Flawed Narratives: Gully Boy
Lately in Bollywood there has been an euphoria on the resurgence of socially relevant cinema which is also commercially viable. This includes Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy where she re-orients rap music from the materialist misogynist Baadshah Yo Yo forms to the social critique arising out of slums of Mumbai. The other project being that of Abhinav Sinha’s Article 15, a tale of caste atrocities in a remote village. Both these movies are based on true stories and have received critical acclaim.
But they are deeply flawed and also carry stereotypes of the past in more insidious forms. They have been packed and packaged for urban consumption and is filled with the upper class ideas of villages slums patriarchy and caste. They are a shallow coloured reflection of the true stories they purport to be depicting. These movies are not audacious to challenge the repressive social structures nor are they in any way empowering the people that they stand for.
This is a two part series analysing these movies and its undercurrents which works in more deceptive fashions augmenting frameworks of oppression.
Starting with Gully Boy, the story of a Rapper from the slums, the rap wars in abandoned buildings and rap as a medium of protest against deprivation and inequality in societies. The movie has powerful music which sounds like it was squeezed out of an angry soul. Ranvir gives an earnest toned down performace with a strong supporting cast. But the movie fails its music and its cast with its dead storyline and misguided potrayal of women and minorities and a very romantic documentation of slums.
The story is nothing but “Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman” with a coat of rap music. Murad (Ranvir) is a rapper who wants to make it big in the music industry similar to Raj (Shahrukh) who is a civil engineer and wants to be successful. They both have a guru/friend whose morality is ambiguous and more practical than ideal, this would be Arif (Vijay Verma) and Jai (Nana Patekar) respectively. Now they both have their love interest in traditional space, Safeena (Alia Bhatt) and Renu (Juhi Chawla).As Murad and Raj grow out of their neighbourhoods they meet women and fall for women who appear to be more modern, independent and having command over their lives, Sky (Kalki Koechlin) and Sapna (Amrita Singh). The characters they drift away from their roots get successful and then see success meaningless without their loved ones and return to them.
Now the depiction of slums, if one looks carefully the cinematography of the movie is done in a manner that the rough edges of the slums won’t poke your eye. The relatively new cinematographer Jay Oza has managed a color tone and shot in locations where you think that slums are ok, they aren’t that bad.There is a huge abyss between his potrait of slums and the Dharawis of this country.You cant expect much from someone who did the cinematography of Indian version of 24(series) roped in for a docu-drama of rappers from slums.
Another issue that my friend Anagha points out is that of the depiction of minorities. The main protagonists are all Muslims. All the stereotypes associated with the religion are subscribed to by the movie. Murad’s father has multiple wives, Safeena’s family has an aversion towards girls education. Now the defence for this has been the fact that this is based on true events. Yes maybe but where are those movies where the Islamic religion has aided the liberation of individuals through music. Where is the movie on AR Rahman who converted from Hinduism to Islam and created the best sufi music of the nation. The politics is in the choice.
This all comes down to a director who is from the minority community and is one of the very few successful female directors in Bollywood. The portrayal of women in her movies have been very ambiguous. They look independent and strong but in the end they all adjust themselves to the patriarchal structures around them. Lets take Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Her brother had made a road movie with three men in Goa and she took the project international with another set of three men. Can’t one of the protagonist be a woman?. Further more, two women appear one providing purpose to Hrithik’s life and the other an impediment on Abhay’s life. One is a catalyst to a man discovery of meaning and the other a cage from which a man needs to liberate himself.
In this movie there are two major issues related to women, one is temporal and the other spatial. Murad’s mother forgives her husband for being unfaithful and then marrying again. Later Murad himself cheats on his girlfriend Safeena and later she forgives him. Even if these women are separated by generation their responses to injustice perpetrated on them remains the same. Why cant we have a trajectory where Safeena has become a very successful doctor and rejects Murad and chooses another man?
The second is the way Sky is treated, Murad has a fling with her and later rejects and returns to Safeena. Sky here is a more independent woman sharing an urban space with liberal attitude towards sex and Safeena shares comparatively a more traditional and conventional space. Hence it creates a notion that women who are more conventional and faithful even when their boyfriends are not, would be rewarded in the end.
All this when women are making serious strides in society entering Haji Ali Dargah, climbing Sabarimala, repealing laws which see them as men’s property. Gully Boy acts as a retardant to such quantum leaps in the emancipation of gender.
It is now the official entry to Oscars as well, in a year which has had groundbreaking regional cinema like “Ee Maa Yu” “Pariyerum Perumal”
But what can we do, we are stuck with the mediocrity of Bollywood,its dynastic structures and the underwhelming and incompetent offsprings of bygone era greats, it’s intellectually impoverished audience who made Kabir Singh the biggest hit of the year.