For a gangster movie to hit home with unerring ferocity and keep you in its cross-hairs for its running time, it needs to get a couple of things right – a strong character base that builds up your interest in the imminent action; the gangster’s emotional quotient second-nature to you by the time the movie touches mid-point in its timeline; the inevitable investigating cop’s ticking mind a joyous quirk to behold; the interplay between the two an entertaining, if not a singeing flame-throwing game of wit and maneuver, a game of chess that has you second-guessing each one of their moves; and finally, no matter how good the cop, you rooting for the gangster, even if you know how it’ll all end for the erring protagonist.
Director Ashim Ahluwalia’s Daddy unwaveringly and unequivocally fails on all counts, leaving you stunned at the enterprise and its unhappy achievement. Which is a bit of a surprise, really. For, based on Mumbai’s underworld gangster, Arun Gawli, you’d have thought the man’s life story and his rise and fall would have automatically made for some spiffy and crackling material onscreen. So did, apparently, writers Ahluwalia and actor Arjun Rampal (who also acts in the titular role) – more so the latter, who undoubtedly saw this project as his shot at immortal gangsta infamy. He should have been careful in what he wished for.
Director Ahluwalia uses a non-linear technique to narrate Gawli’s life in Dagdi Chawl, of how Gawli is forced into looting gambling dens by his friends Babu Reshim (Anand Ingale) and Rama Naik (Rajesh Shringarpure) after the mills in Parel and Byculla close down. And his vehicle in delivering this story is Inspector Vijaykar Nitin (Nishikant Kamat), who interviews various people in Gawli’s life to uncover his story. Rather surprising that, considering that he’s earlier been referred to as the cop who’s spent the better part of his career pursuing Gawli. Be that as it may, his interviews reveal Gawli’s run-in with the local don, Maqsood (Farhan Akhtar), ostensibly Dawood Ibrahim in real-life; a bevy of molls – Rani (Shruti Bapna), Hilda (Anupriya Goenka) included – who cross and double-cross his path. Anyone missing from the list? Phamplet Bandya (Deepak Damle) the accountant, Newman (Abhimanue Arun) the tongue-tied sharpshooter, Sada (Shrikant Yadav), Gawli’s trusted lieutenant, and Vijay Nikam as the guru who has a Hindu gang to counter Maqsood.
Inspector Vijaykar has a limp, if that sort of thing intrigues you, and that has a story too. In hindsight, that’s an unfortunately prescient prop, for the movie uses the same motion to progress to its denouement. But all of Ahluwalia’s (and Gawli’s) men (and women) cannot get together Daddy ever again – the feisty act by Aishwarya Rajesh as Gawli’s wife Asha notwithstanding. And that’s because the movie’s a drag.
Not once does it invest in its characters, relying on the dark slum set – effectively recreated by Nitin Gaikwad, Devji Sakpal, and Parul Sondh – and the brownish filter to get you hooked. What you are, instead, is a far cry from their ambitions – struggling to stay interested in the goings-on, wondering if Gawli’s life was actually this dull and dreary. Is that why, you mull, looking around the cinema hall – your neighbour’s popcorn bucket holding more drama and zest – tired of his bleh-inducing routine, that Gawli decides to spend time in the jail, smoking pot?
The movie plods on, almost uncaring about your (and its fate) now, unfazed that it’s all but sealed a long time back. You look for highlights, and the sound design by Udit Duseja is one – surrounding you with a lovingly detailed effect, not missing anything, and not blaring anything either. The cast, all splendid on paper, cannot rise above the plodding script, their act fettered by the bound volume that draws boundaries around their talent, making them a baleful bunch. Shake your head, then, in woebegone wonder as Anand Ingale gives it his best, and yet his character’s lacking any persona; Farhan Akhtar – whose act is ostensibly a surprise package of the movie, not publicized anywhere, and yet you hardly raise an eyebrow at his entry – seemingly struggles to stay interested, mumbling his lines as if almost embarrassed to be here, while Rajesh Shringarpure competes with Rampal to deliver flat-lined inflection deliveries.
Sajid-Wajid compose a very enjoyable background score, almost doffing their hats to Jóhann Jóhannsson. Unfortunately, their booming, bass-filled synthesizers, do not defibrillate the movie either.
And thus does Daddy leave you, as you leave it with mind-numbing questions – why didn’t the director stem this flow of inertia and pack in more zing? What was the point of pulling punches and not naming Dawood Ibrahim in the movie? What was the movie trying to show – that Gawli was better than other gangsters that ruled, murdered, and plundered in Mumbai? Why didn’t the movie explode with drama, instead choosing to paint a revering picture of its subject?
With his hard-working, brave, sincere, and bewildered performance, Arjun Rampal, unfortunately fails to answer any of these questions, making you wonder if, indeed, Gawli’s is a life of why.
Daddy is rated A (Restricted to adults). There’s intimate scenes and violence.
Director Ashim Ahluwalia Running Time 2h 14 min
Writers Ashim Ahluwalia, Arjun Rampal
Stars Arjun Rampal, Aishwarya Rajesh, Anand Ingale, Rajesh Shringarpure, Farhan Akhtar
Genres Action, Biography, Crime
Watch the trailer of Daddy here: