Gully Boy - a disturbing perspective.
|A still from 'Gully Boy'|
The last sequence of the movie 'Gully Boy' shows the rising rap singer from the slums of Mumbai, walking up on to a glittering stage, attended by various aides on his way, to face a cheering audience. The lights illuminating the upstage area (the one furthest from the audience) suddenly switches on to reveal a two dimensional cardboard cutout of a slum set, in front of which Gully Boy is supposed to successfully rap. That is when the end credits appear and that is when it struck me that 'Gully Boy' the movie is just that - the voyeuristically captured 'harsh' and 'depressing' milieu of the Mumbai slums evident in the beginning of the movie before even the plot begins to crawl, is just a cardboard cutout stage setting meant to be where it is meant to be - in the background.
What is the foreground? The movie is about an angst ridden rap singer who wants to escape up from the 'harsh' realities of a class that he thinks he is struck in, on the strength and basis of his own talent. And what are these 'harsh' realities? The man has an abusive father who brings home a second wife as the first one is around and who nags him on the drop of a hat about the money that he has spent on his education. There are other stereotypical 'harsh' realities shown in the movies - that the slum is a den of vices, of orphans, of drug peddlers, of wife beating husbands, of submissive wives and regressive mothers, of money fleecing grandmothers, of cheating lovers, of violent friends, of lying children and all sort of life losers. Replace the word 'slum' with the word 'Muslim' and the above sentence would still hold good. After a point it looks over played and over scripted for a movie that ends up being in the music competition genre.
Well, not that there were no 'feel good' characters - the convincingly enacted independent minded ever benevolent lover (although she is shown belong to the middle class, but from the same milieu), the helpful slum friend of the rough and tough kind, the sharp fellow singer who first notices Gully Boy's talent, the caring mother, the fan-girl step mother etc. All these characters are supportive to Gully Boy in his quest for 'escaping up the ladder' from the over scripted 'harsh' realities around him. And then there are other upper class characters who actively aid and abet Gully Boy's personal pursuit - fellow rapper's upper caste girl friend, the mysterious super rich foreign returned music student who helps Gully Boy grow big with half hearted attempts at portraying her as a societal rebel thrown in. They are the charitable ones looking down from a pedestal pulling up the protagonist to their level, so to say.
That in fact, what I think comes across as the world view of the makers - that they like some of their 'top down approach' characters are objectivizing and looking down benevolently at the slum which they think is a den of vices, hardships and darkness; and from where people need to be redeemed. This also probably explains why this move has done fairly well in film festivals abroad; those that probably seek to look at India as the 'other' and on the net whose primary audience might be the middle and upper middle class herd who themselves look at slums in similarly. The slum being relegated to the background as a two dimensional cardboard stage cutout in the end - further away from the audience - would seem like a visual manifestation of this world view.
There is one character in the movie which had great potential to help the movie break away from this stereotypical portrayal. Gully Boy in the initial part of the movie doubles up for his father as a driver, where he encounters the daughter of his employer who does not want to study and as he observes despite the class (and religion) difference is probably as angst ridden as him. But like most of the other promising characters in the movie, the makers unceremoniously abandon this one too. The graph of the committed girl friend's character tapers when the rap competition begins; the foreign returned music student is forgotten and thrown away from the screenplay after she provides a solid mid level push to Gully Boy's career, the father's character gets a little meat only in the end where we come to know that he too is a looser in this class war and that is when the Gully Boy gets to enact out the punchiest dialogue in the movie - that he is a self made man. It looked that aspect was injected into the father character only to let allow the protagonist to utter the dialogue. Disturbingly, it sure is a use and throw approach to minor characters.
What we are left in the end is an effort fully enacted male protagonist achieving his personal object at any cost. As his father uses his second marriage citing sexually rigidity of his mother, he too gets into a relationship with his benevolent upper class sympathizer to climb up the ladder. As his drug peddler friend uses orphan children to further his business, Gully Boy too makes use of the same to further his career. Gully Boy does not even have the integrity to acknowledge that he too is a part of the crime / misdeeds that he thinks others are indulging in. Neither do the makers do so. And again, disturbingly, Gully Boy is our hero.
All said and done Gully Boy, the movie, is about pampering the patriarchy. It couldn't have been otherwise, however I wished it did. Distressingly this has always been my theory - you could help pass progressive laws in the parliament, you could make all the right noises on social platforms and in their real life counterparts, but unless you are pampering the overbearing phallic your movie does not even get made in the mainstream cinema set up, not to mention of its release.