'Daddy': A biopic that moves off the beaten track
A biopic on gangster-turned-politician Arun Gawli, is a triumph for Arjun Rampal, writes Deepa Gauri
Biopics are challenging, especially if the central character is a gangster-turned-politician. Such a story is never 'feel good' and is made further difficult by the fact that it is open to the criticism of 'glorifying' criminals.
But what Daddy, for all its failings, puts forth as a biopic is one compelling aspect: That people are often victims and heroes of their circumstances.
Director Ashim Ahluwalia of Miss Lovely (that breathtakingly discomfiting and stylishly designed film on Mumbai's c-grade film industry) does not follow the path that directors from Mukul Anand (Agneepath) to Mani Ratnam (Nayakan) and Priyadarshan (Abhimanyu) took in narrating 'underworld' stories. His sensibility is far superior to that of the likes of Apoorva Lakhia (Shootout at Lokhandwala) too. He tries to keep it real, almost like a docu-fiction, steering clear of emotional manipulation.
Credit goes to actor Arjun Rampal, who not only produces the film but also co-scripts it and plays his career-best role. For once, you do not see Arjun Rampal, the model turned actor; you see him transform into Arun Gawli. This is spot on as he makes an impassioned plea to fellow-legislators on how he is being denied a fair chance to redeem his past. That is where the 'circumstance' factor is further underlined.
Across the narrative of Gawli's film, you see that invisible thread - where a man is forced to do what he might not really want. That is outright 'glorification' alright but Arjun and Ashim try to it keep subliminal.
But is it right to justify crime? The answer is an emphatic no, but Daddy doesn't glorify 'gangsters' any much as popular Bollywood has done to date. It keeps it gritty and reminds time and again that crime doesn't pay.
The trouble with Daddy however is in its narrative arc. Ashim and Arjun attempt to depict Arun Gawli's story through the people he knew - from his first entry to the world of crime to his enmity and subsequent gang-war with Maqsood (as he is referred to in the movie, but you know who) and his election to office.
But these perspectives are almost always one-sided; they don't tell different shades of Gawli's story; they just reinforce what is popularly known. Surprisingly, it also glosses over the underworld-construction industry nexus other than taking a moral high ground in a climactic dialogue. On final count, you are lost in the plot with multiple characters hovering over the narrative.
Daddy's strong point is Arjun and the supporting cast (of sidekicks) and Nishikant Kamat (as cop Vijaykar). The weak link is Aishwarya Rajesh (playing his wife); for a character that dominates Arun's life, she is surprisingly meek and out of league (in the past, it would have called for someone like Rani Mukherji). The second weak link is Farhan Akhtar, playing the arc opponent; he makes it more caricature than real.
The most defining element of Daddy is its production design; in recreating the ambience of the era - be it in the depiction of the slums or the disco dances - the attention to detail is mind-blowing. There are some fantastic action set pieces too.
Daddy fails as a biopic for its one-dimensional tone, and it is not the average commercial entertainer. But if you love the craft of cinema, watch it, if only for its production values and - yes- for Arjun Rampal!
Directed by Ashim Ahluwalia
Starring: Arjun Rampal, Aishwarya Rajesh
Now playing at theatres in the UAE