Keeping aside the controversy around his upcoming film Padmaavat, Ranveer Singh has immersed himself in the preparation for filmmaker Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy, which is inspired by the lives of Mumbai street rappers Divine and Naezy. The prep requires various music sittings between the actor and the two rappers, and if one asks Divine, the musician is already impressed with Ranveer’s efforts to get into the skin of his character.
On the sidelines of the multi-genre music festival, TimeOut 72, Divine talked to indianexpress.com about Gully Boy, collaborating with Ranveer and Zoya, and the emerging parallel movement in Indian hip-hop.
It was one of his live performances in Mumbai around two years ago that not only marked the beginning of a friendship between him and Zoya, but also sowed the seed for Gully Boy.
“Zoya has been my friend from past one-and-a-half years. We became friends after she heard my music. She attended my show some two years ago. There we met and since then we have been friends,” said Divine, before adding that even though he and the director had been discussing Gully Boy for long, the film is not based on him but “is about the hip-hop scene, in general, that’s happening in the city.”
Talking about closely working with Ranveer, Divine said besides the hard work that he has been putting for the film, the fact that the actor is a huge fan of rap makes him the perfect choice for Gully Boy.
“I have sat in the studio with Ranveer. He is a really good guy and the right person to do the movie. I am really lucky and honoured to be witnessing this. I had just sparked the whole scene (hip-hop) and now it has become so big. Ranveer is working really hard for the movie. He has heard all my songs. He is a hip-hop fan. So, he is the best guy to do the film. He will make the best rapper on screen. No one else can do it.”
Gully Boy is touted as one of the most-anticipated Bollywood films, majorly owing to its subject. While rap and hip-hop music to the majority of the country is known as a similar sounding assembly of lyrics about partying, alcohol and mandatory sexism, a host of young rappers, hailing from a humble background, has been trying to push the boundaries by talking about things like poverty, class difference, their immediate surroundings and the city.
The talent of these artistes, including Divine, Naezy and DJ Nucleya, has been recognised by big music labels that has helped them grow from streets of Mumbai to big concerts across various music festivals. But there is still some time for these musicians on the fringes to become a part of the mainstream. And Divine believes this is where Gully Boy will play a crucial role. “I know this for sure that after the film releases, hip-hop will reach every gully and corner of the country.”
On the emergence of this much-needed indie movement of hip-hop in India, the young rapper said that the intention is to change the habit of the listeners, who for the longest time were exposed only to the commercialsed version of hip-hop
“What they were showing you on TV for the longest time wasn’t hip-hop. I never considered it hip-hop. When I entered it, first I read the whole history of the genre, its origin, listened to various albums and that’s how I could do what I do right now. Like I talk about my city and other things because hip-hop has always been about spreading message, to convey something, to go out there and get people together. It was there to unite people.
“But later it became commercial. It then got songs, which spoke about alcohol and other similar stuff. And I don’t think it is a bad part of hip-hop. It’s how the people take it. Because people want to listen to it, hence these songs are made. If public stops listening to it, such music will not be produced,” said Divine.
The rapper, whose singles like “Mere Gully Mein” and “Jungli Sher”, earned him international acclaim, adds the future of rap in India is extremely promising and progressive. Seeing teenagers around him aggressively experimenting with the genre and putting their work on social media makes him hopeful of a time when rap will be taken seriously in the country.
“I have just sparked the scene. According to me, it is going to explode. It’s going to get crazy because I have seen 18 to 19-year-old kids going (full-fledged) about hip-hop. At 18, I was smoking cigarettes outside my college and these kids are writing rhymes. It’s going to be crazy. Even I used to write rhymes but when I started, I had no one to look up to when it came to Hindi rap or shooting videos. It was an alienated concept in our country.
“No one properly understood hip-hop. No one was shooting videos on streets. Today, everyone knows that videos can be shot anywhere on a phone. You can put them on YouTube, which is the biggest platform. You don’t need a music label (to back) or any other promotion. If your song is good, it will go.”
In such a scenario, he is aware he needs to up his game as well in order to stay ahead in the competition. The rapper now wants to move beyond videos, which he believes look amateur now.
“I don’t want to shoot on my phone anymore. Now, I want to shoot videos properly. Also, I think I will come up with a new album in 2018. I will make better videos. Enough of shooting videos on phone in gullys. Of course, I will shoot videos in gullys but I want to do it properly so that things get more interesting,” said Divine.