Daddy movie review: Arjun Rampal's intense act elevates Ashim Ahluwalia's brave biopic

Udita Jhunjhunwala

Sep 08, 2017 08:27:21 IST


There are some films that get points for technical prowess. Daddy is one of those. Not unlike his protagonist, Arun Gawli (Arjun Rampal), director Ashim Ahluwalia shows ‘daring’ as he experiments with an unconventional narrative structure.

From a bloody killing in 2011 to a flashback to 1976, forward to 2012, back to 1987, forward again to 2012 we hear various stakeholders tell their version of the story of the once feared and revered gangster, Arun Gawli. Cops, colleagues and consorts of former gang members share details of the man who became known as Daddy in Dagdi Chawl.

 Daddy movie review: Arjun Rampals intense act elevates Ashim Ahluwalias brave biopic

Snapshots of Arjun Rampal playing Arun Gawli.

From raids on matka dens to smuggling and becoming aligned with local don Maqsood (Farhan Akhtar), Gawli gets entrenched in Bombay’s underbelly. Ahluwalia does not shy away from showing the hold of cold ambition or brutal and bloody killings. There’s a fine scene of a shootout around a building’s lift shaft that captures the establishment of the B.R.A. gang named after Babu Reshim (Anand Ingale), Rama Naik (Rajesh Shringarpure) and Arun Gawli.

The story ends with Gawli being convicted for murder and serving life imprisonment. Do you learn anything more than what you would know if you had read Arun Gawli’s Wikipedia page? Just a little. The complex corners have been peeked into but skirted past. I would have liked to know more about his origins and the murky nexus between the unions, mill owners and politicians that dominated Bombay’s landscape and saw the genesis of a new crime collective in the 1970s.

Ahluwalia successfully side-steps the difficulty in capturing the topography of 1970s Bombay by keeping his camera close to the subjects and their spaces. Cinematographers Jessica Lee Gagne and Pankaj Kumar capture a world balancing on a razor’s edge. The camerawork is supported by the production design and mis-en-scene which are spot on, though the big hair, wide-collared shirts, bellbottoms and costumes are a little distracting.

Close shots control the impression of Bombay from the 1970s onwards — through murky streets, shady bars, ramshackle buildings — which give a sense of the claustrophobia of Dagdi Chawl. I am not sure if it was the sound system at the auditorium, Sajid-Wajid’s pounding background music or mumbled dialogue delivery, that made some of the conversations hard to follow.

Arjun Rampal as Arun Gawli in a still from Daddy. YouTube

Arjun Rampal as Arun Gawli in a still from Daddy. YouTube

Besides the debatable casting of Akhtar as Maqsood (the name change is simply a veiled attempt to sidestep legal tangles while portraying Gawli’s prime opponent from Dongri), and Nishikant Kamat (channeling Nana Patekar)  as a police officer obsessed with bringing down Gawli, the other principal actors are fittingly suited to their roles. If it’s tough to keep track of all the characters it’s because of the non-linear screenplay and the languid storytelling of the first hour.

Rampal intensely conveys the younger Gawli’s trepidation and hesitation as he finds himself at the threshold of crime. You feel his discomfort and frustration as he copes with jail time and you have to commend Rampal’s physical transformation into the gaunt gangster turned politician. There are some softer moments with Zubeida (Aishwarya Rajesh) aka Asha, a neighbour Arun woos and marries, and his daughter. Tamil actress Aishwarya Rajesh does well with the Hindi and Marathi accents and as Daddy’s constant support.

Daddy demands patient viewing as it sets out to explore a new story delivery style while tackling the ever-popular gangster genre. As it walks the fine line between judgement and glorification, Daddy often feels like a bunch of headlines stitched together with fine handwriting managing to suck you back into a time that has shaped modern Mumbai.


Updated Date: Sep 08, 2017 08:27:21 IST

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