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Gully Boy Soundtrack Review: Almost As Realistic As You Could Get

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album Reviews Jan 28, 03:56pm

This is a movie about rap. This soundtrack is a compilation album.
 Photo Courtesy: Gully Boy

To begin with, let’s just state one thing. Gully Boy is a movie with context. So its soundtrack does a phenomenal job of putting what the point of this film is front and center. You have to expect the usual Bollywood adulteration and dumbing down of a movie’s subject matter (and thus its music), ditching reality and realism for eyeballs and formulaic fluff. But Gully Boy has achieved what very, very few Bollywood soundtracks have; any pretense is conspicuous by its absence. Well, almost.

 


One of the most important things the soundtrack does to be as ‘real’ as possible is that it uses songs that are already big hits in the Mumbai scene and things people can already relate to. There are quite a few tracks on here that are a few years old at this point; what one hears on the soundtrack are re-recorded versions with slight changes in production for the most part. And of course, the chief change is that Ranveer Singh hops on the mic to rap over some of them. And boy, has he done a good job. It is very, very interesting to hear him try to ride a beat or flow with a certain cadence. DIVINE and Naezy’s ‘Mere Gully Mein’, for example, gets a rework for the movie and features Ranveer rapping. While this version doesn’t slap anywhere as hard as the original (maybe the movie and the context in which this song is used play into that somehow), his performance is not at all bad; if you consider that hip-hop is not his day job, it’s actually really cool to see the effort he has put into maintaining a flow and doing a verse justice. And one can hear this studied attempt to rap competently wherever he pops up on these 18 songs.

 

 


There’s also some awesome production to be heard. ‘Apna Time Aayega’ is a sort of call to action and the most trailer-worthy song on the soundtrack. Please keep your sub-woofer fairly low on this one; the bass on the track is absolutely massive and the song has an infectious hook that everyone is going to scream if this song is ever performed live. It’s also short, and that is such an important thing that the soundtrack gets right. Nobody is going to listen to a 5-minute rap song, especially in a movie. Most songs on here stay at the 2-3 minute mark, hit you with a grimy-ass beat, make their point quickly and then leave you alone. That’s a good decision to take; rap affords one the ability to tell a story concisely and memorably; no one wants to hear a long speech. ‘Doori’ is a great example. There’s also an acapella version on the OST, but the one with the instrumental is a highlight. It’s a glam-tinged affair that would have been used in an inspiring rap song about being oneself and being a good person sometime in the mid-2000s. It has the trap-influenced drums that make it sound modern, but it’s really really great that it sort of pays homage to a different era of hip-hop. Ranveer is also spot on here; the aggression in his voice on other tracks is tempered here by a bit less swagger and a bit more wistfulness.

 

 


Of course, all the other rappers involved with this soundtrack are in fine form on their contributions. Mumbai’s Finest’s ACE is great on ‘Har Gham Mein Khushi hai’, which is one of the more modern-sounding tracks here. The keyboard line is a bit old-school and a earworm, and his flow is catchy as hell. ‘Kaam Bhaari’ featuring himself is kickass; the guitar samples are a nice touch and the beat is an absolute banger. The song has some awesome snatches of shehnai for some added spice and his flow is laced with grit and some ad-libs that showcase how much fun Indian rap can be to listen to. ‘Sher Aaya Sher’ has a corny-ass instrumental that is pop-rap and absolutely delightful. The chopped up vocal samples have tinges of when hip-hop sounds first entered Punjabi music and DIVINE’s gritty, harsh voice complements it brilliantly. This song is going to be one of the big hits of this movie, and that is its virtue. ‘Jingostan Beatbox’ is a straight up skeletal, no-frills F-the-system anthem; Dub Sharma toes the line between being preachy and being flow-y. There’s not much in the way of instrumentation here and that’s the point; you can’t not listen to what is being said, and it is all the more forceful for it. ‘Azadi’ is a song that was written in light of the whole JNU issue and it’s going to be interesting to see how the Kanhaiya Kumar-sampled banger works in the context of the movie. And Jesus, the beat murders. That bassline. It’s intense. But this song showcases another facet of how Bollywood Mumbai rap can be when it wants to; there’s drama, a pretty cool bar with a Slumdog Millionaire reference (a movie that might have misrepresented Bollywood, Mumbai and the ‘Indian Dream’ to an extent) and a proper hook that guarantees a sing-along and millions of views. ‘India 91’ is a belter with Mridangam and a searing flow. This soundtrack has everything.

 


And that includes a few odd things. It must be understood that this is a movie soundtrack and not an album; besides all the excellent socially aware hip-hop on offer, there also has to be stuff that pushes the story forward. There is a story here, and it’s a Bollywood story: I want to do what I want but society won’t let me. That means that there has to be a little bit of fluff, and there is. They aren’t bad songs at all; on the contrary, they’re well written. But they stick out like a sore thumb amongst the anger and sharp social commentary, and nothing can really be done about it; this is a soundtrack to a movie, so at some points it has to serve it. ‘Jahaan Tu Chala’ is a cute indie song with acoustic guitars and really sweet lyrics which all but confirms that there’s probably going to be some cinematic rain in this movie and that one of the characters will look out of a window at some point. ‘Train Song’ is a good song but suffers from context issues too. ‘Kab Se Kab Tak’ is what happens when you allow too much Bollywood to seep into a rap song; again, it’s not that bad, but it kind of makes some of the harder hitting songs a bit redundant; this is a movie that celebrates a movement and the rise of something culturally real while also allowing one to munch popcorn and tune out. It’s a weird dichotomy, and the movie will probably address it in much more detail than its soundtrack, for better or for worse.

 


That being said, it would be silly not to acknowledge that Gully Boy is going to make some sort of cultural impact, and the soundtrack resoundingly confirms this. It pays homage to its (young) roots, it is meaningful and poignant in parts, and it bops. The fact that so many big artists from the Mumbai rap scene lend their songwriting skills to a project based on a true story is not only sensible; it is necessary. One would hope that the movie is too.

 

 

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