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Gully Boy movie review: Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt raise the roof with a great musical. 4 stars

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Gully Boy
Director – Zoya Akhtar
Cast – Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Vijay Raaz, Kalki Koechlin
Rating – 4/5

The first time we see Ranveer Singh in Gully Boy, he’s stealing a car. Three men head toward an SUV, Singh walking third, far behind the cocksure leader. He appears tentative and preoccupied, having sought out the least active role. His name is Murad, and that is his way. A college kid obsessed with hip-hop, he even writes songs hoping someone else will belt out his rhymes. The performer he approaches (with a notebook full of verses) disagrees. “If we get comfortable,” he asks Murad, “who the hell will rap?”

Watch the Gully Boy trailer here

Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy, an underdog story shining a light on India’s incipient hip-hop subculture, is the first great Hindi film of 2019 and a rousing celebration of spunk. The writing is enthralling, the texture fantastic, and this world is a revelation. Here are characters without room to breathe who express themselves breathlessly, through a style of music that has always belonged to the marginalised. Dissent finds a way — and a beat.

How does a rapper-to-be find another, though? The answer lies in Murad’s graffiti scrawl, where he accurately lists ‘Internet’ alongside ‘Roti, Kapda, Makaan’ as an essential. Rap battles in India used to take place online before hip hop enthusiasts realised there were enough of them to assemble loudly. Murad sends a Facebook friend request to a performer, and finds a musician via comments under a YouTube video. He’s nervous asking to meet up, incredulous about suggesting it “directly.” This is the coyness movies reserve for crushes, the hesitant and gradual reaching out of the romantic.

There is absolutely nothing hesitant about Murad’s girlfriend, however. Played by an electric Alia Bhatt, Safeena is an incurable hothead — he nicknames her ‘Danger Aapa’ — who tells her man to go ahead and dream. She’s going to be a doctor and so they’re going to be just fine. She’s a dynamite character, and this is reassurance Murad sorely needs, living in a tiny Dharavi flat occasionally beset by tourists who want poverty porn on their Instagram feeds. Murad and Safeena are practicing Muslims, childhood sweethearts sundered by wealth and class.

The film opens with a dedication to pioneering Indian hip-hop stars Naezy and Divine, Akhtar and co-writer Reema Kagti borrowing background and specifics from their lives. Many local rappers show up, cameoing as themselves, which is a delight. Yet Gully Boys doesn’t try to explain the music itself, or what draws these hungry young men to the righteous aggression of Nas and Tupac and Jay-Z, or even what distinguishes this subculture from other rebellions.


Instead, the writers studiously follow the graph of a sports drama, taking as much from the Rocky template as from Eminem’s screen memoir, 8 Mile. It’s a smart move, keeping the beats basic and buoyant — if repetitive — and making sure the energy is full-tilt and familiar, instead of trying to convert audiences to rap. Besides, the rise-of-the-prizefighter template is appropriate. Who was the first rap battler in the world? Mohammad Ali.

The knockout punches come from MC Sher. With a name that means both tiger and poem, this champ is played by Siddhant Chaturvedi with a natural, easy ferocity. It’s the film’s top performance. When he battles, he seems to be shutting down rivals for real. Sher leans hard into the verses and the artfully effortless attitude, and warmly mentors Murad, dubbing him ‘Gully Boy’ and schooling him in the all-important ways of metre.

This is where the film’s dialogues need to be applauded. Written by Vijay Maurya — who also plays Murad’s uncle — the lines are authentic from the start, allowing us a ringside view. Language varies across classes, like when Murad teases an affluent girl saying “Hindi nahin aata?” and she says “Hindi aati hai, but…”, actually using gender correctly while he is Bombay-istically wrong. The genius lies in the dialogues evolving; late in the film, when Murad is raging against his father, you can sense metre in his words. He’s internalised the iambic.

In fact, true to the spirit of a film about angry young men, Gully Boy leaves much room for Vijays: Vijay Varma is superb as a neighbourhood crook who must have grown up on Jackie Shroff movies, while Vijay Raaz — one of the finest actors we have — is haunting as Murad’s sore, unambitious father.

Cinematographer Jay Oza presents the city in wide shots, while framing faces — especially Singh and Bhatt — mercilessly close, exposing the actors at their rawest. There are some genuinely poetic compositions, one of which features Bhatt sitting alone at a bus-stop, an immediate contrast to her earliest scene, where she squeezed into what can only be described as an Alia-shaped gap in the crowded backseat of a bus, with a hand-holding boyfriend on one side and a sleeping child on her other shoulder.

Bhatt is a marvel, all fury and focus and fearlessness. Safeena is a wondrous character, strikingly self-assured and frighteningly perceptive, and Bhatt endows her with innocence and impulsiveness. She also seems genuinely capable of walloping people.

Singh spends a large part of the film silent, as Murad drinks it all in — predicaments, wishes, suddenly emergent dreams. It begins to feel one-note, particularly in comparison to the louder characters, till he locks himself in a car and turns on a song — he explodes into a convulsive, amazing singalong. This mirrors another scene when Murad, encountering trashy rap on a car stereo, loses his head in the desperation to shut it. Murad isn’t Murad till music plays.

Armed with microphone or words, Singh is unstoppable. There is one scene that jars — when he dances much too confidently during a music video — but that stands out because the rest of his performance is so precisely calibrated. From accent to action, Singh nails it. As Murad becomes more confident, he even closes a curtain like he’s dropping a mic.

At one point, Safeena, desperate to cheer for Murad, shouts her encouragement mid-song while the rest of the crowd, aware of the style, knows when to applaud. Akhtar has done something special. Gully Boy starts with a scratch sound and ends with a cut to silence, and in between holds voices that cannot be unheard. Like Safeena, applaud whenever you’re ready. It’s time.

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Article 15 movie review: Ayushmann Khurrana hunts for inconvenient truths in an essential film

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Article 15
Director: Anubhav Sinha
Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Manoj Pahwa, Kumud Mishra, Sushil Pandey, Sayani Gupta, Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub
Rating: 4.5/5

The posting was a punishment. Ayan Ranjan, newly minted Indian Police Service officer, the tuck of his shirt crisp as a new banknote, readily admits the reason he’s sentenced to the bleak badlands of Uttar Pradesh. Ranjan had agreed with a senior officer without sounding officious enough — he had said “Cool, sir”, a yes-man forgetting his only line — and the perceived insubordination was enough to land him in a world where half the people don’t touch the other half.

Article 15, Anubhav Sinha’s searing film about the indignities endorsed by the caste-system in modern day India, does not play it cool. Inspired by the real-life Badaun killings — and a stirring tribute to Alan Parker’s 1988 procedural thriller Mississippi Burning — this film features policemen hushing up the murder and gangrape of three 15-year-old girls because they belong to a lowered caste. Us, and Them. It is a grim, unrelenting and essential film, one throwing up truths we choose to forget.

“Welcome to Page 7 India,” says Ranjan’s wife, when he calls and texts her, his eyes wide with newly discovered outrage at the plight of the Dalits and the downtrodden in middle India. Reports about these atrocities are relegated to the little-read middle of the paper, far from the front and sport pages. Ayan, a young Brahmin who likes his single malt, and walks around with a holster suavely sticking out from underneath a well-cut blazer, feels as much a stranger to that locale as an Englishman. The policemen below him are keen to make sure he isn’t some young fool out to change the system after watching too many renegade cop movies starring Ajay Devgn. ‘They get transferred,’ grunt old cops in the know, ‘while we get killed.’ Us, and Them.

Written by Gaurav Solanki and Sinha, the film has the stench of honesty. It is hauntingly shot by Ewan Mulligan, who slides through the shadows to zero in on acute specifics: the breakfast prepared before a murder, the everyday banality of a crime scene, and — most unforgettably — a man cleaning a filthy black drain. He cleans our world because we won’t do it ourselves.

As policemen plod through a marsh, Ranjan asks about politics, and the men good-humouredly state why they vote for the Elephant one year and the Cycle the next, and for the parties their mothers told them to always vote for. Rebels use Whatsapp, while cops keep tabs on activism by seeing what messages are being forwarded. The filmmakers cannily use texting to educate the leading man, the messages from his level-headed wife becoming the voice in his head. We do not need a hero, she insists. We just need people to stop waiting for a hero.

Ayushmann Khurrana plays Ranjan with inevitable entitlement. His elitist indignation while barking orders gets things done, but also distances him from the policemen answering to him. In one remarkable scene he matter-of-factly asks the cops about their places — and his own, for he is privileged enough not to know — in the caste hierarchy, and the distinctions between caste-and-Kayastha are maddening. One of them says he is a Jaat, and was ‘normal,’ but has now been granted Other Backward Class status, while Jaats in other states have not. This is illegal. Ranjan asking them their caste, I mean. Not the division, but the pronouncement of it.

Khurrana is spot-on, consistently harrowed and, building on the everyman baggage of his earlier films, immensely relatable. He eschews showiness to stay true to the part, a protagonist who is aware he will be looked on as an upper-caste saviour, aware that it isn’t his role.

Sinha surrounds him with a superb ensemble. Manoj Pahwa is frighteningly good as a higher-caste cop. Berating a junior, he clenches his teeth so hard it feels like he doesn’t trust himself to open his mouth, for fear of biting someone of a lower status. Top performances come also from Sushil Pandey as a lowly policeman who seems like the nicest bloody guy; Kumud Mishra as the son of a sweeper who is now a policeman (yet relentlessly reminded of his background); and Sayani Gupta as sister to one of the missing girls, her gigantic plaintive eyes an indictment of India itself.

The mercurial Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub plays a revolutionary, a rebel who can’t afford to lose hope because he has become a face of it. He gets the film’s most memorable lines, achingly confessing how he has been so romanticised that he is left without romance. With the horrors around, it felt criminal for him to smile at a girl he loves. In the land that allows Us and Them, all pleasure feels guilty.

What do you do when the system is the bad guy? There are no revelations here. We’ve read about such cases, we’ve sighed about these horrors. Article 15 is not a film in search of easy answers. It is instead a reminder that we already know the questions, but don’t ask them enough. Not cool, sir.

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Honor 20i review: Doesn’t make the cut

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Brand: Honor

Product name: Honor 20i

Key specifications: 32-megapixel selfie camera, triple rear cameras, Kirin 710 processor, 4GB RAM, 128GB storage, 3,400mAh battery.

Price: Rs 14,999

Rating: 3/5

Honor 20i is the most affordable smartphone in the company’s latest Honor 20 series. The smartphone borrows the premium design of the Honor 20 and Honor 20 Pro but comes with subtle changes. Honor 20i’s key features include a triple-camera setup, a 32-megapixel selfie camera, big storage and GPU Turbo 2.0 for a better gaming performance.

Looking at the specifications sheet, Honor 20i matches the competition including Xiaomi Redmi Note 7 Pro and Realme 3 Pro. It’s also aggressively priced at Rs 14,999. Honor 20i may look promising but it still needs a lot improvement and is far from being the best mid-range phone.

Design, display

Honor was among the first ones to bring premium design to the budget and mid-range segments. With Xiaomi, Realme and several others following suit, Honor 20i doesn’t really stand out in the crowd. It does have a premium look and feel thanks to the trendy gradient finish colours. Up front, there’s a 6.21-inch Full HD+ display with a U-shaped notch on top. The display quality is just okay on the Honor 20i, and changing the colour tones doesn’t make much of a difference either.

Camera

One of the biggest highlights of Honor 20i is its front-facing camera. At 32-megapixel resolution, it’s among the highest in this category. Honor, however, needs to work on its portrait mode for selfies. Otherwise, selfies come out good with nice colour balance and details. The triple rear cameras seem promising but the results weren’t as expected. Most of the photos I took in daylight didn’t come out detailed. As you zoom into the photos, you see the amount of detail lost. Honor 20i also offers 120-degree lens which is good for landscape photos. If camera is priority then phones like Redmi Note 7 Pro and Realme 3 Pro offer a more comprehensive experience.

Performance

Powered by in-house Kirin 710 processor, Honor 20i felt little slow during my usage. You’d expect phones in this category to be fast enough to handle minor tasks such as flipping through applications. But that’s not the case with Honor 20i. The battery life is pretty good with the Honor 20i running long for around 12 hours. It comes in only one variant with 4GB RAM and 128GB built-in storage.

Verdict

With phones such as Xiaomi Redmi Note 7 Pro and Realme 3 Pro setting the bar really high, Honor 20i just doesn’t make the cut. The selfie camera is good but if that’s only your requirement, Xiaomi’s Redmi Y3 is even better and more affordable.

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Kabir Singh movie review: This Shahid Kapoor film is injurious to health

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Kabir Singh
Director:
Sandeep Vanga
Cast:
Shahid Kapoor, Kiara Advani
Rating:
1.5/5

There are so many shots of cigarette smoking in Kabir Singh I’m surprised they didn’t rope in Akshay Kumar for a supporting role, to keep reminding the film’s leading man to replace cigarettes with sanitary napkins. Substance abuse is, however, the least toxic thing about this misogynistic film. This is a film about a bully, an abuser of women, an alcoholic surgeon, and a foulmouthed hothead — and that’s just the so-called hero.

Director Sandeep Reddy Vanga, remaking his Telugu hit Arjun Reddy, gives us a character who nearly rapes a woman at knife-point, and later pees his pants. Incontinence is not traditionally heroic, therefore I assumed Vanga would make a cautionary tale. Instead, Kabir Singh applauds its pathetic protagonist, and ends up an obnoxious celebration of toxic masculinity.

Shahid Kapoor does well to play Kabir like a hand-grenade who lost his pin hours ago. He’s always seething, even on the football field, and I hoped this film would dissect the performative aggression popularised in children by sporting icons like Virat Kohli, (complete with repeated use of that unimaginative swearword that makes the curser appear like he’s invoking Ben Stokes), but no such luck. Kabir mouths off to the dean, proprietorially stakes his claim on a girl he stares at, and bullies anyone in his path as he moves her into the boys’ hostel.

It’s a shame, because there’s some sharpness here. Kabir’s riposte to the dean is scathing but smart — “You’re the dean of the college, just an employee doing his job. I’m a student of this college, and this is my college” — a fine line showing the character’s need to wear entitlement with pride. The film looks slick, and is smartly shot by Santhana Krishnan Ravichandran, who captures obvious places in intriguing ways, like stairways and, in one memorable shot, a two-man fight on a single mattress. These good bits are overlooked, however, when Kabir slaps the heroine, saying “Who knows you in college? Your identity is that you’re my girl.” Ugh. And this monstrosity is three hours long.

At some point, Kabir loses ‘his’ girl — played simperingly by Kiara Advani, who it’s hard not to feel sorry for — but Vanga continues to project him as hero, turning him into a ‘genius’ surgeon who operates only when drunk. Later, when confessing this during a medical negligence hearing, he does so with wounded nobility, like a man who thinks the Oath doctors take means they must act Hypocritical.

Kabir gets more repulsive by the scene, but other characters thinking he’s wrong doesn’t help when the creators don’t agree. A cautionary tale can’t end with the villain getting what he wants, while Kabir Singh rewards his sins with a happy freeze-frame. The best lines come from the boy’s grandmother, played by Kamini Kaushal, who wisely says, “Suffering is very personal. Let him suffer.” If only.

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