Zoya Akhtar

Zoya Akhtar Gully Boy

There are a few filmmakers whose films one always look forward to with intrigue, excitement and for the sheer joy of being entertained aesthetically. Zoya Akhtar is one such filmmaker. Her films are all about craft; there is nothing lazy or careless about her production. Her characters and casting are relatable, her stories are deep but not preachy, her treatment and the entire package that she ends up creating is like a cohesive whole.
All ready with her next, Gully Boy, Zoya shares her thoughts on what went into the film and process.

What inspired you to make a film on street musicians?
There was no plan to make my next film on music but when I stumbled upon the pretty large underground music scene in my city that I had no idea existed, I thought it was a little sub-culture but it’s a large scene that inspired me. And meeting the musicians and hanging with them inspired me. It was their talent and their honesty that I was drawn towards.

“Music is huge in my life. I can mark my entire life through music, in which period I was doing what.”

What kind of an impact does music have in your life?
Music is huge in my life. I can mark my entire life through music, in which period I was doing what. What song is attached to which boyfriend, which song is attached to which movie, or which holiday. So my entire life is charted around music.

What kind of research did you do?
I met Naezy and a half-an-hour meeting turned into a four-hour meeting and we just kept talking. He invited me to a gig of his and then I went to another and met a rapper that opened for him called Divine, and I started interviewing him. Divine was not big in the scene at that time and we just used to meet and talk to them about their lives. I went to where they lived, where they used to live, found out who they hung out with, what their friends did, where they worked, what their girlfriends did, found out about the families—I did the whole shebang. I wanted to know everything about their lives and how they navigate. Having said that, the story is complete fiction but all the truth is believed from them.

Zoya Akhtar

Did you ever ask them why they do what they do?
They are writers and poets. The thing with rap is, it comes from the street. They are not in pop culture so nobody is talking about them. So they need to talk about their own experiences and lives and their frustrations and dreams because someone has to, and they are doing it. The thing about rap is that it does not need money. It is scavenger music. You can just download a beat and speak to it. It’s rhythm and poetry. So you really don’t need money to do it and these guys started recording on their phones and iPads and uploading it onYouTube and that’s how it started and now they are travelling the world but that’s really how it started.

Tell me a little about the music in Gully Boy?
A lot of the artists wrote the lyrics themselves but there is one song that is pretty special as it was co-done with Divine and my father.

“The thing about rap is that it does not need money. It is scavenger music. You can just download a beat and speak to it. It’s rhythm and poetry.”

This is the first film under your production banner Tiger Baby—so did that have any effect on the director in you?
Yes it is, and is co-produced by Excel. Creatively there was no effect but yes I did need to go for more meetings that’s for sure. I am involved in certain things that I really always left to Ritesh [Sidhwani], whether it was marketing or music or sales in general. But now he involves me in everything so I am in the loop of everything.

Your casting is always spot on—how do you go about that?
Firstly I work with a banging casting director called Nandini Shrikant, and I was a casting director myself and I love the process of casting. But for Gully Boy, Reema and I wrote the part for Alia, she was always in our head so obviously we approached her first and she said yes and the part was also written for Ranveer. He is a Bombay boy, he knows the language, he speaks the street lingo in a very natural way; it’s not put on at all. He is into rap music and raps too. He knows the ethos of the music and the history of it. He is a banging actor and I love him and get along with him very well so there was no reason to go to anyone else.

Text Shruti Kapur Malhotra