India’s Gully Boys and Girls don’t depend on politics to realise class aspirations

Indrajit Hazra

Regardless of results next month, it can be safely said that after five years of much of the Indian electorate’s overly respectful camaraderie with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP’s strength lies in understanding class politics best among India’s political parties. Or, to put it more simply, in understanding class.

To understand what I mean by that, forget the elections for a while. Instead, take Zoya Akhtar’s film, Gully Boy. For those who have yet to see the movie, the story is about Murad, who lives in Mumbai’s Dharavi, living a Dharavi life, going to college, very well aware that glass ceilings as strong as tungsten exist.

When his father, a driver, breaks his leg, it’s expected that Murad will fill in his job, despite his college-time. Murad’s girlfriend, Safeena, comes from a better-off family. She can afford to give her iPad to Murad, while he can’t give her ‘anything in return’. But their world is still recognisable to each other, unlike that of others, such as the talent-collecting Berklee College of Music student ‘Sky’ who falls for Murad/Murad’s talent.

Murad discovers his own talent as a rap artist, finding confirmation through a Dharavi friend, Shrikant a.k.a. DJ Sher. It is Sher who propels Murad, now with the nom de guerre ‘Gully Boy’, to want to be more than a driver’s son — the proverbial ‘pakoda-seller’. As Murad says in a scene, ‘Mera apna sachhai badlega jo mere sapne se mil gaye’ (My reality will change according to my dreams).

And here we come tumbling down the rabbit hole of ‘Achhe din’ and aspirational India. There is a scene in Akhtar’s film where Murad is chauffeuring, while the father who owns the car tells his daughter who wants to stop studying and start working, ‘You want to stay as a graduate and be like him?’ Murad/Ranveer Singh keeps his eyes on the road and hands upon the wheel, even as we register what the father of the posh girl has just told her — Do you want to be indistinguishable from his class?

Achhe Din ke Sapne

BJP, in general, and Narendra Modi, in particular, were successful in 2014 in identifying itself, and himself, with the masses in class terms — once a domain of the Left parties, and still in its own head its sole custodian. Other regional leaders like Mamata Banerjee have also played this ‘I am one of you, not one of them’ riff well. But, arguably, no one has played the class card — without calling it the ‘class card’, of course — at such a scale as Modi’s BJP/BJP’s Modi. In this context, ‘achhe din’ vaguely becomes breaking out of one’s class bubble — Murad’s sapne (dreams) and sachhai (reality) coalescing.

This, of course, may not have happened for most folks. But Modi’s talent has been in making young people believe not just that this can be made to happen, but that he is the one who has made them discover that it can be done. That is suave politics.

But Gully Boy is also about anger, not only against ‘Jingostan’, as a song has it in the film, but also against ‘class’ and ‘traditional’ barriers in one’s daily lives. Akhtar’s movie has no bhakti or ‘great national spirit’ fuelling this anger. Instead, it’s about self-will, helped along by friends, and fuelled, in Murad’s words, by the belief that ‘Mera din ayega’ (My day will come). This is not about someone’s version of achhe din being doled out and received with riotous gratefulness.

Writer and columnist Palash Krishna Mehrotra acquainted me to the music of DJ Faadu in 2012. In an India Today column (bit.do/eQiFa) about four rap/hip-hop artists — MC Kash, Gandu Circus, Honey Singh and DJ Faadu — he had written that Kash’s “lyrics deal with tensions between the hapless Kashmiri and the Indian State”, Gandu Circus was more esoteric, and Honey Singh, as we know by now, ‘mainstream’ and Bollywood-friendly.

But Mehrotra singled out DJ Faadu, an ‘outsider’ in the fray. Faadu’s lyrics in ‘Kash Koi Mil Jaye’ (bit.do/ eQinB), despite sounding/being misogynistic, yearned for achhe din even then, achhe din being a ‘rich boy’s life’ — ‘Don’t take lightly, mar chuka hai mere andar ka insan (the man inside me has died)/ Yesterday, I felt aroused while looking at car silencer’. In its sexual frustration and unhindered Hinglish, the song radiates the young north Indian underclass male’s class sadness, his pining for ‘access’ (to girls, in this case).

Ma’s Appeal

Akhtar’s Gully Boy picks up from where DJ Faadu’s onanistic anguish had left. In her reappraisal of the Mumbaikar’s ‘dhanda’, Akhtar’s film is more political than any party campaign ad or rally speech. In a sense, it’s a story about Hindustan’s ‘demographic dividend’-ing class. It’s a film that can only appeal to young aspirational Indians who are neither bright-eyed bhakts of any political divinity nor those who have accepted their assigned place in the world.

So, in a strange paradoxical way, Gully Boy is an anti-political political movie about class that sidesteps any promise of ‘achhe din’ and feeds on the singular belief that ‘Mera din ayega’.

indrajit.hazra@timesgroup.com

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When his father, a driver, breaks his leg, it’s expected that Murad will fill in his job, despite his college-time. Murad’s girlfriend, Safeena, comes from a better-off family. She can afford to give her iPad to Murad, while he can’t give her ‘anything in return’. But their world is still recognisable to each other, unlike that of others, such as the talent-collecting Berklee College of Music student ‘Sky’ who falls for Murad/Murad’s talent.

Murad discovers his own talent as a rap artist, finding confirmation through a Dharavi friend, Shrikant a.k.a. DJ Sher. It is Sher who propels Murad, now with the nom de guerre ‘Gully Boy’, to want to be more than a driver’s son — the proverbial ‘pakoda-seller’. As Murad says in a scene, ‘Mera apna sachhai badlega jo mere sapne se mil gaye’ (My reality will change according to my dreams).

And here we come tumbling down the rabbit hole of ‘Achhe din’ and aspirational India. There is a scene in Akhtar’s film where Murad is chauffeuring, while the father who owns the car tells his daughter who wants to stop studying and start working, ‘You want to stay as a graduate and be like him?’ Murad/Ranveer Singh keeps his eyes on the road and hands upon the wheel, even as we register what the father of the posh girl has just told her — Do you want to be indistinguishable from his class?

Achhe Din ke Sapne

BJP, in general, and Narendra Modi, in particular, were successful in 2014 in identifying itself, and himself, with the masses in class terms — once a domain of the Left parties, and still in its own head its sole custodian. Other regional leaders like Mamata Banerjee have also played this ‘I am one of you, not one of them’ riff well. But, arguably, no one has played the class card — without calling it the ‘class card’, of course — at such a scale as Modi’s BJP/BJP’s Modi. In this context, ‘achhe din’ vaguely becomes breaking out of one’s class bubble — Murad’s sapne (dreams) and sachhai (reality) coalescing.

This, of course, may not have happened for most folks. But Modi’s talent has been in making young people believe not just that this can be made to happen, but that he is the one who has made them discover that it can be done. That is suave politics.

But Gully Boy is also about anger, not only against ‘Jingostan’, as a song has it in the film, but also against ‘class’ and ‘traditional’ barriers in one’s daily lives. Akhtar’s movie has no bhakti or ‘great national spirit’ fuelling this anger. Instead, it’s about self-will, helped along by friends, and fuelled, in Murad’s words, by the belief that ‘Mera din ayega’ (My day will come). This is not about someone’s version of achhe din being doled out and received with riotous gratefulness.

Writer and columnist Palash Krishna Mehrotra acquainted me to the music of DJ Faadu in 2012. In an India Today column (bit.do/eQiFa) about four rap/hip-hop artists — MC Kash, Gandu Circus, Honey Singh and DJ Faadu — he had written that Kash’s “lyrics deal with tensions between the hapless Kashmiri and the Indian State”, Gandu Circus was more esoteric, and Honey Singh, as we know by now, ‘mainstream’ and Bollywood-friendly.

But Mehrotra singled out DJ Faadu, an ‘outsider’ in the fray. Faadu’s lyrics in ‘Kash Koi Mil Jaye’ (bit.do/ eQinB), despite sounding/being misogynistic, yearned for achhe din even then, achhe din being a ‘rich boy’s life’ — ‘Don’t take lightly, mar chuka hai mere andar ka insan (the man inside me has died)/ Yesterday, I felt aroused while looking at car silencer’. In its sexual frustration and unhindered Hinglish, the song radiates the young north Indian underclass male’s class sadness, his pining for ‘access’ (to girls, in this case).

Ma’s Appeal

Akhtar’s Gully Boy picks up from where DJ Faadu’s onanistic anguish had left. In her reappraisal of the Mumbaikar’s ‘dhanda’, Akhtar’s film is more political than any party campaign ad or rally speech. In a sense, it’s a story about Hindustan’s ‘demographic dividend’-ing class. It’s a film that can only appeal to young aspirational Indians who are neither bright-eyed bhakts of any political divinity nor those who have accepted their assigned place in the world.

So, in a strange paradoxical way, Gully Boy is an anti-political political movie about class that sidesteps any promise of ‘achhe din’ and feeds on the singular belief that ‘Mera din ayega’.

indrajit.hazra@timesgroup.com

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