The early 80s were a turbulent time in the history of Bombay, as the old guard of gentler underworld dons like Haji Mastan, Karim Lala and Varadarajan Mudaliar slowly began to make way for the young turks like Dawood Ibrahim, Chhota Rajan, Chhota Shakeel etc in the backdrop of another seminal event in the city’s history, The Great Bombay Mill Strike. This has been a mother lode of stories for Bollywood and other film industries as well, and while all the names mentioned above have had stories told about them, Dawood more than the others, one name surprisingly hasn’t popped up much. The name was of Arun Gulabrao Ahir, AKA, Arun Gawli, the only other formidable challenger to Dawood’s reign after Chhota Rajan. So, does the story of Gawli’s life have enough meat to keep the audience hooked?
Arun (Arjun Rampal) is the son of an ordinary mill-worker who one day joins Babu Reshim (Anand Ingale) and Rama Naik (Rajesh Shringarpure) to form a gang indulging in small time robberies and smuggling. Soon, news of their daring escapades spreads and into their life comes Maqsood (a suprising star cameo) , a ruthless gangster aiming to rule over Bombay, and while it’s smooth sailing in the beginning, they soon fall out over a misunderstanding leading to a war between the 2 gangs. Will Arun survive this war, and be able to protect his young wife Zubeidaa/Asha (Aishwarya Rajesh) and his family from the bullets of his rivals as well as the police led by Inspector Vijaykar (Nishikant Kamat)?
Ashim Ahluwalia has a talent for making even the ugliest and grimy surroundings look stunning on screen. He proved that with his debut feature, Miss Lovely, and here too, he and his DOPs, Jessica Lee Gagne and Pankaj Kumar do an absolutely fantastic job of capturing the milieu of the 80s. A special mention must be made of action director Sham Kaushal’s efforts too, for the way the shootouts in the film have been captured, especially the assassination of Sarmad Khan in an elevator. Even the violence that’s highly graphic in nature (absolutely not for sensitive viewers) doesn’t come across as gratuitous.
That being said, while Daddy might just go down as one of the most technically superior movies in Bollywood, it is at the scripting stage where it falters. The movie is found seriously lacking in depth, and that is an utter tragedy, as what could have been an intimate glimpse into the life of an ambitious yet ultimately ineffectual gangster turned politician, ends up being yet another paint by numbers movie, with real characters coming off as one dimensional and cardboard-like. A pity indeed as one would have loved to know more about the peripheral characters such as Asha Gawli and how she came to take over her husband’s operations while he was jailed, a more in-depth look at the cop, Vijaykar and his obsession to get Gawli, or even the death of Babu Reshim which had a rather disturbing backstory to it. All of which is glossed over here.
Arjun Rampal has put in a lot of effort, but he falls short in bringing forth the menace of Arun Gawli on screen. Aishwarya Rajesh makes a fine debut in Bollywood, and stands out in spite of an underwritten role. The actor who features in the star cameo is comically miscast as the stand-in for Dawood Ibrahim, and makes an absolute hash of things. Nishikant Kamat is absolutely brilliant as the loathsome Vijaykar, as are Anand Ingale as the reckless Babu and Rajesh Shringarpure as the pragmatic Rama.
To sum it up then, Daddy is what Raees should have been, a non-glamorous look at the life of a gangster, without pandering to the image of a superstar, although it could have done with a little more depth in the writing!