Ranveer Singh has killed it in Gully Boy, says rapper Divine, buckling up for the big leagues

Ahead of Netflix’s Sacred Games (for which he has written an original song) and the upcoming film Gully Boy (for which his life is a basis), rapper Divine talks about blowing up big time.

It took a few minutes for Divine (born Vivian Fernandes) to move beyond giving variations of the same rote answers, regardless of whether the question was about his music or his future—answers that included stock phrases such as ‘Music is my life,’ and ‘I’m here to stay’—but soon, we were talking about politics, about revolution and about the power that rap music has in influencing both arenas.

In the short chat we had over the phone—connected despite a couple of seconds of audio delay, him in ‘Kaneda’ and us in New Delhi—the path-breaking Mumbai rapper projected all the energy of his songs, which range from autobiographical confessionals to rage anthems for an entire generation.

His latest is a track called Kaam 25 (pronounced in Hindi), an original composition for the upcoming Netflix series—the first Indian original produced by the streaming giant—Sacred Games, based on the sprawling novel by Vikram Chandra.

The show is co-directed by Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane, who shared directing duties on all eight episodes—Kashyap directed scenes with Nawazuddin Siddiqui while Motwane mainly handled Saif Ali Khan. The trailer for the show scored to the beats of a different Divine track—Jungli Sher—set the tone for what appears to be the sort of Mumbai fable that Kashyap and Nawaz have tackled in the past, in films such as Raman Raghav 2.0.

Divine has worked with Kashyap before—in his recent boxing drama Mukkabaaz—but what really drew him to the project was Nawaz, his ‘favourite actor in the country.’ Divine was shown slides from the show to help him conceptualize Kaam 25. He read bits of the script, which confirmed to him that the show was very much in his ‘space’. The rapper isn’t a stranger to provocative themes – he frequently challenges authority, as well as the government, in his music.

“All this is happening right before our eyes,” he said, making a general reference to certain social issues, such as corruption and communalism – both themes that he has written about in his music (including Kaam 25), and form the overarching thread that binds Chandra’s novel.

“It’s never been a problem,” he said defiantly when prodded about whether he was concerned that his emergence from the underground and into the mainstream might change things. “Things have gone from 0 to a 100 since we started,” he said, about the troupe of young rappers who came from Mumbai and helped define its hip-hop voice, just like Punjab and even Kolkata. He has been at the forefront of this movement, which has made him the de facto figurehead for rap music — real rap music — in India.

“The young boys understand that rap has the power – to maybe not change the country but to spark mindsets that change the country,” he said. Both Divine and the official YouTube channel for Netflix shared his new song, but despite having 150,000 subscribers as compared to Netflix’s 4 million, the video he shared scored a million hits, and Netflix’s a mere 250,000. It’s the loyalty that matters, not the reach.

But the rapper will soon have to learn to handle more fans than he has ever had before, when the film Gully Boy, based in part on his life, is released. “I have been a part of it from day 1,” he said. “I have a connection to it.” Divine, or at least a character inspired by him, will be played in the film by Ranveer Singh, who is coming off the reviews of his career with his Alaudin Khilji turn in Padmaavat. “Ranveer is the man,” Divine said. “He’s the best man to do the movie and he’s killed it.”

Sacred Games will begin streaming on Netflix on July 6. Gully Boy is still a while away, but Divine hopes you spend the meantime listening to the new Pusha-T album.