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Taking The Rap

The original Gully Boy, Naved Sheikh aka Naezy, talks to Bhakti Mehta about his journey being translated on to the big screen

With Gully Boy’s release right around the corner, the audience is in love with the rap songs from the film and the life of rappers, which will come to light with the film. One of the rappers whose life has inspired the film, Naved Shaikh aka Naezy, spoke to us recently and recalled his journey of Gully Boy. “I launched my first rap called Aafat in 2014. It was a complete DIY song which I shot on my iPad. At that time, I was really revved up because I wanted to put something out there. I had a lot of anger and aggression when I was 21 so I wanted to channel it and that’s why I decided to make the rap video. The song fortunately went viral on YouTube and in the underground rap scenes across the country.”

Recalling his first interaction with Zoya Akhtar, he says, “That year, Zoya ma’am’s Dil Dhadakne Do was in post-production and someone showed her my Aafat video in an edit room. She was fascinated by the song, the language I was using, and how fast I was rapping. Someone told her that I had come from this small gully and she got interested, especially because she was aware of hip-hop history from the West. She knew the rappers from there like Tupac, Nas etc.”

“So, when she heard about me and saw my content, she felt it was good, that it had the right feel and authenticity. She really liked it and started researching on it. Later, we had our first meeting, where she was trying to learn about my life and she found it very interesting. Around that time, she decided that a movie should be made which represents gully rap,” he adds. 

Although excited about the movie’s release, Naezy is a tad nervous about his life bursting onto the big screen. “I have mixed feelings about all this. I am thinking positively about the film. It is not completely based on us and our lives, it is not a biopic. It is inspired (by our lives). I guess it is nice but normal for us now because in the last 4-5 years, we have received the love and popularity and the excitement that comes with it. But, yes, Bollywood is a big platform for us because the rap culture has been limited to an underground movement till now and whatever we have explored has been in the Indie movie scene. Since this is a large-scale film, we will be going to the masses, going to everyone’s homes, which will be great. There is a lot of excitement and hope that our music reaches everyone.”

Naezy started rapping when he was in his teens. About how he discovered this genre and his talent, he says, “It has been a long journey. I have been born and raised in the gullies of Mumbai. I have seen a lot of things in life and struggled a lot too. I have fought hard to get where I am today and it has not been easy. I translate those experiences into my songs. I first heard hip-hop when I was at a function and I got hooked to the fact that there was beat going on and someone was just saying something through it. It was very fascinating that someone could use hip-hop and its beat to say what they wanted to, to share their message with listeners. Then I started doing some freestyle rap in college to impress girls. People would be interested to see that I could do this, I could rhyme words and say it in a certain tone.”

Shedding some light on the rap scene in India, he says, “People think it is only about partying, chilling, girls etc. But there is another side to it, which we are trying to get people acquainted with but they are still not used to it. It will take some time for people to understand what we are trying do here with our songs.”

Shooting with Ranveer Singh must have been a lot of fun. Naezy remarks, “It was a lot of fun working on the film. It really is a different world and we figured that out when we started meeting Zoya ma’am. But hip-hop helped connect both our worlds. It is something that can connect anyone, anywhere. So there weren’t any issues as such. We started chilling right from the beginning, getting to know each other and our life stories. It was really fun working on this because our thoughts were in sync. And Ranveer bhai has always been interested in hip-hop and he recognized us even before someone made the introductions. He is very energetic and you never feel low when he is around.”

Naezy says Singh has very keen powers of observation and the rapper didn’t have to really instruct the ace actor. “He has also done very good research on the subject through videos on YouTube. With that and whatever he observed us doing, it helped him know the character, how rappers speak, our body language, etc. He adapted it very quickly and no one had to tell him anything.”

The film has already brought a rap revolution to the country, especially among the youth. Acknowledging this, the rapper says, “I think this movie is going to change a lot of things for us. Bollywood is now waking up to our content. I also think this is validation that our songs have a place in the music scene and in hip-hop. Bollywood will help us get the acceptance that we have always wanted from the masses. Zoya ma’am has given a chance to so many budding artistes from this genre. There are a lot of people who are extremely talented but are underground and have not got the right chance to show their skills. This film has helped them get recognition. Zoya ma’am has given them such a huge platform. The entire jukebox of the film is filled with these artistes.”

He acknowledges that the makers of this film have made sure it appeals to the audience. “If they had only shown the workings of the underground hip-hop scene or Indie cinema, it might not have had a good impact at the box office. Keeping all these things in mind, they have introduced some controlled masala that will appeal to viewers. It is a combination of the Indie scene and masala, the mixture, the balance that will work well with the audience. I am sure they will enjoy it,” Naezy believes.

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