Bollywood, India’s gargantuan film industry, is known for its big-budget, colour-saturated musical numbers that are scattered through every movie. Dotted within each tale of star-crossed lovers, historical rivalries or family dramas is a surreal sequence where dozens of dancing extras enter the frame, characters burst spontaneously into song and locations shuttle from the Egyptian pyramids to the Swiss Alps, London streets or even space.
Yet, in recent years, this escapist function of Bollywood has been failing to capture its audience. The most expensive Bollywood film in 2018, the 19th-century action-drama Thugs of Hindostan, was made on a budget of 300 crore rupees (£32m) but took in only half that at the box office, with owners of some Indian cinemas demanding refunds.
Film-makers - Spectacle - Towards - Narratives - Cinema
Film-makers are increasingly turning away from spectacle and towards realist narratives, creating a burgeoning independent Indian cinema, with films such as Chaitanya Tamhane’s 2014 film Court focusing on India’s judicial system, Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan (2015), tackling the caste divide, and 2018’s Love Sonia telling the story of sex trafficking in India.
“There’s already an appetite for more gritty, realist film-making in India,” says director Zoya Akhtar, “but there’s never enough critique of Indian society happening here.” Akhtar’s latest film, Gully Boy, aims to further the realist narrative of Indian cinema by disrupting its fascination with musical numbers and subverting the system from within – the production stars two of Bollywood’s biggest actors: Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt.
Boy - Account - Scene - Mumbai - Gully
Gully Boy is a fictionalised account of the burgeoning hip-hop scene in Mumbai. Gully, or “gutter”, rap is a musical sub-genre made by the younger people who live in the sprawling slums of the city; its aesthetic is DIY and its lyrics tackle everything from police brutality to the caste system and even the brutal gang rape of a Delhi woman in 2012.
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