetting “Waqt” to the action-packed and iconic “Deewaar.” It wasn’t until later on in his career that he set a precedent for a Hindi film having a wholly romantic narrative; though “Waqt” did offer the perfect glimpse into what would go on to become Chopra’s cinematic imprint. And then came “Chandni” which ushered in a new era for Hindi cinema; defying the formulaic approach to box office success and making love stories the golden goose.
In the words of more than 30 famous faces, a host of archival videos and interviews, and personal anecdotes, audiences get an extensive insight into the life and career of Yash Chopra and the evolution of his vision through the business acumen and genius of his polar opposite son and a famous recluse, Aditya Chopra. “The Romantics” is not a fancy portrait of a legendary filmmaker but an exploration of what goes into making a successful film family and a path-breaking production house. As viewers, we not only get a peek into the making of a fantasy creator but also learn of the many failures, hurdles and uncertainties that the business of filmmaking comes packaged in, the impact of socio-political shifts on the kind of content being produced and demanded, and just how much control we have as an audience over the fate of the film and the filmmaker.
For both the uninitiated and fanatics, there are some interesting revelations like Shah Rukh Khan’s lifelong desire to become an action hero as opposed to a romantic one and the creative conflict between Aditya Chopra and his father Yash Chopra on the sets of “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge” — a project that, surprisingly, did not seem too promising to the latter. Mundhra penetrates deep into the family’s history and industry relationships evoking some really candid conversations; almost as if these celebs were eagerly waiting for their moment to speak. With one appraising interview after the other, it’s a panegyric that does border on being a tad tedious but there is enough depth and fodder in there to keep one hooked. Kudos to Mundhra for managing to achieve cohesion despite there being more than enough material to chew on. In the process of bringing this project to life, Mundhra also ends up achieving a number of milestones: one that the series features the last of actor Rishi Kapoor’s interviews and two, it brings Aditya Chopra, who, it appears, can talk a blue streak contrary to popular belief, to the front of the camera after almost two decades. The moment when he puts the nepotism debate to rest by referring to his brother’s catastrophic attempt at acting is quite the show-stealer.
At some point during the four-episode series, you might question if it’s fair to credit the Yash Raj family for being the only real changemakers of the Hindi film industry and for picking up the baton to get Hindi cinema the global recognition that it has. But then there is no denying the Chopra clan’s body of work, their ability to understand what pleases the crowd and their commitment towards growth and progress amidst changing times and technology — Yash Raj Studios is in fact the only privately held and one of the biggest, state-of-the-art film studios in India. Chopra’s career and legacy are in no way under-lit that Mundhra can claim to throw new light on with “The Romantics.” But what she really has on offer here are sheer nostalgia, some fascinating discoveries and an ode to a cinephile and his art with a bit of fan service.
In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Mundhra discusses why it was so important for Chopra to be the subject of her docu-series, her own learnings during the series’ research and creative process and her accomplishment of getting Aditya Chopra to talk, and that too, at length.