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Here’s why Gully Boy Lost The Oscar (Again …And Again)



So  Zoya Akhtar’s  Gully Boy has been  booted  out  of  the Oscar race. I am  not surprised at all. It’s not that I didn’t like  the  film. I loved it. It is one of my favourite films  of  the year. Gully Boyis a  a delight.  But it’s also  derivative.  Zoya Akhtar may  deny it  until she goes blue in the face. But Gully Boy is clearly inspired by Curtis  Hanson’s  2002  film 8 Mile.

Initially when the  uproar about the  sourced  material  happened  and Zoya  denied it completely, I  believed her. She is  a brilliant director. Why does she need to look westwards  for inspiration?

However  I returned  to 8 Mile recently to refresh my memory.And  the similarities shocked me. In 8 Mile  Jimmy B Rabbit(played by real-life rapper Eminem) is  the boy-man from the ghetto struggling to  steady and  support his voice as a rapper even as  he is  constantly  bogged down by his  home  life and social circumstances.

 This  is  exactly the  role that  Ranveer Singh plays in Gully Boy.Though the  milieu is shifted from the low-income ghetto of  Detroit to the Dharavi slum in  Mumbai , the spirit and journey  of the  two rappers Jimmy  in 8 Mile and and Murad Gully Boy remain unchanged.  Several  chunks from the  earlier film have found their way in Gully Boy… Jimmy’s mother’s  abusive  lover in  8 Mile became Murad’s mother’s abusive  father  in Gully Boy. In the original . Jimmy freezes while participating in an impromptu  rapping contest with local rappers. The same sequence is repeated in Gully Boy.The  climactic rapping contest is identical in the two films…

I could go on. The  point is   not the similarities. These do  not take away  from the merits  and excellence  of Gully Boy.Derivative art is not necessarily inferior art. Even Farhan Akhtar’s cult classic  Dil Chahta Hai contained elements  of St Elmos’s Fire .And Shekhar Kapoor’s Masoomwhich is an unofficial adaptation of Eric Segal’s novel Man Woman & Child is  one  of  the  best Indian films  of all times.

If we had sent Masoom to the Oscars  it would have been rejected.

 The Oscars  jury looks for originality Even a whiff  of derivation  is a disqualification. I remember when A R Rahman and  Gulzar’s  song Jai ho  in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionairewas being entered for the Oscars.they personally  requested me to not write about  the fact that the tune was originally composed for  Subhash Ghai’s film Yuvraaj which  Ghai had rejected .

So sorry, but Gully Boy  never stood a  chance. We  should have either sent  Anubhav Sinha’s meditative melancholic Article 15  or  Abhishek Shah’s  stunning hypnotic Gujarati  film Hellaro. Both are certifiable  works of art, masterpieces in the  truest  sense,  and  fiercely representational  of   the brutal  oppression  faced by the  disempowered  communities of India,the lower castes  in  Article 15 and  rural women in  Hellaro.

While one  chose to express its anguish in a  songless narrative,the other  suffused its  voice  of protest in songs  and dances. Most  importantly both Article  15 and Hellaro are ORIGINAL works of art. Non –derivative  masterpieces. 

I have seen  some  of  the international   films that have made the cut for this year’s Oscar:  the Czech Republic’s The Painted Bird, Estonia’s  Truth and Justice, France’s Les Misérables, Hungary’s Those Who Remained, North Macedonia’s Honeyland,  Poland’s Corpus Christi; Russia’s Beanpole, Senegal’s Atlantics,  South Korea’s Parasite,  and Spain’s Pain and Glory.

Some of these are  not as  well-made as  Gully Boy. But they all fiercely incontestably  original.

Do you copy that?

Next time  , would  the  learned committee selected to select our entry into the Oscars ‘Best International Film’ category(earlier known as  the ‘Best Foreign Film’) please take note? Until then do catch up with Mehboob Khan’s Mother India and Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan, so the only two Indian films to have been nominated in the  ‘Best Foreign Film’ category.

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