Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara was the last Zoya Akhtar film which I watched in a theater. I watched the film at Menoka Cinema Hall in Kolkata. I still remember it, because it was during the last year of my college life, and I watched the film with Souvik, one of my best friends. Because of my age at that time, I really loved such a cinema, and I still do. However, Zoya ventured into different types of films later on. I again saw a Zoya Akhtar movie in a segment in Lust Stories, which was somewhat a different sort of experience. The short film was about a maid who was being taken advantage of. Of course, the film had a direct intonation to the differences in our society in terms of wealth. Gully Boy seems to continue from there on.
I wanted to watch Gully Boy because of Zoya Akhtar, although I do not like Ranveer Singh much. Zoya does not disappoint me at all. The film started by showing two contrasting worlds in Mumbai. The two worlds, which stay together, but actually are far apart. Ranveer is a college goer boy from the poor, slum world of Mumbai. And some other characters represent the posh, sophisticated Mumbai. In one scene, Ranveer, as a driver of a rich family, is driving the whole family which includes a daughter of Ranveer's age. The father in the family wants his daughter to go to Harvard for a Master's degree. He cautions his daughter that if she doesn't pursue Master's, then she can also land up just like Ranveer, a driver, in spite of holding a bachelor's degree. The father tells this in front of Ranveer, obviously as an insult, but without caring a zilch about Ranveer's dignity. Zoya here creates two realities for two young people. On one hand, Ranveer, although a graduate, can only work as a driver or a clerk. On the other hand, the rich girl can create her own version of success with a Harvard graduate degree, because she can afford it. Zoya creates the thesis of class struggle where the lower class Ranveer can't just do what he wants, but the rich girl can.
Next, Ranveer finds a creativity within him. He can terrific write rap songs. As it is widely seen in history, a tiny small fraction of the rich class extends their helping hands to the oppressed lower class. For example, in 70s Bengal, Naxal movement, an armed revolutionary leftist movement was highly supported by the well-educated middle and upper-middle class Bengali families. Here in Gully Boy, Kalki Koechlin, another rich kid, studying music in my current city Boston, appears in India and produces Ranveer's rap music to release in YouTube. Zoya is now creating a very classical antithesis against the same thesis I mentioned above. The lower class boy Ranveer is using the mediums provided by the rich class to topple them. YouTube, a product of consumerism, is being used by the fighting lower class to oust the higher class and its consumerist market.
This is the point to bring the topic of using the Azadi Song by Kanhaiya Kumar in the film. A section of the media tries to admonish Zoya for using the Azadi song. They complain that Kanhaiya Kumar's voice is against the consumerism for which the song is actually being used in the film. How can Zoya do that? Well, then how should the ideas behind the Azadi song be reached to the mass? This is where the liberals do not understand the leftist class struggle and dialectics. Capitalists create the tools and mediums for their own destruction. This is the classic contradiction in Capitalism. To be more specific, we cannot wait for the public to be self conscious by some imaginary means and understand the class struggle. We have to use popular Capitalist tools to spread the principles of class struggle. When time comes, the public will pick up the important beats, even from the market-focused products. Salil Chowdhury also said, it does not matter that his ideologically leftist songs are being commercialized. People may just listen to those songs for their own enjoyment for some time. However, when the same people face distress, they will be aware of their class in the society and will be inspired by the same art which was once only for the enjoyment.
So, thank you, Zoya! For using the Azadi song in such a movie. The Azadi songs do fit in the movie, may be not in a perfect way, but certainly not inconsequentially. The movie is surely about the class. Not only from Ranveer's perspective but also from Alia Bhatt's perspective. This girl from apparently a well-off family is fighting her own class struggle, the battle against religious and societal norms for women. I like that Zoya binds the feminist idea with the principles of class struggle. Most of the feminist liberals miss this connection, but Zoya does not seem to.
Finally, Zoya finishes off her dialectical journey with the synthesis where Ranveer becomes famous and transcends the class boundaries. Art by the means of Ranveer's rap songs breaks the barrier of class, where he finally sings his songs along with all his friends, the rich girl Kalki Koechlin and everybody else. However, Zoya knows that she is creating a mirage here. Only art cannot mitigate the class conflict. We need politics and economics. This is why one bosom friend of Ranveer ends up in jail because of his joblessness and consequent wrongdoings. This is probably metaphoric of referring that class struggle is, of course, not resolved by only arts.
To conclude, the film revolves around class struggle. In relation to the controversy, artists do not need to make political statements, if their artistic creations are already speaking for themselves. So it's fine if Zoya does not speak out, for every issues that we are facing in India. In addition, actors are especially nothing in movies but just tools for the directors. So, it does not matter much what they say or do. A sickle itself is not political; but it becomes political when it is contextually used to symbolize the farmers' struggle. However, Zoya is obviously not a political filmmaker. So she sugarcoats this whole story of dialectics in a soothing environment to watch. The frames are too flat, polished and do not create any disturbances in the viewers' mind. There may be other cinematic flaws. Nevertheless, the film reinforces, the only eternal truth in our materialistic world is class and the struggle around it.