Meet the real Gully Boy: DIVINE, the rapper who inspired the Ranveer Singh movie
From popularising hip-hop in India to representing the voice of the streets, the rapper gives us his thoughts on the movie
Picture this: A music festival on the outskirts of Nashik. An amphitheatre full of fans chanting, “Divine, Divine, Divine!” peppered with slogans about Maharashtra. (“It’s like a political mosh pit in here,” we overhear). A representative of the “voice from the streets,” the Mumbai-based rapper DIVINE appears on stage and hollers, “Sunega sher log ki kahani?” (“Are you ready to hear the story of the lions?”) and the fans go wild.
If you have tracked the rapper and his crew, the Gully Gang’s career like us, it reveals a steep rise from small underground-style gigs at The Humming Tree in Bengaluru to throngs of thousands singing along to his bass heavy rags-to-riches style songs. Now with Zoya Akhtar’s movie Gully Boy about Indian hip-hop, starring Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt, there is no looking back for the uncharacteristically humble 28-year-old from Andheri, and his “boys from the naka” (hood).
“Hip-hop zindabad!” exclaims the star, as we start our interview. Vivian Fernandes, as he’s known to friends and family, begins with a note of gratitude. “Gully Boy has definitely brought a lot more attention to hip-hop in India, and that’s a great start. One hopes that this attention will also help push new talent through,” he adds, showing his love for the genre, and “keeping it real”. The lives of Vivian, and fellow rapper Naezy, sit at the core of the movie, which is set to hit theatres today. Now, here’s where it all began...
From the streets
“Zoya Akhtar met me after one of the shows at Blue Frog (in Mumbai), and said that she wanted to make a movie based on Naezy’s and my life,” says Vivian, quickly clarifying, “Our story is the inspiration for Gully Boy, it’s not based on our life.” He explains that he is more of a creative consultant, so to speak.
Vivian grew up in Mumbai’s JB Nagar, a part of Andheri East. The area’s pin code (59) features heavily in his songs, and the streets are very much a part of his identity. The hard-hitting lyrics from his most raw song, Jungli Sher, suggest: “I’m the voice of the streets.” The song also talks about his experiences growing up, and how everything was not hunky dory at home those days. The lyrics talk about fights with his father every day at home, his mother being the family’s breadwinner, and his brother helping out in raising him.
His first taste of rap was when he saw American rapper 50 Cent’s image on a friend’s T-shirt. He was drawn to the rapper’s style and his lyrics about childhood, life on the streets, and the African-American sense of community. In his 12th standard, he was initiated to the still nascent Mumbai underground hip-hop subculture blossoming in Dharavi. In 2014, he released Yeh Mera Bombay and Meri Gully Mein (with Naezy) — the songs that really made DIVINE a name that was not just restricted to the circuit. He soon began making tracks for movies and TV shows, and even collaborated with a few international artistes.
All this, of course, makes the cut in the movie’s script. In the movie, Murad (Ranveer Singh) is a 22 year-old-boy, whose father is a driver. The youngster harbours dreams of becoming a rapper one day, but his parents want him to take a secure white-collar job. “I shared what my environment was when I grew up, I got Zoya to understand what the hip-hop community stands for, and what it wants to do,” Vivian says, explaining his contribution to the film.
On the beat
The rapper is obviously very involved in the music of the movie. “I have worked on five songs: singing on Mere Gully Mein, Azaadi, Sher Aaya Sher and writing two others, Apna Time Aayega and Doori,” he says. “I got a chance to work with the legendary Javed Akhtar,” he adds with a hint of reverence.
While the track Azaadi (freedom) has been criticised, as its anti-national message has been muted in the movie, the single Apna Time Aayega (Our Time Will Come) has become an anthem for the youth in India. From T-shirts to hashtags to viral videos, it’s everywhere. Even international DJ Diplo posted a picture on Instagram copying Ranveer’s look with the caption ‘My time will come’. Its lyrics really resonate with the youth.
But what undoubtedly also helped the popularity of the tracks is Ranveer Singh taking on a larger-than-life persona of a rapper for the marketing of the movie. The actor has also rapped in three songs. But Ranveer’s style has not been widely accepted by rappers in the industry. When asked what he thinks of the actor’s rapping, Vivian says somewhat evasively, “I think he’s a brilliant actor. He has done justice to the role as an actor. I rate his confidence high, and wish him the best if he does rap songs in the future.”
Vivian himself also has a cameo in the movie. “That is like my award, my recognition. I am proud of the fact that I can represent my scene, my people. Gully Boy is a great opportunity to tell our story,” he adds.
Blood, sweat and tears
Vivian thinks the movie will certainly make an impact on the hip-hop scene in India. He feels it might help people understand what hip-hop is, and will introduce new names and new sounds to people. “But beyond that, I’m curious to see how this pans out. I know that Zoya has spoken about how she hopes Gully Boy will shine a light on the indie music industry. Maybe it will help new and exciting talent shine through,” he says hopefully.
As news about the movie has spread, life has surely changed a little bit for him.“A lot more interview requests have come in,” he says cheekily. But it’s more than that. Vivian has started his own company
called Gully Gang Entertainment. It will create merchandise, gigs, festivals and release music from upcoming talent. The rapper is also ready to drop his first album early next month. When asked what it took to bring it all together, he replies, “A lot of hard work, and some tears!”
Back at the festival, DIVINE says to the crowd, “Apna Time Aa Gaya (Our time has come),” making them burst into loud cheer. Indeed, it has!
Gully Boy out in theatres
Ranveer and Alia’s look in the movie has been a popular talking point. The people behind the look are BBlunt, who also were also the folks behind the iconic looks in Dil Chahta Hai in 2000. Avan Contractor, the co-founder and creative director says, “We actually went and met the rappers who the film is inspired by. We watched them and literally studied their style. Though they take most of their style inspiration from international rappers, there are hints of their roots in their style as they come from simple backgrounds.” Alia, on the other hand, plays a vibrant, daring and aspiring girl from a conservative Muslim middle-class family. For her, they took inspiration from young college girls from conservative backgrounds yearning to fit into modern urban society.
At the recently concluded Lakmé Fashion Week Summer/Resort, the brand LoveGen created a whole
collection inspired by the movie, titled the Gully Gen Show. Rapper Naezy and actor Ranveer Singh both took the stage to rap, while models walked the ramp. The clothes all have catchphrases from the movie such as Mere Gully Mein, Straight Outta Gully, Aapna Time Aayega, G-Boy and Aazadi across them. Designer Dolly Sidhwani says, “We looked at global hip-hop fashion and were inspired by the music, lyrics and concept of the movie and we worked towards amalgamating the two into our collection.”