Director: Ashim Ahluwalia
Starring: Arjun Rampal, Aishwarya Rajesh, Nishikant Kamat and others
Showing at: Cinepolis, CityPride, E-Square, Inox and others
Rating: ** 1/2
Gangsters had better start doing some interesting things so that filmmakers who pick up their lives for future biopics can get some non-formulaic plot points. Because it does look like every gangster and hitman is eventually going to get a film made on his (or her) life. The really notorious ones like the ‘D’ man will appear multiple times in the movies.
Between Ardh Satya and Satya, practically everything that could be said about the Mumbai underworld has been accomplished; Nayakan Indianised The Godfather to create that ineradicable image of the benevolent don; whatever came next was more of the same —corruption, mafia-politician-builder nexus, gang wars and so on.
Ashim Ahluwalia picks Arun Gawli for a biopic, a gangster whose hold was mostly over a small area of central Mumbai. The trajectory of his descent into crime due to poverty and rise to Dagdi Chawl’s ‘Daddy’ is predictable. The big mill strike in the Seventies left a lot of workers jobless and starving. It was very easy to recruit them into criminal gangs. It was undoubtedly a turning point in the city’s history. For the handsome Arjun Rampal to play the gangster, changing his face with prosthetics must have tickled the actor’s vanity, though he obviously could not shrink himself to Gawli’s slight five feet three inches frame. (In a 2015 Marathi film titled Dagdi Chawl, Makrand Despande was a dead ringer for the Marathi don).
All films about the underworld — whether based on real characters or not — tend to white wash the violence and glamourise the world of crime. Daddy is based on the life of a living underworld figure and politician, albeit one serving a life sentence for the murder of a corporator, so there can be no criticism of his methods. He may be a smuggler, extortionist or killer, the film seems to say, but he is a loving family man, loyal friend, secular, generous and an all-round good fella.
Ahluwalia has gone into parts of Mumbai not seen before and shot in dimly lit frames; he has also used a back and forth narrative style that can confuse and jar. The enmity with a bespectacled don who flees to Dubai, called Maqsood for some reason and played by Farhan Akhtar, does not quite play out for thrills.
The Seventies-Eighties style — the big hair, broad collars and bell bottoms — is recreated well. Most actors in supporting parts are cast perfectly — Anand Ingale as Babu Reshim, Rajesh Sringarpure as Rama Naik, Nishikant Kamat as an evil cop and Aishwarya Rajesh as Asha Gawli.
Despite all that works for this film, the problem is that somebody has done it before… and better.