The film Gully boy speaking out for urban subalterns

Radhakanta Barik

African free people were forcibly abducted by the European merchants of slave trade and took them to American soil and handed over the European settlers there. They kept them as slaves confined into one place and they were forced to work in their farms which were supervised by the white landlord moving on horse around the farm with a cane. This scene could not control the creativity of these black people living in one place as declared by the white settlers as the slaves. These slaves had a musical tone and lyrical approach to their lives which produced the Rock music. The poor dalits from rural India and harassed Muslims came to Bombay to work in factory as workers but forced to stay in the slums of the city. They had one room set where their production unit converged with their living space. Very often the political leaders threaten to destroy their huts as Dharavi slums remain as the centre of Mumbai city. The builders were ready to bribe the politicians and grab their land. But the government has gone but they are unable to destroy these slums. They are the life line of the city and they work in the informal sector of economy and produce wealth. An interesting study shows that they contribute substantially to wealth creation of the city. For instance they used to be shoe makers traditionally but they improved their technological basis and social basis to create shoe cooperatives that have their show rooms for selling the shoes. These improvements have provided them an additional income and additional contribution of GDP. They used to sing the songs written and produced by high culture where a grammar of singing matters rather than content. They used to despise that but went with that style. Today they want to articulate their voice which gets expressed in another medium that is the Rap. It is prosaic in language and expressed in musical manner and their emotions and sufferings get expressed in loud words and their body language.

“Mere gullie me  pure sahar ki awaj mere Gulli me, prayer, arati aya namaj mere Guli me” is a rap produced by the slum boys. This brings unity of religious groups living in the slums having a composite culture. This created a rhythmic echo in the minds of the film makers. Joya Aktar took the clues of her film script from these people who are not aware of high culture but in their collective experiences they have their secular and a close bond among themselves. These slum boys and girls face difficulties in handling their everyday life as their parents are poor and employed in informal sector as the driver, peons or workmen and mothers as housemaids. Their reality creates constraints over their ambitions and desires. Girls get married at early age and boys are forced to take up a job. Their ambitions and dreams are controlled by the parameters of reality. This remains as a question in the story as unfolded in the film. The boy’s father says,”I was a driver and you are going to be driver.” The owner of car where the man has been working and suggested the owner of his son is to be a driver. But the boy was doing BA while he joined the job. In the job he has to show particular style of behavior which fits into his class: that he has to open car window while their maliks come in  and drive them to their destination and while they come out of the car he has to repeat the same thing. This turns into a part of their habits. They learn the habits of lower class to respect the upper class. Their aspirations having an association from parents and their children. Once in Portblair as a teacher I went to a primary school where children of working class studied. On my inquiry regarding their aspirations they replied me: We would be workers. This explains the dynamics of class reality. In the story this gets repeated here also. The father reminds the boy that he cannot aspire to be a singer. This is beyond their class reality. The boy aspires to be a singer despite his constraints imposed by social reality. He works hard to realize his aspiration. He finds in his mobile that there are people who as a group practice in singing Rap as an amateur group. He succeeds to meet them. In the meantime he gets a chance to prove his talent in an open contest organized by some talent searing group. He takes leave from his job and goes there. This cliques and his life ambition gets realized. He turns into a rap singer. His hard work, his deep interest in music and his passion bring him a success.

While he is working as a driver he faces a peculiar situation regarding the daughter of his malik. His malik wants his daughter to go abroad for a higher study after her graduation. But she declines but she knows her limitations and she obeys the dictates of her father. She comes back and cries in the car where driver as a graduate cannot help her “Koi mujko ye bataye kyno ae doori aur majboori issi duniya ki kya story kiske hatme esike doori” He wants to stand with her but his class and the girl’s class is different both cannot stand together and share their sufferings. The camera moves in such a manner showing class identity of each. Camera man has done a wonderful scene where the class contradictions are getting exhibited in a scene in a meaningful manner. While the rap song is going on in the gully of the slums next to the slums the camera is moving over the big buildings around the slums showing contradictions.

In the story the girl wants to study and complete her MBBS as she is a good student but her parents are adamant that she should get married as good suitable candidates are coming. But she refuses to do so and her father is very sympathetic to her daughter’s cause.

This story has its climax which provides an aesthetic pleasure to the audience. “Apna time ayega, uthuja apni raakh se, tu udu ja ab talaash me”( Everybody struggles to realize one’s dream once it gets realized one tells loudly that this is my time, rise off from the ashes, now fly away in search of destiny.) This brings a unity of the audience and the story as it gets unfolded. This brings joys and happiness in each. It is an interesting way to tell the story of subaltern who wants to rise from their difficulties and torturous life. “When W E B Du Bois wanted to rethink the role of race in American life he turned to sound as a key modality for thinking through African American culture.” (Jonathan Sterne, Sonic Imagination, 2012). Through Rap music the writer here tries to express class consciousness of working class living in slums. Their voice can be heard through Rap music. Their voice is a distinct voice which cannot be ignored by anybody. In the narrative the film maker speaks out loudly the commentary on a present political situation which is anti-poor. Here the film is articulating a story of people living in slums and telling their class consciousness in a cinematic language and through Rap music. It is an interesting experiment by film maker to tell the story of class in a musical manner.

Prof Radhakanta Barik, retired as Professor, Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi

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Mar 16, 2019

Prof Radhakanta Barik [email protected]

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