As a writer conditioned to pick up logos, brands, the make, shape and colours of clothes through a constantly raised antenna for finding meaning in matter, I found actor Ranveer Singh’s costumes for his promotional appearances for Zoya Akhtar’s film Gully Boy rather exhausting. Yellow tinted glasses, reflectors, bandanas, oversized coats—a pink for instance with a dozen buttoned pockets—camouflage jackets, slouchy multi-hued pants, silver bomber jacket and matching pants for the film’s music release, a whimsical Manish Arora faux fur pullover in light blue with colourful stickers, his hair curled as well as slicked up for the 69th Berlin Film Festival—everything on top of everything. As if Singh’s role of a rags to rap star from Dharavi in the film and the flamboyantly chameleonic Singh in real life were colliding into each other causing, to some extent a visual eyesore.

Ranveer Singh in a neon green ensemble and silver puffer jacket at Gully Boy promotions.

Then, if you looked long enough, there was the Adidas logo peeping out from some of the photos released for pre publicity. Not just the film posters but much of what was worn by the men and boys of the film. The Adidas logo—three stripes, trefoil, three bars … was right there, suitable, purposeful, defining trendy athleisure and in this case, hip hop chic. What a good collaboration, I thought waiting for Adidas the company or the film’s promotional team to announce something on those lines.

Then the Gully Boy team arrived at Lakme Fashion Week in early February at Jio Garden in Mumbai for the LoveGen show by Bhavana Pandey, Nandita Mahtani and Dolly Sidhwani. They not only promoted the film but sent up a superlative hip hop vibe on the ramp. No Adidas, thank you.

Yet, when I saw the film two days back, there it was again quite unmistakably—the Adidas Trefoil on Ranveer Singh’s dull black sports jacket, with three stripes running down the long sleeves. Adidas fakes, we must presume, going by the film’s narrative of a poor boy from Dharavi—his clothes just the right shade of dull black to not be authentic or branded. The expression in Singh’s eyes, sobered and saddened by the demonic drudgery of slum life is the outstanding feature of how the actor wears and walks his role in Gully Boy. But there sneaked, in his clothes, tell-tale signs of the making of the rapper. Long before he becomes a peer reviewed and then a celebrated rap star, Murad Ahmed, aka Gully Boy’s future is there to read in his how he hoodies up ordinary sweatshirts, in his bouncy walk—steps overdrawn, hands thrust in pockets.

Ranveer Singh dressed as Murad Ahmed, aka Gully Boy.

The Western male rapper’s relationship with a certain kind of clothing—unstructured, overdrawn, oversized, ethno-nomad, urban-rebel, goth-inspired, noir, mixing loose long shorts with ankle tights, metal accessories with hoods, reversed caps with tattoos and slogan T-shirts—is one of the most compelling aspects of subcultures in contemporary fashion. And the sneakers! They walk the talk in hip hop—punk pink pairs, patent tie-ups with stickers, knee high whites with logos, multi-coloured, geeky, gawky or goofy.

The Indian rapper however—think Badshah, the Punjabi rapper as he likes to call himself—is a colourful version of the angsty, angry American hip-hop star. In tune, mood, lyrics as in dress. If one is brooding and dark, the other is scorching sunlight. Badshah, well, is a peacock like few are—brands (emblazoned even on the soles of his shoes), cars, opulent watches, gold chains, dramatic sunglasses, gaudy jackets and T-shirts—his war cry is of muchness.

That muchness, that extremity of styling, the layering of fashion and styling tools, clothes, hair and makeup so pervasive in Singh’s promotional appearances is absent in his styling in the title role of Gully Boy. Ditto in the characterisation of his friend MC Sher—played by newcomer Siddhant Chaturvedi. Sher has a chest full of sneakers stacked along his music CDs that he locks and cherishes. A loveable glint into the secret vanity of a sensible, supremely talented young man. Murad’s vanities too are never worn on the sleeve—not once does he displace his purposefulness for a shoe or a sweat shirt. His competitors do though, showing too much, feeling too little—they wear oversized clothes, gold-brass hair, bracelets and badass vibes.

These deliberate understatements, that hinge largely on a few black T-shirts, a hoodie or two, an Adidas jacket and track pants thrown in somewhere on the hero minus look-at-me flamboyance so typically reminiscent of wannabe rappers is a great storytelling device. Full marks to Arjun Bhasin and Poornamrita Singh for the costumes and styling. It keeps the attention on Gully Boy and MC Sher—on their anger and ambition. On irony as idiom in loss, love and music.

So when a box of genuine, branded Adidas shoes is thrown open up for Singh’s able and prancing feet once he wins the defining competition that makes him India’s top rap star, and his staid office shirt and trousers peeled off for a rough-tough rapper hoodie, you want to stand up and applaud. He deserves those shoes man, he walked, danced, sang and slogged for them.

Inka time aa gaya—there is always a time to shed the fakes for the originals.

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