Zoya Akhtar’s visceral ode to the ever-growing cult of Indian rappers has managed to touch the inner chords of the heart. The audience is going gaga about the tale of Murad and Mumbai. In about three days, I’ve seen the movie twice and the initial euphoria has now come down to the level of sanity. This article is about the people that Zoya and Reema Kagti explore through their writing. Spoilers ahead !!
Murad is what you call these days, a woke guy. He is sensitive and caring. He’s the kind of person who lets his girlfriend be what she wants to be. He’s a liberal practitioner of his religion yet likes to have his own share of happiness, by smoking weed. So basically, the quintessential Hindi film hero, Mr goody two shoes. But Zoya shows the frailties in him too. Taken aback by Sky’s kissing, he responds by kissing her back. Maybe it was the weed but it does show his weakness which he regrets later. He asks Moin to let him work at his garage, till he gets something better, to which Moin retorts – ‘What do you mean by better, is this not up to your standard?’ Early in the film, Moin tells him that he sees through his shallowness that he doesn’t invite him to his ‘english-speaking’ friends, for Murad feels, that he’s beneath them. Murad draws a large blank on his face, because deep inside, even he knows it’s the truth. Zoya pictures the 21st-century Gen-next with perfection. This is the face of the new India. They are okay with both being righteous and being shallow at the same time.
Murad sees his parents, his elders and is conditioned to live his life, like them. His father, Aftab, a man who’s brought a young wife, much to the dismay of his mother and Murad’s mother, has resigned to his fate. He may have been a bad husband but he feels that he’s been discharging his duties as a father, rather honestly, by spending money on Murad’s education. In a way, he’s like millions of fathers of this country, who want their children to be well placed, at least better than them. For him, a man’s reality should be the boundaries of his dream. And despite being a cruel father, he begs his son to weigh between reality and his dreams. This is a practical man, who’s seen the world and is afraid that if his son faces the same rejection that he’s been through, he will be broken beyond repair. This man may have been indifferent to his son, but he loves him in his own way.
Ateeq, Murad’s uncle, his mother’s brother is a man who resides between the lower strata to which Murad belongs to and the upper echelon of the lower class. He sees his brother-in-law be much beneath of him and considers his work, what he calls ‘GadhaMazuri’, loosely translated to be working like an ass. But despite being a man, who supposedly works ‘Smart’, he berates his sister for leaving her husband. Like hundreds of non-dreamer, he also considers his nephew’s dream as a waste of time and advises him to concentrate on his job. For him, a servant’s son will always become a servant, that’s what order and nature of the society are. Ateeq is what is left of a man when he’s devoid of his dreams.
Murad’s mother Razia and grandmother are the two women in his life that he has spent most of his time with. Razia despises that her husband has married a young wife. There is disconcert between husband and wife and it revolves around their conjugal life. During an altercation, when he tries to justify his action to remarry by saying that she isn’t available to him sexually, she thunders back by saying that would it be okay, if she gets someone to her bed, just the way he did. This is a woman, who’s been betrayed by her husband yet she does her best to keep the family together, even if it includes washing the used utensils of her husband’s new bride. The grandmother is a woman who feels his son has done the right thing by marrying twice, as their religion does allow polygamy and blames Razia’s upbringing as Murad physically restrains his father from assaulting his mother. But when Murad along with his mother and brother leaves home, she’s left to fend for herself, for she gets to see what it really means by upbringing. Here we see two women, from the same strata of the society, with different mindsets. Zoya makes us wonder why people blame class and social status for having subjugated thinking when it’s clearly something that people cultivate on their own, irrespective of the strata that they belong to.
Safeena belongs to the other end of the spectrum that Zoya paints. She belongs to a family, which’s affluent to the point that her father can replace her ‘stolen’ iPad with another. Hidden in her hijab, is a fire that she barely manages to keep it that way. She’s with Murad since they were teens and she’s quite possessive about him, to the extent of smashing bottles on people’s heads. The difference between Murad and Safeena’s social class doesn’t bother her to love this brooding, silent man who equally loves her back, be it her mood swings or bad days. She believes in him and his dreams so much that she feels that she becoming a surgeon in future, will be enough for both of them. This is a confident young woman who is willing to support her partner in his tryst to achieve his dreams. There is no pretentious ego tussle between the two. Probably in a real-world scenario, Murad and Safeena may just get separated after Murad achieves stardom but for now, we desperately want the two to remain together.
Sky, the other woman in Murad’s life, is just like her name, without any inhibitions. She gives Murad the wings to fly. As Murad spreads above the rest, he’s intrigued by this mysterious woman who learns music and spray-paints the town with equal elan. She’s a free-spirited woman, who falls for this charmer from Dharavi, without bothering about their difference in class. Murad is in awe of this woman, whose bathroom is bigger than his entire house. She explains it to Murad that it doesn’t matter, where the artist has come from. It’s the art that is going to be his identity forever.
Shrikant, better known as MC Sher, is a self-made rapper. He’s full of swagger and rides his emotions on his chest. Like every other successful rapper, he believes the true art is the result of a feud between man and his needs. Desperation, angst, hunger brings a man close to the art. He knows this because behind his success, lies his broken family. His mother has run away, leaving him to fend for his family and drunk father, who doesn’t lose a second berating him. And this bothers Shrikant so much that he vents it out on the mike by transforming himself into MC Sher. Like an Achilles heel, his family bothers him so much that he loses to a fellow rapper during the rap battle, as he’s left seething with anger with the attack on his personal life. Perhaps he sees his past, his struggling days in Murad and that’s why he becomes his mentor, probably because he didn’t have one. Sher becomes Murad’s mentor in every sense, as other than the art of rapping, he guides him in every step of life. He explains to Murad that it’s only us who think about caste, creed and colour before choosing the person. Murad sees the one half of the elder brother in him, who held his hands in tough times, Moin being the other one.
Moin, a street smart crook, who deals with every wrong stuff that’s available, be it carjacking or narcotics. He’s always there for Murad. Ideologically different, he sees the world different than what Murad does. He knows the struggle but also knows what’s good for Murad. It’s him who keeps Murad on the ground when he’s in crossroads of his relationship. And despite being caught, he doesn’t let the police know about Murad’s involvement in carjacking, for he believes that Murad is destined for bigger things in life. For Murad, both Sher and Moin represent the two choices of his life. For many who have risen from the lower bottom rung of the society, it’s the choices that decide their fate. Become a Sher or turn into a Moin.
‘Gully Boy’ isn’t only a movie. It’s an essay on people, life, choices. And of course, music.