Gully Life, the new DIVINE documentary, starts with the rapper at a neighbourhood salon, towel around his neck, getting what he calls 'Sweety cream' massaged into his face. "Apply it five minutes before meeting your girlfriend, five minutes before church, before Eid. Because it works for only two hours. After that…it's bogus," he says, laughing.
It's a brief moment of levity in the 50-minute Red Bull Media House Production that otherwise sees Vivian Fernandes talk about his hardscrabble life growing up in the bylanes of Sahar. Nothing is off limits – the murder he witnessed as a child is described in graphic detail, as are memories of growing up with an abusive father, juxtaposed against haunting animated visuals, and stories of bringing in pot from Goa to sell in Mumbai. There are more heartwarming recollections of hearing stories from his tipsy grandmother, and the first time she made him a hot meal to take to school.
Director Akshat Gupt's camera also follows DIVINE around on a tour of the JB Nagar slums, where he lived after the age of 10. We meet the tuition teacher who taught him to write and are shown the well where he first learnt to swim. It's also where he heard hiphop music for the first time. "I just got really fascinated by the way these guys were rhyming, fast bol rahe the, slangs tha, aur kuch samajh mein nahi aa raha tha kabhi kabhi…Aise laga ki main bhi kar sakta hoon," he says.
"DIVINE is such a gangsta, man. He took probably a day-and-a-half and gave me 'Jungle Raja'," says Nucleya
The turning point came when his mother bought him a mic and a computer. "I didn't want to sell LSD or cocaine. I just wanted to keep making music. The second goal was to keep making music and the third goal was also to keep making music," he says. From there, the documentary follows his swift trajectory from an English rapper – "the most fuckall one," he says – in a crew called Mumbai's Finest to a man who began writing about his sheher and gully in Hindi, to his being signed by Sony Music, his eventual move to event management company Only Much Louder (OML) prompted by the desire to own his own music and then his setting up of Gully Gang for "for every kid in India whose music is good".
It's backed up by archival footage, photographs and behind-the-scenes glimpses at how some of his most popular videos were shot. The 'Jungli Sher' video uploaded to YouTube wasn't the one originally conceived by the rapper, we find out. The plan was to shoot in the Aarey forest, which they did, until the cops arrived. They later found out that the police were bogus, but DIVINE wasn't too worried. "That's how I learnt the word 'bogus'," he says, grinning.
Interviews with collaborators Sez On The Beat, Naezy, DJ Joel D'Souza, guitarist Randolph Correia, Nucleya and more reveal insights into his songwriting process. The beat for 'Jungle Raja' originally belonged to another rapper, until Nucleya, impressed by 'Jungli Sher', decided to give it to DIVINE instead. "DIVINE is such a gangsta, man. He took probably a day-and-a-half and gave me 'Jungle Raja'," says Nucleya.
Gully Boy director Zoya Akhtar and actor Ranveer Singh enthuse about what makes DIVINE special, why they connect to his music and what collaborating with him on the film was like. "It's straight out of a movie script…a real-life underdog story," says Singh.