The first time you see him, it’s through a glass wall. Light tinted, slightly oversized sunglasses and a small, neat moustache embellish the face, carefully half hidden in profile. He hasn’t spoken and you don’t take much notice of him except as a big gangster, Maqsood (read Dawood). He is, apparently, a man of some importance. We know this because he has a sidekick who addresses him as “Bhai”.
The second time you see him, he is seated in a car. He is dressed in a printed silk shirt. His hair is long and thick and the camera is close enough to see his eyes through those light gold shades. And then he speaks. The unmistakable grainy voice belongs to Farhan Akhtar. The hitherto dull and dim lit screen, suddenly lights up. The rest of the long hour and a half, you wait for the next glimpse of Bhai.
Oh, but isn’t this film about Arun Gawli, the gangster who became known as Daddy?
Unfortunately, yes. It is also a film that attempts to walk the thin line between the real and commercial cinema. But how real can a movie be, without it being a documentary?
In the previous scene with Bhai, the men, sort of huddled outside, are being given an important assignment. One of them dares to enquire about the payment. He is Arun Gawli, a small time goon from Dagdi Chawl in Mumbai’s Byculla area.
If Farhan Akhtar is unrecognizable, with the perfect detailing of the underworld man from the eighties; Arjun Rampal as Arun Gawli fondly called Daddy, is equally nondescript behind the prosthetic big nose and long hair. Utmost care has been taken to recreate the real world of a man whose humble beginnings in the 70s and 80s are traced to a place called Dagdi Chawl.
The old staircases, the crowded, long balconies, the small rooms with faded, cracked paint and weak, wooden doors — are painstakingly lit with dim light to show a world as dark as Gawli is made to be. This is that Mumbai chawl where he woos a Muslim girl across the balcony and eventually marries her. This is the unsafe place which he builds into a mini fortress, armed with his faithful men and guns. This is where crossfires are exchanged every time the cops come to get him. This is the hideout where he religiously prays to his God — Shiv Shambho.
This is the home where he holds his baby and a gun with one hand and a toy rattle with another.
The latter, particular image should ideally evoke some strong, mixed emotions. But it doesn’t. In fact, the film, does not stir up any emotion, whatsoever.
Daddy has been positioned as a ‘real’ film with ‘commercial’ value given by Arjun Rampal’s name. But this faithfulness to the realistic feel, ends up overlooking the required drama and entertainment in films, which go beyond repeated shootouts. The silk shirts and the bell bottom pants also need some flesh, blood and soul, just like a simple Dagdi Chawl-made vada pau needs its dry garlic, and red, hot chutney.
Rampal’s Gawli says “ikde ye” quite comfortably but does not engage you with a real conversation after that.
The matter of fact tone is as dull as the Wikipedia page which informs you of as much as you see in the movie. The story had sufficient meat in the way three men — Baba (Anand), Ramu (Rajesh) and Arun (Arjun) — formed the BRA gang and their eventual journey. However, you never really get to know who they were as people or friends.
None of the fantastic detailing to recapture the ’80s matters. The flat dialogues make the pace and the tone feel so stretched that the songs provide a welcome break. Particularly, an item number that reminds one of Parveen Babi in a gold, shimmery costume and of the popular disco beat.
Arjun Rampal seems to have given his heart, mind, body, soul and ‘nose’ to this film as actor, co-writer and producer. Hence, it’s disappointing to see it all ruined by director Ashim Ahulwalia who is obsessed with art direction and the costume department. The setting and sepia tones take precedence over the screenplay and the character.
This is not so surprising, considering his debut film — the Nawazuddin-starrer Miss Lovely — which drew some attention during film festivals but failed when released in theatres.
Rampal in Daddy, is like Aishwarya Rai in Sarbjit. Both are fighting their immense good looks and their image, with heartfelt sincerity. Rampal gives a satisfactory, restrained performance in Daddy but he needed better scenes, especially with the ineffective and badly miscast Nishikant Kamat who plays Inspector Vijaykar.
Daddy could have been like Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya but ends up as fake as Farhan’s character name, Maqsood, in its guise to be real. Was Dawood singing in their ears — “main hoon kaun…main hoon, main hoon… DON”?