Movie review: Ranveer Singh shines as rapper from the streets in Gully Boy

Ranveer Singh as Murad in Gully Boy.
Ranveer Singh as Murad in Gully Boy.PHOTO: EXCEL ENTERTAINMENT

Bollywood Drama Romance

GULLY BOY (PG13)

155 minutes/Now showing/4 stars


The story: An aspiring rapper called Murad (Ranveer Singh) from the slums of Mumbai breaks out of his circumstances and the "gully" (the streets) to chase his dream.

In one of the opening scenes of Bollywood rap movie Gully Boy, protagonist Murad plugs in his earphones to drown out the strains of a small wedding procession entering his home as his father Shakir (Vijay Raaz) takes on a second wife.

The marriage is the source of much family tension to come in the film. But hip hop music is solace for Murad, who counts the gritty Mumbai slum of Dharavi as home.

The track of choice? American rapper A$AP Rocky's Everyday, a cautionary tale about fame and fortune.

It is early days yet for either fame or fortune, however, as the film follows Murad's journey from scribbling lyrics and poetry in his notebooks, to choking at rap battles with other Mumbai rappers, to recording voice samples on an iPad and hitting the studios as he finds his feet as a performer.

"Don't wanna be a slumdog millionaire, I'm on a mission," he raps at one point.

His desire to break free from his circumstances - including a job that he detests and a driver father who constantly chides him that his "dreams should fit (his) reality" - are the very experiences he draws on for his material, seizing the moment as he does on the track Apna Time Aayega (My Time Will Come).

The Zoya Akhtar-directed film was inspired by the real-life rags-to-riches stories of Mumbai rappers Divine and Naezy.

In fact, the music video for one of their songs, 2016's Mere Gully Mein - an ode to the streets they grew up on - is recreated in the film.

Singh, who has had a slew of flamboyant, over-the-top roles of late (a manic conqueror in Padmaavat, and a flashy, bad-cop-turned-good in Simmba, both released last year), reels it in for his take on Murad, in a raw and believable performance that is all heart.

There is restraint and vulnerability when necessary, and panache and the prerequisite rapper braggadocio when required, as his character gains confidence and commands the stage.

The supporting cast bolster his performance. Alia Bhatt's Safeena, his volatile on-and-off love interest, hides a firecracker of a personality behind a mischievous smile, while Siddhant Chaturvedi, who plays his mentor MC Sher, is a revelation with his confidence and swagger.

There are heavyweights behind the scenes too, including a co-executive producer credit for US rapper Nas, and an original score by American-Indian multi-instrumentalist Karsh Kale.

But even with all the catchy music, and the presence of real-life Mumbai rappers in the film like Kaam Bhari and MC Altaf lending it credibility, the slickness of the Bollywood production dulls the rough edges of this story of struggle.

Gully Boy feels like the "lite" version of Divine's and Naezy's stories, and one that is almost overshadowed by the predictable message of "if you dream it, you can do it".

But either way, be forewarned. It is going to be hard not to bop to the tunes while you watch this film.