Daddy: A sober gangster film that has its moments
While deglamourizing its subject gives the feeling that the film is an examination of a character, it also makes the film less engaging
At an important juncture, when Arun Gulab Gawli (Arjun Rampal) loses his friend Rama Naik (Rajesh Shringarpure) to a police encounter, he gathers all his trusted acolytes and it's almost set up as an end of one chapter and beginning of another in his life. A dog-eared book remains open on his table - Munshi Premchand's Kafan. Ashim Ahluwalia sets up Daddy as somewhat of a reluctant gangster and the classic tale of class wars informs the class tussle that underlines Gawli's growth. He is also pitted against a gangster belonging to a different class, not to mention religion, in Maqsood (Farhan Akhtar), not so loosely based on Dawood Ibrahim. At several points, Ahluwalia frames Gawli against Lord Shiva. As in the very beginning, in an uneventful introduction, as the camera moves ahead, hardly noticing Gawli and his daughter watching the news, to the balcony with two statues on either side like guards. A photo frame is unmissable when Gawli cradles his baby daughter with a toy in one hand and a gun in another. A Shiva statue with a mechanically moving limb guards him again as he takes cover from gunshots behind a Ganapthy idol. Is this about how a known destroyer won over the people, enough to enter electoral politics?
Cast: Arjun Rampal, Aishwarya Rajesh, Nishikant Kamat, Farhan Akhtar
Director: Ashim Ahluwalia
Ahluwalia sets up a major part of his narrative in the late 80s, repeating what he did in his previous feature - Miss Lovely. This time the texture is richer, more defined as he recreates the Bombay of the time, smoggy amidst mill strikes, Premier cars and printed shirts. Daddy is also a narrative from different points of view of people associated with Gawli. Beginning with his mother, the narratives are influenced by the characters talking about them. The first one tracks the birth of gangster Gawli, the second one is from a former prostitute Rani giving the trajectory with his close friends, the third from his wife Zubeida (Aishwarya Rajesh) that is sympathetic to his familial negligence, and then to his associates about his modus-operandi and jail time. Daddy has several shots where Ahluwalia simply dollies from left to right as Gawli moves ahead, or from doors to rooms to show a wider perspective of action. It compliments his snapshot approach to this biopic, something that is not entirely narrative driven, but also not as sparse as vignettes. There are some deft touches like how we see a very pronounced limp on Inspector Vijaykar (Nishikant Kamat) in the present day and we learn how he got the limp later. An ailment that defines Gawli becoming an Achilles heel in Vijaykar's career, something that gnaws away constantly at the policeman searching for his retirement high.
Like Ahluwalia promised, Daddy is a gangster film that deglamourizes its subject. The film is therefore far soberer compared to the kinetic pace of gangster films as we know them since the inception of the Ram Gopal Varma genre. While it gives the feeling that the whole film is an examination of a character and the snapshots approach can be rewarding, it also makes the film less engaging at times. At a lot of places, the film becomes too cold for comfort - like we never feel the hold Gawli seems to have over his people. Even court proceedings are glossed over with only the constant change in judges sitting over the case bookending the turns it takes. What takes away some of this sobriety is Farhan Akhtar trying to riff on Dawood Ibrahim. It's a wonder if Akhtar can ever play a role that is not a man from South Mumbai. The Farhan-Akhtar-ness of the role and his voice can be too stifling to remember that his character is supposed to be the most dreaded gangster in this part of the world. There is something off-balance about the way his role is written and played, and the way the rest of the film is realized. A humourless film loses some of its zing.