Movie Review: Gully Boy by Zoya Akthar



I have a treasure trove of childhood memories. Of good times with family – both close and extended.

We would make it a point to meet up once a year, typically the last weekend of the year before Christmas and a day or two after the New Year. All my cousins except for one were male. I have twin brothers.

My tastes were anything but feminine since childhood. No jewelry or accessories. No excessive emotions on display. Cool exterior.

“You’re just like my daughter.”, said, my fifty-year-old Vietnamese friend before I was leaving California.

I remained calm.

“She’s like you. Doesn’t show any emotion but is soft inside.”

I was still stoic-faced even though I wanted to badly hug her and cry on her shoulders. I didn’t know when we would meet next but, something in my heart told me this would not be the last time. That we would meet again.

She knew me that I was too proud to do so. So, she whipped a paper note and read a poem on friendship which opened the floodgates of my eyes.

That’s always been me. That quality has translated even in my preferences – choice of fashion, books and even writing style.

“What you like the 50 Cents?”, said, my male cousin.

“Yup!” I replied. “And Eminem too.”

My male cousin sported shock and amusement in the same expression.

I didn’t get it.

Were these albums for men only? Was there a written rule somewhere? Coz’ if there was, I wanted to see it.

“Gangster’s Paradise” by Coolio, “California Love” by Tupac and Dr. Dre, “Lose Yourself” by Eminem, “Get Busy” and “Temperature” by Sean Paul are some of my go-to rap songs.




And, I’m a huge fan of Missy Elliot and her outrageous music.





Closer home, I LOVED the Noble Savages band. Their music was outstanding.




How can anyone not like Sean Paul and his sexy Jamaican accent?







It’s gotten a bad rap of late.

Everyone with a decent taste in music disses it. Especially the rap we hear today is the prostitute version of the original virginal rap.

It used to be about free speech. It was about well-directed anger and responsibility.

Today, it’s boxed into club numbers and remixes only. Worse still, Of fu%$^$^ children and young girls. Of plotting and executing cold-blooded murders. Of dissing the Creator and worshipping money. Of glorifying sex, drugs, and violence. Of crude materialism.

My husband introduced me to this brilliant documentary, “Streets of Compton” which we watched together two years ago. It’s an exhaustive three-hour film which explores how poverty, gangs wars, and politics gave rise to Americal old-school hip-hop or rap culture.


Cut to 2019.

7.45 AM – Feb 16

Me: Acha, if you are game, let’s watch Gully Boy this weekend. If possible, haan! You may not get tickets. It released yesterday.

Hubby: Okay!

In less than a minute,

Hubby: Let’s start in 20 mins.

Me: Whaaaat?

Hubby: I just booked the tickets for the morning show.

In no time, we headed out the door and took the Metro for the first time to Sujana Mall, our destination. We stopped in the interim at Ameerpet to grab a quick bite for breakfast before discussing how pleasant the train ride was.

Boy! I was very impressed with the public civic sense and cleanliness. It gave me some LA Metro feels. The only downer in the otherwise cool happening was a thick pink ribbon tied across the breadth of our compartment to segregate the women and men’s seats.

I rolled my eyes and threw my hands up in the air. For all the progress so far, this is so regressive.

My husband thought I was over-reacting. I was like why can’t people sit anywhere they like. Why these separate seats?

“Well, there are reservations for everything for women? So, it’s okay. Stop over-reacting.”, he said.

“Why can’t men behave? So men and women can sit wherever they want to freely.”


*Me still fuming*

We were probably one of the first visitors to the mall which still wore a sleepy look. We went in early, and the movie started to roll.

Just to let you know, I wanted to watch this movie for Ranveer Singh and Zoya Akthar. I was not expecting too much from Alia Bhatt as she was not the protagonist. The film is about Gully Boy. Hello!

I’ve done this charity act for Ranveer Singh earlier for Padmavaat. Even though I had nil interest to watch the movie, I wanted to check out Ranveer’s much-raved act as Khilji. I stood disappointed as it was a hyperbolic performance. The characterizations were too stark black and white for my sensibilities. However, I realized that this was Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s vision and not Ranveer’s handiwork alone.

I’ve enjoyed Ranveer Singh’s histrionics onscreen ever since I watched Ram Leela. I didn’t much care for the movie but Ranveer’s energy and free spirit kept me from dozing off to sleep.

I briefly caught the trailer of Gully Boy early this year and made a quick mental note not to miss this one. Why? For Ranveer Singh of course. I was almost going to watch Simbaa only for Ranveer Singh’s sake before better sense prevailed. I was curious to know what the man was up to next.

Moreover, I’ve always like Zoya Akthar’s style. I had enough confidence in her to muster courage and watch Gully Boy.

The movie was in full swing now. When I saw the scene where Ranveer and Alia share earphones and listen to soundtracks, a huge grin flashed across my cheeks, ear-to-ear.

“This is so us.”, I turned excitedly to my husband who’s busy analyzing the movie. More like Sherlock Holmes than Rajeev Masand.

“This might sound racist, but it’s not. Why are Indians trying so desperately to be black all of a sudden?”, my husband asked in all earnestness.

“Heh!Where did that come from?”

“Why can’t brown be happy being brown?”

“Can we watch the movie in peace instead of listening to your newfound philosophy?”

“No really! What is this movie about?”

“It’s about pop culture!”

“Well! The concept is stupid. In that case, the movie’s come 25 years too late.”

I chuckled and bit my tongue at the same time at his cheek.

“Well! It still hasn’t caught on with Indians as yet.”, I reasoned. “Besides, the movie is about aspirations, …never mind.” I knew what he was up to anyway and left it at that.

Well, that’s my husband – politically incorrect and non-mainstream. Precisely why I fell in love with him in the first place.

As I watched him from the side corner of my eye, I found him wide awake. A rarity considering that he snores during all the Hindi movies that I drag him to. At least, he’s watching. Good progress!

Now that we have ticked off his take, here’s my quickie review:

I enjoyed Gully Boy. It’s not the greatest or most inventive of all movies made. You can draw references from various sources. But Gully Boy is well-made and it scores high on that front.

I liked Ranveer Singh’s performance as Murad aka Gully Boy better than Khilji. I thought it was more streamlined.

Surprisingly, I loved Alia Bhatt’s performance as Safeena better than Sehmat in Raazi. I liked the brief shorts of Alia Bhatt because she carried spunk and spontaneity inside her hijab every time she came onscreen.

It’s a treat to watch how effortless this pairing is once the lead actors slip into the robes of their characters. They are ably supported by Vijay Raaz as Murad’s father, Amruta Subhash as his mother, Kalki Koechlin as Sky, Siddhant Chaturvedi as MC Sher (who looked and played the part of a rapper with easy swag), Ikhlaque Khan as Safeena’s father, Sheeba Chaddha as Safeena’s mother.

Coming back to my point at the beginning of this post where my male cousin was shocked at my preference for some hardcore rap songs!

Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti are the writers of this movie. They toy with a ghetto male protagonist like putty in their hands. They shatter the myth that women writers are overly emotional, biased and can’t tackle raw masculinity effectively.

Javed Akhtar’s lyrics are on-point, and it’s interesting to see them take the form of rap. The background score and cinematography are excellent.

I didn’t mind the length of the movie. I’d rather watch a well-made slow-paced movie than a trashy fast-paced one.

Zoya Akthar’s direction is nearly perfect. She whips up a formidable film that will do both commercially well and get critical acclaim. She paints her characters with realistic shades of grey. Whether it is Murad who lies to Safeena about Sky, Safeena who harbors an uncontrollable rage against lies and deception, Moin, Murad’s friend who deals in shady nefarious activities but plays the Good Samaritan to Murad, the not-so-evil stepmother of Murad, or Murad’s father who is an unfortunate victim of the circumstances like so many Mumbaikars trapped in filthy poverty.

One of the scenes I liked in the movie was the scene where Murad stands up to his father who reminds him of his aukaat and to get back to reality. Murad explains to his father about his passion, how people appreciate his talent, how he has self-worth, in fact, a lot of it, and how this is what he wants to do with his life, and there’s no way anyone can do anything about it. All this before sweeping the curtains to bring the final closure.

If I have any complaints about the movie, it would be the music. I honestly didn’t much care for the rap or its vocals barring for a song or two. Don’t get me wrong! As I said before the lyrics are on-point and some of the songs give you goosebumps. The main soundtrack “Apna Time Aayega” was good but it could have been much better with someone with stronger vocals. Ranveer Singh’s voice falls flat and even lazy in some portions.

I’d instead pick watching the film over listening to its soundtracks. I’ll stick listening to the original old-school rap songs. Remember this one?

My chest thumps with pride in the growing tribe of women directors. Here’s to more of all kinds and styles of women filmmakers – Farah Khan, Ekta Kapoor, Meghna Gulzar, Zoya Akhtar and more!

The curtains closed.

It was time to take over the eclectic streets and gorge on the wayside food once again.

My movie rating: 4/5

Go and watch it if you haven’t yet already! And if you have, do let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Tina Sequeira
Tina Sequeira is a marketer and moonlighting writer. She is passionate about tech, creativity, and social justice—dabbling in and writing about the same.

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