When the posters of Daddy were out, the tagline left many impressed. The biopic of Arun Gawli , gangster turned politician (briefly), was obviously designed to take a dig at Dawood Ibrahim. Gawli’s arch-nemesis is called Maqsood in Daddy but the animosity is evident in every frame that director Ashim Ahluwalia places Arjun Rampal (in the role of Arun Gawli) and Farhan Akhtar (as Maqsood, a character based on Dawood Ibrahim) in.
Daddy begins with a bang and takes the viewer through the narrow alleys of Dagdi Chawl where the 1970s mill strikes and eventual shutdown ended up snatching many youngsters’ jobs. “Policewale ke ghar mein paida hota toh police-wala hota. Dagdi Chawl mein paida hua toh gangster bana,” is a dialogue from Daddy that tells you the reason why Arun Gulab Gawli, son of a mill worker, became Daddy; godfather to Dagdi Chawl, dreaded gangster to the rest of Mumbai. With police officer Vijaykar (an extremely convincing Nishikant Kamat) close on his heels, Arun finds himself constantly part of a cat-and-mouse chase
Arun, along with Rama Naik and Babu Reshim, start the BRA gang derived from their initials. The trio handles chhota-mota contract killings and ‘Bhai’s’ ‘import-export’ of electronic goods. Gawli is not happy being a henchman. He wants recognition and respect in Dadgi Chawl.
From the inception of the BRA gang to how Gawli remained the only one who did not run, is a narrative that director Ashim Ahluwalia and actor-producer Arjun Rampal have crafted with much expertise. Daddy the film does not glorify Gawli for most part. But there are those subtle indications in Gawli’s silent sighs and just the slightest hint of sarcasm at his ‘belief in the system’ even as he is being escorted to prison that give off a scent of deifying this godfather-gangster of Agripada.
Arjun Rampal pulls off his role as Arun Gawli with elan. It is a refreshing change to see a role completely cut out, tailor-made for Rampal. He does not have many dialogues in Daddy, and he takes care of the anger well. The grimace on his face is befitting of Gawli. He pulls the trigger with as much skill as he delivers a speech in front of his chawl. Daddy is one of Rampal’s best roles and definitely more impactful than the one he won a National Film Award for.
Farhan Akhtar as Maqsood is largely believable but not menacing enough. Aishwarya Rajesh as Zubeida, Arun’s lover and then wife, makes an impression on the viewer. Actor-director Nishikant Kamat takes the cake as far as the ensemble cast is concerned. He plays Vijaykar, the limping police officer who ensures that Gawli ends up behind bars.
Daddy brings the 70s-80s Bombay alive on screen. The fancy sideburns to the moustaches, the bell-bottoms to the sunglasses, all are tinted sepia and presented to the audience in a believable manner. But it is the story that stops short of being powerful after a point. It works in fits and starts before losing steam altogether. The problem with Daddy lies in its inability to rise above the superficial. Ahluwalia never quite lets his lead actor dive into the complexities and flaws of Gawli’s character. Gawli comes across as one-dimensional.