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.