Meet Vivian Fernandes, the Real Gully Boy and Inspiration Behind Ranveer Singh's Film
From Dharavi to Gully Boy—Divine bares it all.
At a time when Bollywood rap is mostly about alcohol and parties, Divine's clean verses on the human condition, inequality and the want to do more make you meet your 21-year-old self—who dreams and hopes to change the world. (Image: Apple)
He was a celebrity in his own right even before Gully Boy released but the Zoya Akhtar directorial has added considerably to the legend surrounding Divine—Mumbai’s home-grown star rapper.
With India currently grooving to his music, Vivian Fernandes (his real name) is on an all-time high. Here, he talks about the film, its impact, his new initiative Gully Gang Entertainment, his first album Kohinoor and a lot more.
Now that the film is out, how does it feel?
When Zoya first came and met us, I thought she was sceptical whether she was going to make the movie or not, I was sceptical about it but now that she’s made it and it’s showing everywhere, mast lag raha hai. Sab logo ko mazza bhi aa raha hai ye movie dekh ke. People are calling me and saying they love the film. Now that it’s released, I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
How involved were you in the making of the film?
Everything happened in front of me. When Zoya was starting the script, she spoke to me, hung out, came for our shows. I was also deeply involved in the film’s music. Dub (Sharma; rapper) and I had made Apna Time Aayega two years ago. It was a different song then—Sabka Time Ayega. Then there’s Azadi and Doori, which Javed Akhtar had written as a poem and I converted into a rap song. And Meri Gully Mein, which is very special to me because it was our first song and Zoya had already thought of using it in the movie.
Are you happy with the way Gully Boy has turned out?
I’m more than happy. I watched it on the same day as it released. Mujhe maza aaya kyuki sirf rap ko attention nahi dia. The film’s story is pretty great too. They all did a fantastic job. For me, Siddhant and Vijay Varma’s performances stood out because they’re new guys and I had never seen anything by them before.
How much of it is inspired by your own life?
It’s just bits and parts. Every guy from Bombay will feel like this film is based on him. Considering where we come from, we all have gone through what’s shown in the film. The whole dad angle that’s been used—I know a lot of guys who have lived it. The entire rap scene was very inspiring because our song Mere Gully Mein sparked up the whole scene and got so much talent out.
Some of your songs in Gully Boy are very political. Was it a conscious choice?
No. For instance, Azadi is not a direct shot at anyone. A lot of political parties are using the song to promote their campaign but I don’t support any of them. It’s Dub Sharma’s song, which he’d released two years ago. The verses I have written are what I have felt all my life since I was a child.
You were famous even before Gully Boy. Has anything changed after the film?
I just want it to open more doors for newcomers and young artists like me who have a dream and want to do something with their art. With Gully Boy, the platform is now going to get bigger for independent music in general and not just hip-hop.
You recently went to Los Angeles to be interviewed on Beats 1. How was that like?
It was a lot of fun because Ebro Darden—the guy who interviewed me is very influential in the global hip-hop scene. For the first time I was in America—the birthplace of hip-hop. I watched Gully Boy there only. I wanted to watch it alone but people recognised me even there. A shout-out to Apple for making this happen because we are getting a lot of international recognition because of it.
Divine with Ebro Darden. (Image: Apple)
What is Gully Gang Entertainment? Is it a school? A talent recruitment company?
It’s not a school. We cannot teach anyone how to rap. It’s a platform that I always wanted to create for guys like me who want to do something with music.
What does someone, who is interested, have to do to be a part of it?
If you have good music out there I’ll surely know because I constantly keep looking for what is happening in the scene. Keep putting out your songs and I’ll know.
Who were your favourite hip-hop artistes while growing up? Who do you like the most from the Indian rap scene right now?
I used to listen a lot of Nas, Tupac, Big L and Rakim. In the Indian hip-hop scene currently, I like the groups Avrutti and 7 Bantaiz—they are really good.
How did you come up with your stage name Divine?
I used to write gospel rhymes when I was in school. Since then the name has stuck with me and I never changed it.
A lot of rap is about channelling internal angst. Are you an impulsive writer or do you think it through and then write?
I wait. I don’t force myself to write. It’s a lot more fun if it comes to you naturally. It’s important for it to come organically. That also gives you room to grow as a writer.
Barring the tracks in Gully Boy, which of your songs you like most?
I like Jungli Sher, Farak and there is this new song NY Se Mumbai with Nas and Naezy. I am listening to it a lot these days.
How was it collaborating with Nas?
It was the best feeling in the world. He’s been the most influential hip-hop artist in my life. So it was like an award that I never got. Maza aaya.
Your first album Kohinoor is coming out in April.
It’s about all that has happened with me and what I have learnt in the last 10 years. There are some stories of my childhood too. Since it is my first album, it is going to be a very personal one.
How many songs will it have?
I have not yet decided on a number yet but there will be more than eight and less than 11.
You often say that you don’t feel like you belong in Bollywood.
I don’t want to be used just as a filler. I don’t feel like I belong because we have our own thing going on. But if there is an opportunity like Gully Boy—a film that’s so very related to rap and hip-hop and it makes sense for me to be there.
Is it becoming difficult to stay authentic as you’re getting more popular?
Not at all. Being authentic is being yourself whether you come from a gully or not. You need to talk about your life, whatever it is—studying in a good school, working in a good office or hanging out with stars. There is nothing wrong with it. Being authentic is being yourself.
Your songs are very clean. There’s a lot of local lingo but never a cuss word.
Yes, because that’s who I am and that’s what I want to promote. There is no fun in hurling abuses in your songs. That’s not my style.
If you were to define hip hop, how would you do it?
It’s number 1 in the whole world right now. It’s my life. It’s my teacher that I never had.
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