Ek Number, Bhidu! That is the Mumbai slang for "top-class" – and it is exactly the way to describe Gully Boy, a wonderful underdog story, which shines a light on India's nascent hip-hop culture.
Directed by Zoya Akhtar, Gully Boy serves as a loose profile of two real-life rappers: Vivian Fernandes, or Divine, and Naved Shaikh, aka Naezy The Baa. There are splendid performances from Ranveer Singh and Siddhant Chaturvedi, who play Murad Sheikh and Shrikant, two young hip-hop hopefuls. Alia Bhat, Vijay Raaz and Vijay Varma offer sturdy notes of support in the chorus.
Akhtar directs the movie without altering too many details of the real lives of the rappers. She imbues them with ingenuity, and yet effortlessly depicts their respective grim personal battles.
Murad (Singh) is the son of a driver who must eke out a respectable living. He keeps drifting into odd jobs, though, as he tries to bail out a friend's oppressed mother from a father (Raaz) who remarries. As a reluctant participant in car burglaries with half-brother Moeen (Verma) and yet keen to help children being subjected to drug abuse, his emotional conflicts play out nicely.
While his quiet romance with an obsessive lover Safeena (Bhatt) provides some comic relief, his mind is in turmoil again once Kalki Koechlin becomes a work-related fling. All this while he nurtures his talent with MC Sher (Chaturvedi).
The rap battles and songs, with actual artists such as Emiway Bantai, Kaam Bhari, MC Altaf and others, undoubtedly make for compelling viewing. As the fraternity says, the words are expressions from the heart and to her credit Akhtar has only nurtured them well into the story-telling.
But one of the best scenes is a subdued, well-directed moment when Murad, filling in for his father as a stop-gap driver, gets carried away to the stage at a concert, which his female boss is attending. A security guard tells him to back off as the song Untouchable plays in the background.