Arjun Rampal on Daddy: ‘Shooting in Dawood-friendly area as Arun Gawli was scary'
Arjun Rampal talks about writing the script of Daddy, Mumbai don Arun Gawli's biopic, working with Ashim Ahluwalia and how this film isn't like most Bollywood gangster films.
After rejecting a certain producer’s “one-dimensional” script on the biopic of possibly Mumbai’s most feared gangsters, Arun Gawli, Arjun Rampal took upon himself to write the script and act in it as well. He got so obsessed with the subject that he locked himself in a room for almost two months to finish the script. He further finalised Ashim Ahluwalia to direct it, assembled the cast and crew, and soon enough his journey as a producer also began.
“When I was first approached, I did not like the script, it wasn’t exciting. The producer’s sensibility was different. It was a very typical portrayal of gangsters that we have seen in innumerable films. We were making a biopic so we had to be real and I didn’t find the level of realism in it, the incidents that had actually happened were avoided,” said Rampal, furthering, “I decided to produce it myself and got the official rights for the biopic. I didn’t approach any studio to avoid restrictions, and sudden changes. I have experienced in this past.”
Once the main cast and crew was assembled, the actor-producer-writer went through a staggering transformation to play the part. The uncanny resemblance to Gawli baffled many, as Rampal was almost unrecognisable in the get up.
“It was a huge process because Gawli has a distinct look. I had to shrink in size, lose about 11 kilograms and get a new nose. But when I went for the look test, I was very clear that if I failed test, we will get another actor and Ashim will still direct it. Luckily, this make-up artist from Italy worked on prosthetics and it went off well,” said Rampal.
Ahluwalia, whose 2012 film Miss Lovely was an entry at the Cannes Film Festival, was on the same page as Rampal. When he was asked to direct Daddy (releases on 8 September), he was clear that he would do it on his own terms and not the way "Bollywood usually treats gangster films".
For long, it's been seen, Bollywood’s gangster movies have romanticised the criminal, portraying him as a man with the golden heart, wronged by the system and who turns to crime reluctantly. Be it Amitabh Bachcan’s Deewaar, Don or Agneepath, or even more recent films like Once Upon a Time in Mumbai or Shah Rukh Khan’s Raees.
“There is no redemption in my film. What's important was to tell a story and it was critical to show the human side of Gawli. People may feel, or may not feel anything. They will have to draw their own opinion about him,” said Rampal, a former ramp model who made his Bollywood debut over 15 years ago.
Talking about his director, Arjun added, “Ashim is a kind of reluctant director and he doesn’t want to do typical Bollywood stuff. He was clear that we can’t put an item song in it nor have scenes of me jumping off roofs or have an eight pack abs. He didn’t want the character play a heroic guy, spinning out big fat dialogues because that amounts to glorifying a person. The film is not a fictionalised piece. It is a real story and we had to keep it real. We wanted to show an unconventional gangster or politician. When standing with other characters, they should not see Arjun, they should see Gawli. That process was tiring.”
Not just physical and facial transformation, but understanding the world of Gawli, a one-time henchman of mafia boss Dawood Ibrahim who later broke away and formed his own gang, was challenging for Rampal. An unemployed youngster during the Mumbai textile strike, Gawli's gang of extortionists and contract killers spread terror in and around Mumbai.
“I would go in his area, Dagdi Chawl, and mingle with the people who have lived that life and have known Gawli because he is not accessible and there is not much written about him. He is in jail serving a life sentence. So whenever he would come out on parole those were the golden moments for me as I would get to meet him, observe him,” said Rampal, but hastily added, “But even when I met him, I couldn’t read him. He would just gaze at you, he would listen to you. So we have taken point of views of the Dagdi Chawl, point of views of the family, of the rival gangs and of the cops. That is how you discover Gawli in the film and you either empathise with him or your don’t," revealed Rampal.
It wasn’t easy to convince Gawli when Rampal and Ahluwalia approached him for permission to make his biopic before shooting the movie.
Gawli, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of a politician from the right-wing Shiv Sena party, wasn’t forthcoming. He portrayed a Robinhood kind of a figure and is known among his followers as “Daddy”. Gawli’s stronghold in Mumbai was at the Dagdi Chawl, a colony of seven buildings that houses families in one-room tenements. His family still lives there.
“It is not a biopic on a sports personality or freedom fighter or somebody who was extremely righteous. This person came from the world of crime. We told him that people need to know his story and that is what fascinates me and the director. We wanted him to allow us to show everything about how he became Arun Gawli. Initially, he had apprehensions about the portrayal of him and his family because they're also part of the script. But later he probably saw our consistency, our belief in what we wanted to do. One day, he felt that we were right, that we should not be making a propaganda kind of film, and asked us to go ahead,” said Rampal.
The crew also shot in areas where Gawli’s biggest rivals lived, an environment that was openly hostile to them.
“Locations chosen were really bizarre. I didn’t know these places actually existed. His area is Agripada and then you cross over to Nagpada which is Dawood’s area. When I would go dressed looking like Gawli into the Dawood area with a crew of 200 people I felt that hostility. Many times we had to stop the shoot as some guys would come and start inquiring. It was a bit scary, there was tension and we would take police help. But it was also quite exciting because that would bring the necessary energy into the film,” said Rampal.
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