The making of Divine
A docu by a young Mumbaikar traces the journey of the original "gully boy" and his life of abuse before stardom came knocking
For 28-year-old Akshat Gupt who grew up watching music videos that weaved in a whole story in four-minute-long tracks in the '90s, choosing filmmaking as his career choice was a no-brainer. And so, when he started his company Supari Studios in 2012, supported by his brother Advait, the mass media graduate from Jai Hind College went on the lookout for a topic that would resonate and inspire. His search ended when he was contacted to make Gully Life, a documentary on Divine by Red Bull, sometime before feelers about Gully Boy began to float around, and he felt compelled to give in due to the genuine-ness the artiste brought to his work.
Thus began 15 months of research and shoots, which has today resulted in unique documentation of Divine aka Vivian Fernandes, the original gully boy. The hopeful, near-hour-long film is chronological, a decision Gupt said he took to overcome the challenge of dealing with a constantly evolving script, unlike in a feature film set where you can lock a scene, executed by refined editing. It explores the roots of the artiste, giving a detailed account of his formative years and his humility, which translates to his hard-hitting lyrics.
Take for example the opening scenes where you see Divine whispering into a mic; his eyes shut as he rehearses prior to a gig, as the invisible crowd gives into a "hip-hop zindabad" chant. It then cuts to Divine getting a haircut — details that reflect dedicated investment in a project. "I saw earnestness and pain in his music, which was 100 per cent authentic because it comprised snippets of his experiences as a person. Especially the song Farak, which has the lines "main mere maa ke liye jee raha hoon... Dad ka role bhai ne nibhaya" that spoke of his struggles of growing up with a drunk and abusive father, and without his mother, who was away in Doha, working as a domestic help to send money back for Divine and his brother.
This resonated with me the most because my brother and I were raised by a single mother too, and we watched her struggle to put food on the table when we were young," reveals Gupt. "His main goal was to bring his mother back to India, and when he finally sent her that ticket at the end of 2016, it's relatable. It also shows that there's an exit plan for being born in the slums, irrespective of what your talent is. If Divine can do it, so can you," Gupt shares.
The film touches upon how Divine finally found solace after he and his brother left their father to go live with their grandmother, before his brother too left to work in Doha. Which is also why the rapper points out that his friends are his family, something that Gupt says he saw while shooting. "And he hasn't let the fame get to him; he still hangs out with the same set of friends, lives in the same house and tries to help those around him, who were there when he needed them. You shouldn't forget where you come from," says Gupt.
The realistic aspect is also mirrored in the scenes where Divine, while strolling in the gullies of Sahar in Andheri East, points out the spot where he saw someone die for the first time, and talks about how the slums came into being due to the growing divide between the rich and poor, religion no bar — aspects that Gupt says were gritty but important, something Zoya Akhtar's Gully Boy skipped. "Gully Boy was an exciting film that made the hip-hop movement mainstream; it seemed like the protagonist won all his battles too easily," he shares.
One aspect we don't often see in such films is touching upon the criticism the subject may have received. But due to Divine's blatant yet poetic lyrics, Gupt felt that it was crucial to include bits about those criticising the rapper. "It gave a depth because not everyone in life agrees with you all the time. The critic's perspective is equally important, even though Divine may have proved them wrong. But kudos to him for not backing out when I told him I was thinking of shooting a segment like this. When he saw the first cut, he just stared, before breaking into a smile and saying 'wow', shares Gupt. The filmmaker is working on two more projects, besides hoping to document athlete Dutee Chand's life.
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