Earlier this year, Zoya Akhtar’s musical drama Gully Boy became one of the top five highest grossing Bollywood films of the year and received a 100 per cent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The acclaimed film tracks the rags-to-riches journey of Murad Ahmed (Ranveer Singh), a college student who lives in the slums of Mumbai and deals with hardships by writing lyrics and performing rap.
But real-life gully boy Naezy (Naved Shaikh), who roughly inspired the film’s story, now tells Gulf News tabloid! the film doesn’t completely depict his reality.
“I quite knew what was happening, but it was out of my control because they are the ones who are producing it, so I can’t do anything above a certain extent,” said the 26-year-old rapper, speaking over the phone during a Dubai visit.
“I tried to control it, but somehow it became fictionalised and it slipped away from my hands. We can’t do anything about it, we had to keep quiet, because it was doing good for us, career-wise,” he added.
In particular, the storylines that related to “my girlfriend and my dad marrying twice, all these things are not true,” said Naezy, who adds that he has been trying to set the record straight in interviews.
“Overall, if you see the whole story of ‘Gully Boy’ coming from the gully [street] and how hip hop helped him… that story was conveyed properly to educate all the masses of Indian cinema. Now they know everything — they got educated about hip hop, they know what is real hip hop, what is fake hip hop, what is hip hop for bling and hip hop for story and awareness and consciousness. They know everything because of Bollywood, so I’m glad that it helped people. But in my personal life, it has not helped me,” he said.
THE ORIGINAL STORY
The rapper, who recently returned from a half-year hiatus from music, still heaped praise onto Singh’s lead performance, which was well-received by film critics.
“The way he adapted all the characters inside him, the way he practised rap and hip hop and became himself the ‘gully boy’ is not easy. What he has done is quite impressive. I liked the way he acted, I liked the way he rapped about his personal issues just like the way we used to do it,” said Naezy.
But if he could convey something about the rap scene in India that wasn’t shown in the film, what would it be?
I needed to come back because of the pressure of my fans. The fans, they’re getting mad, they’re getting crazy, they want me back, they love me so much and the love has brought me back.
“I would have portrayed the original story, which is very different from the fictionalised story. I would have portrayed the things that I faced in my life,” said Naezy.
“I was coming from the gully, but I was privileged enough, this is not shown in the movie, I was having the privilege of having an iPad with me and I was having the privilege of doing whatever I used to do in my life. Hip hop fascinated me towards itself and it became the medium for me to come out from the circumstances that I used to be in in my college days,” he said.
HIP HOP HUSTLE
Naezy recalled his humble beginnings and how, when he was 11 years old, he spontaneously heard a rap song that changed his path.
“I used to be a hustler. I used to hustle for money and goods, but one day I heard this rap song at a function in a chawl, in the gully. Someone played [‘Temperature’ by Sean Paul] and I got fascinated and pulled towards hip hop, because there was a message conveyed through lyrics. They’re saying something on the rhythm, with the beat, they have a flow,” said Naezy.
“But this was a bit commercial. Later I realised that underground hip hop has more heavy lyrics that I could relate to, about the neighbourhoods of New York and Los Angeles and all the western states.
“They used to have a struggle in their lives. They used to rap about the same issues that I was facing in my life in Bombay, so I could relate to rappers from the UK and the USA. When I grew up, I started realising that this is the space I should go into and this is what I’ve been sent for,” he said.
This culminated in a musical partnership with fellow underground rapper Divine (Vivian Fernandes) and the two found massive success with their hit song ‘Mere Gully Mein’ in 2015.
The song, which currently boasts more than 26 million views on YouTube, was re-released as part of the soundtrack to ‘Gully Boy’ this year.
But for Naezy, it all began when he released his debut song five years ago.
“‘Aafat!’ was my first song ever, in 2014 when my journey began. I never waited for any resources. I launched myself by my own with a piece of electronic resource, which was my iPad and my first song was ‘Aafat!’ — that song is too much close to my heart,” said Naezy.
Now, after a six-month hiatus from music, he is working on his first studio album with a newfound sense of self, but the same old love from his followers.
“I realised I had to stay away from social networks and from my family, and I realised that I’ve got this talent that could change the whole course of rap and hip hop in India,” said Naezy.
“I needed to come back because of the pressure of my fans. The fans, they’re getting mad, they’re getting crazy, they want me back, they love me so much and the love has brought me back,” said Naezy.
So far, the rapper's written two songs from his upcoming record, but said he’s still collecting “all the resources for it to become a huge album.”
“It’s about my life — it’s about the city Bombay, Mumbai, and the role of the city in my personal life. It’s about love and passion and the dream that I’m following. It’s about opening the eyes of the Indian masses. It’s about consciousness,” said Naezy.
The rapper released his latest single ‘Rukta Nah’ on August 10, to coincide with his birthday, and the track has nearly one million views on YouTube at time of writing.
“It’s about not stopping in your life and being unstoppable, whatever the circumstances would be. I’m not going to stop,” said Naezy.