With her much-awaited Gully Boy having now released to strong praise from both critics and audiences, director Zoya Akhtar spoke to Anupama Chopra about the casting, key scenes and her writing process. Here are edited excerpts of the conversation and five key things we learnt:

On Reigning In Ranveer Singh

For some reason, I have only offered him restrained parts like this. Even in Dil Dhadakne Do, though he was very charming, it was still a quieter character. The fact is he recognises that and has said yes to both films. He knows what I’m looking for. He’s very sensitive, he’s got a lot of gravitas plus he’s extremely perceptive – he picks up nuance really well. He’s also very clued in and extremely empathetic.

Of course, there are points where he had to tone it down. He is Ranveer – he’s intrinsically big. Like I remember when we were doing the rap battle scene, for the first take it was like Khilji was rapping on stage. I let him do the whole take and then we cut it, he started laughing and he knew what I was going to say and we went back to Murad. It was amazing, but it was another character.

On Creating Safeena

Safeena is actually Reema’s (Kagti) baby. Reema was actually working on something and she had this character who’s crazily in love with her boyfriend and very passionate. He’s that person in her life that symbolises everything in terms of freedom and equality. She can’t imagine her life without him. Also, she’s feisty because she has her own oppression to deal with. She’s more well off than him and she has a future but if I had to give her a backstory, she’s someone who was a very bright kid, very feisty and a bit of a tomboy. But when she grew up, suddenly she had to behave differently because she was a girl and suddenly the rules changed and that would cause a lot of anger in a character. Also, her mother is violent and if you are communicated to like that you’ll continue it, that’s her form of communication.

On Getting The Mumbai Slang Right

We knew we didn’t want any foul language because I wanted a UA certificate. But otherwise, there are many layers to the dialogue. Firstly, me and Reema wrote all the dialogue in English so we knew the exact tonality we’re going for, which served as the blueprint. Then Vijay Maurya came in and made it into Bombaiya Hindi. Then we did two sessions with rappers Emiway Bantai, MC Altaf, Rahul Piske and Kaam Bhari. We narrated the whole thing to them and they would give us inputs of slang, lingo and dialect. MC Altaf and Rahul Piske were on set at all times as dialogue supervisors when we shot with the boy.

On Casting Siddhanth Chaturvedi As MC Sher 

He was in Inside Edge as this young, skinny boy so I don’t think anyone even thought that he could be MC Sher so he wasn’t recommended to us. I was 3 weeks away from shoot and I didn’t have an actor for MC Sher and I was panicking. Then I saw him at a party dancing and I couldn’t take my eyes off him he was so good, he had rhythm. So I called him and asked him to come in for an audition and we tested him and he was on. It was that random.

On Researching The Film And Her Writing Process With Reema Kagti 

Initially, we don’t write, we just spend a lot of time talking. We research, we read stuff, we watch stuff, we go places. We don’t start writing for a very long time, we just let it brew. We were doing extensive interviews with the rappers. We’d go to their gigs. Divine and Naezy took us around to where they hang, who their friends are. Naezy showed me the train that he hangs out in. So you meet people and see their life and you spend time marinating in it. Somehow at some point, we know it’s going to start here and end there and that’s when we start writing. Initially, we both write the entire thing in point form, the scenes top to bottom. Then Reema starts writing the scenes and then she’ll pass it to me, I’ll do the dialoguing and characterisation, and it goes back to her. And the minute we start writing, we don’t speak for hours, we just write.

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