Murad (Singh) lives in a match-box size Mumbai tenement, with his young brother, a put-upon, put-aside mother (Subhash), and a grandmother. His abusive father (Raaz), a driver, has brought home a second wife, not much older than Murad. The only ray of light in his life is the perky, madly-possessive Safeena (Bhatt) whose support keeps him afloat as he bobs along, doing the odd dodgy job for his pal (Varma), trying to figure out the next step. A few of these elements may seem familiar (Eminem’s 8 Mile swims to mind), but Gully Boy is rooted in the Mumbai idiom, and is its own film.

Rap comes to Murad’s rescue. A chance encounter with a performer named MC Sher (Chaturvedi) is like a call to arms: Murad takes to the sound, and the words, using his pain as a weapon. This is a predictable arc, but Singh brings a restrained swagger to the part: there is a gentleness to his anger. His Murad shows that Singh can tamp down on his characteristic boisterousness to create something of value, even though sometimes you can see the effort show. Bhatt, as the spirited Safeena, is terrific. She’s had a lot of practice being a manic pixie, and last year’s Raazi gave her a chance to spread her wings. In this, she really gets the girl-who-wants-to-be-someone-through-education, the lingo (‘mere boy friend ke saath gulu gulu karegi’) and is all sparkle.

Koechlin, as the America-returned music scholar gives the film a chance to go over to the other side for a few minutes: her bathroom is bigger than Murad’s imagination. But I wish she had more to do. Subhash, as Singh’s mother, plays older than she is, but what a treasure this actress is. Good to see the talented Varma getting bigger parts; Raaz is, as always, wonderful.