Gully Boy follows the life of a young man, Murad, living in the tough slums of the Dharavi district in India. Living under conditions of abject poverty in a cramped apartment, with his equally discontented extended family, he dreams often of making it big as a hip-hop megastar. The movie, in that way, chooses to focus on the life of an ordinary slum-dog, whose fortunes are limited, but whose hopes and dreams are ambitious.
“Doori”, a song/poem sung by lead actor Ranveer Singh himself, provides a very critical commentary on the ways in which poverty is very much a social phenomenon, one that creates a classed “other”. The class consciousness embedded in the song highlights very clearly how there is a very real, and structural gap between the worlds of the rich and poor. It details a painfully accurate picture of the systemic inequalities that create a material and emotional distance between those at the margins of the society, and those who are able to accumulate wealth and subsequently power.
This specific song is informed by Murad’s part-time job as a chauffeur, and the kind of wealth disparity he sees in himself and the people he has to work for. Murad sees the young people from the upper echelons of society partying away, while he (almost the same age as them) sits and waits in the parking lot of an extravagant car he doesn’t own, watching from afar, quite literally symbolizing how class-based differences create a chasm in the kind of comfort and security that is afforded to rich and poor kids.
“Ghar pe sabke apne apne gham hain Deewaarein zyaada aur bole kamre yahan kam hain Soch mein yeh wazan hai Kyunki khali sab bartan hain Mera karma ya karam hai”
The lyrics talk about how the meaning of the word “home” itself is transformed through the dehumanizing experience of poverty, with there not just being an emotional distance (“deewarein ziada”) between the family members (who are all resentful of their socio-economic circumstances in different ways) but the physical conditions of this “home” being absolutely dire (the rooms are congested and there is no food to put on the plate).
While this poem plays in the background, we see that Murad has just picked up a crying young woman from a party, and despite wanting to comfort her, he realizes that it would be “unbecoming” of him to do so; that he is a worker, and it would be stepping out of the behavioral norms that have been prescribed to him by those who consider themselves to be a part of the “elite class”. Another aspect of this unreachability is the idea that often the male gaze can also be a classed concept, given that working-class men are often thought to be “bestial” and “animalistic”, and hence, even if he wants to comfort the woman out of a very humane instinct to support someone who is emotionally distressed, this class difference would render any such effort to be a cause of offense. The micro-politics involved in a simple act of wanting to comfort someone, but to still be riddled by considerations of one's class-based limitations is evident through the lyric:
“Ab socho tou hum pass lekin, kaisi ye doori hai, kaisi ye majboori hai”.
While it is important to discuss the positionality of Ranveer Singh, who plays the role of a slum-dweller (all while him and rich directors like Zoya Akhtar, benefit from telling a detached story whose real-life implications are not endured by them), it is still important to consider the ways in which Bollywood has represented how systemic inequalities disadvantage a large segment of the population, for the benefit of a select few in films like “Gully Boy”.