Banners: Kundalini Entertainment, Karta Entertainment, Wave Cinemas
Producers: Arjun Rampal, Rahul Mitra
Director: Ashim Ahluwalia
Cast: Arjun Rampal, Aishwarya Rajesh, Nishikant Kamat, Farhan Akhtar, Anand Ingale, Rajesh Shringarpore,
Writers: Arjun Rampal, Ashim Ahluwalia
Music: Sajid – Wajid
Bollywood has churned out several larger-than-life gangster films based on Mumbai’s underworld but none, until now, had touched upon the life of gangsterturned- politician Arun Gulab Gawli.
Daddy, directed by Ashim Ahluwalia and written by Arjun Rampal, is a fascinating portrait of a mill-worker’s son who went on to become one of the most feared underworld dons of Mumbai. The film’s appeal is definitely its treatment and the fact that the director doesn’t glamourise his hero, as happens in most gangster films. So, while Ashim does build a Robin Hood-esque aura around his central character, Arun Gawli, he makes sure you don’t end up sympathising with him or condone his actions.
The movie begins with the coldblooded murder of MLA Mhatre (Sanjay Vichare), followed by an investigation by inspector Vijaykar (Nishikant Kamat), who is Gawli’s nemesis. Through a series of interrogation sessions of his close aids by inspector Vijaykar, the director enlightens us about the life of Arun Gawali (Arjun Rampal).
The movie oscillates back and forth, which doesn’t make the narrative flow as smooth as it should have.
The narrative jumps from one point to another and requires one to stay very alert throughout the film. If you miss even a minute of the film, it will make joining all the dots difficult.
The first half of the film traces the journey of Gawli from being a smalltime goon to forming his own gang in Dagdi Chawl. We are introduced to his friends – Babu (Anand Ingale) and Rama (Rajesh Shringarpore), the love of his life Zubeida (Aishwarya Rajesh) and his staunch rival Maqsood (Farhan Akhtar). One wonder why the dreaded underworld don Dawood Ibrahim becomes ‘Maqsood’ in this film.
The main drawback of the film is that while it paints a captivating portrait of this mysterious gangster and the underworld, it doesn’t take a deep dive into his life. It only explores what is already documented… How he grew in importance, how he gained power through his jail tenure, and his journey into politics and even how he got the moniker ‘Daddy’… all of that is dealt with only superficially. This leaves movie goers who are not acquainted with the life of Arun Gawli a little befuddled. And, yes, as is the case with most biopics these days, the writers, despite spending considerable time researching the film, have fictionalized the story to a certain extent.
However, director Ashim Ahluwalia, with assistance from his DoP, Jessica Lee Gagne, and art director Parul Sondh, has done a fabulous job of capturing the period and the grungy underworld of Mumbai in this crime drama. The film is shot at real locations with incredible attention to detail. It also sheds some light on some unwritten rules of the underworld.
Another highlight of the film is its casting and performances. Ahluwalia has managed to put together a great cast. Arjun Rampal has not only altered his features to match his looks with the real Arun Gawli but has also mastered his body language and soft-spoken style. He convincingly evolves from a simple, mill owner’s son, to a ruthless killer who stood up to Mumbai’s most wanted don, to a caring father and a political leader who kept the people of his area united during the Mumbai riots. Arjun’s multifaceted portrayal of Gawli is noteworthy and one of his career best. However, his prosthetic nose does look awkward in some scenes.
Nishikant Kamat, who plays the corrupt cop and leaves no stone unturned to put Gawli behind bars to satiate his personal ego, is simply brilliant and packs a powerful performance. Farhan Akhtar as Arun Gawli’s rival Maqsood, delivers an impressive performance and manages to avoid overshadowing Ramphal. South Indian actress Aishwarya Rajesh is brilliant. Anand Ingale and Rajesh Shringarpore as Gawli’s friends and key members of his gang in the initial days, are fantastic as are the rest of the supporting cast.
Verdict: Films based on real-life are a tricky business, and while this tale of Arun Gawli may not be considered the best celluloid adaptation, it certainly exceeds expectations and makes for an engaging watch.