Zoya Akhtar-directed film Gully Boy charts the rags-to-riches story of two street rappers from Dharavi — Vivian Fernandes aka Divine and Naved Shaikh aka Naezy — who collaborated on the 2015 hit Mere Gully Mein. Through their journey from realising their love for rap, chasing their dreams and inadvertently transcending their class, the film has already generated a buzz for its subject matter — desi hip-hop and how it became the voice of the streets. First announced in 2016, Gully Boy has been shot in different parts of Mumbai, especially the slums of Dharavi.
Authentic hip-hop in India is a recent phenomenon, and like anywhere else in the world, it is rising from the streets. It is the only true political space in music right now, and it is coming from people who have nothing to lose. The music in the film ranges from rapping about petty crimes in the duo’s respective neighbourhoods of Kurla and Andheri to finding a voice and becoming activists through music. The film has lead actor Ranveer Singh taking over the microphone and rapping for the first time in a film. Ranveer has previously rapped pieces for some television commercials.
The film, which also features Alia Bhatt, Kalki Koechlin, Ali Asgar and Parmeet in the main roles, is scheduled to be released worldwide on February 14, a week after its official premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival. Divine has contributed five tracks to the original soundtrack. “Hip-hop is the voice of the streets, and Gully Boy will take it to every corner of the country,” he says about the soundtrack.
One of the tracks, “Azaadi” is a stinging account of corrupt, lackadaisical governments that are apathetic to public issues. “It’s something I’ve worked on for a long time and it will resonate with a lot of people. We’ve all seen corruption throughout the history of our nation; it’s something I wanted to bring out through my music,” he says about the song. Another track, “Apna Time Aayega”, performed by Ranveer Singh, is a tale of self-determination in the face of strife and poverty. The song has gone on to become one of the leading tracks in the film’s soundtrack. “A big thanks to Dub Sharma who has been my collaborator on both the songs,” adds Divine, who will also release his debut album early this year. Talking about his musical influences, he says, “I get inspired by everyday life — my family, my friends and the things I see on the street every day.”
Talking about their journey to fame, the rapper duo believes it has been nothing short of amazing. “If you had told a 13-year-old me that at 28, I would be travelling the world, taking my words and music to millions of people, work with legends in the music and film industry, I wouldn’t have believed you,” says Divine. However, he believes that the journey hasn’t been without its share of hard work, grit and making some great friends, along the way. “Who wants to listen to a 20-year-old talk about issues like corruption and poverty? That too, from a boy on the wrong side of the tracks,” he says.
The secret to their success was never losing faith in their abilities. “I knew I would be able to win over people’s reluctance,” adds Divine. With their story, they hope to inspire young people trying to make it big. “Being authentic and honest to oneself and one’s roots is something I firmly believe in. And that’s what is important,” he adds.