The Sunday evening show of Gully Boy, now in its second week, was almost full at one of the multiplexes in New Delhi. Much like me and my group of friends, it was a repeated viewing for many. Scenes were anticipated, catcalls were reserved for MC Sher’s entry and much applause greeted Alia Bhatt the moment she appeared on the screen. It was her scene with Murad (Ranveer Singh) — one where she hastily and sneakily plants a kiss on his mouth — that perhaps took even those who were watching it the second or third time by surprise. As good as they were, it was not the actors’ doing. As if sharing Murad’s consternation, a child asked aloud in the audience, “Doesn’t she know he is poor?”
Doesn’t she? She does. And so does he.
In one of the later scenes in the film, when Safeena gives him her Ipad because he would have to spend the entire night alone, filling in for his father’s job as a driver, a shocked Murad admits this. He says, perhaps for the first time and albeit in a slurry voice, that he will not be able to give her “all this”. Safeena replies with a kiss.
Idealism of youth
When Murad is introduced for the first time, he is walking behind Mooen (Vijay Verma), adjusting the latter’s silhouette to hide himself. A college-goer who knows he can write but not that he can sing, he isn’t the quintessential hero yet. As much as he seems to be convinced, his morals are not inflexible, but he is brimming with idealism. Defying the pragmatism of his father, he believes he can dream, and that they need not have anything to do with his reality.
This dogged idealism of youth percolates in the way Murad views romance as well, in fact in the way both Safeena and he view it. There is much irrationality in their love and much faith. When Safeena literally attempts to break the face of the girl who had just messaged Murad, her defence is simple- “mere boyfriend se gulu-gulu karegi toh dhoptuinga na usko?” Both, the hapless Murad and the audience know it is a rhetorical question.
Ownership of first love
This sense of ownership, that one might call even territorial, seems reasonable in their case. They know each other since as long as they can remember and cannot, as is evident, imagine being without each other. Notwithstanding the situation at their individual homes (Murad’s polygamous father who is a driver stands in stark contrast to Safeena’s father who is a doctor, even their mothers stand at different grounds of being oppressed), they refuse to take into account any of these. There is much defiance in this love, much insurmountable promise to overcome any obstacle, much audacity and a lot of tenderness. Stories have not become secrets yet and promises have not been extracted. Meetings are still carefully planned and the final turn after a hasty goodbye matters much.
It is best reflected in their rare, stolen moments of affection. Their kisses are unrehearsed and unhurried, and they reek of familiarity and assurance. It is not surprising then that the first time they are shown kissing, they alienate themselves from the camera, which, much like an outsider, wobbles from behind. And later when they kiss at Safeena’s bathroom, the act becomes one of reconciliation after Murad confesses his brush with the world that exists outside the one they had created for themselves. He had kissed another girl, and much like perhaps smoking, which he did not particularly mind much, he reassures her all the same that he will not repeat it again. Such acceptance and such innocence is singular only to first love(s). There is no performance here, no pretention. If you have hurt, you make it better.
Their only story
And yet Gully Boy, as the title indicates, is not their story. Zoya Akhtar’s film primarily preoccupies itself with the boy and his gully, Dharavi, his struggles, hardships, angst and the final release. In a film that has 17 songs, there is not one that is dedicated to them. Some songs do have snippets of them, but it gets stifled by Murad’s angst.
But for them, at least for Safeena, it is her only story and she will do all that it takes to protect it. And she does. Much violence ensues every time she comes to know about his supposed involvement with other girls, but, when they are together, there is much tenderness and tranquility in the frame. Her face breaks into a smile and his eyes light up, when he sees her, almost basking in the sense of ownership she exercises on him.
The weariness of the world has not jaded such a love yet. It seems rare and all-consuming. How are you not willing to fight for such a love or tempted to break bottles on someone else’s head who poses as a threat? Safeena merely gives in.
What struck a child, had struck them as well. They do know he is “poor”, and yet the future does not look bleak to them. It seems incidental. In the interim, they are content sharing headphones and bus seats, stolen kisses and silences. They are living their story now, they will write songs about it later.