Movies

Daddy review: Witnesses to a prosecution

Long journey: Daddy, starring Arjun Rampal, chronicles the life of gangster Arun Gawli from various perspectives and opinions.   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

“Between the idea, And the reality; Between the motion, And the act

Falls the Shadow

Between the conception, And the creation; Between the emotion, And the response

Falls the Shadow”

So wrote T.S. Eliot in The Hollow Men. Ashim Ahluwalia’s Daddy too falls in the shadow; adrift and astray, mislaid between what would have been aimed on paper, in the script, and what eventually plays out on the screen.

The rise and rise, and fall, of Mumbai’s gangster-politician-social worker Arun Gawli (Arjun Rampal) is narrated through multiple points of view-mother, wife, henchmen-and keeps taking the viewer back and forth in time. However, the testimonies remain scattered than cohere as a cogent whole. The free-flowing narrative, confounds and exasperates than add any profundity to the persona, dynamism to the place or perspective to the passage of time and history that went into the making of contemporary Mumbai. Even to an outsider in the city, unaware of the tempestuous times, the film offers little more than what can be gleaned online.

Ahluwalia tries to view the protagonist from a deliberate distance. In the process, the environment he belongs to, the transforming city around him, the class divide and injustices that tear him asunder also get needlessly muted. The textile mill strikes and lockouts, the mill lands paving way for high rises, the poverty are all hinted at and spoken in a line here and a scene there, verbalised in the terse closure but never quite compellingly brought alive on screen. How did the mill politics fuel crime in the city? One would have liked to have seen more of the making of a reluctant gangster; his growing rage and ruthlessness and then the desire for redemption.

What gets foregrounded instead is a chaotic, perennially combative world captured with a frenetic, constantly on the move camera; one bloody shootout following another; one gang war followed by another; one police raid making way for another encounter. And the characters always captured in tight, pore-revealing close-ups. It’s not a panoramic bird’s eye view of the city as much as a look from down below—the brutal streets, bristling with violence. The world of hafta, matka and smuggling in which the audience also gets planted willy-nilly. Daddy tries to capture the slices of many eras in the lower depths of Mumbai—the liquor dens, shady bars, murky cattle sheds and the Dagdi Chawl—through the 70s to 2011.

While, on the one hand, the film embraces reality, doesn’t shun taking names, on the other, Dawood gets turned to Maqsud, for obvious legal reasons. Problem is that the whole track, right down to Farhan Akhtar, feels like a skit or a sketch than real.

Daddy tries its level best to escape the tropes of Bollywood but doesn’t always manage to do that. Gawli does get romanticised; Inspector Vijaykar, Gawli’s bête noire, is turned the villain of the piece when he could/should have been a rightful equal. Also, however much you may muffle them, Gawli’s life has its share of filmi moments-the friendships and loyalties, the betrayals, rivals and revenge. And dialogue like: “Agar tu ek chawl me paida hota aur wo [Gawli] ek police officer ke ghar to tu gunda hota aur wo police officer.” Law and crime have been two sides of the same coin in our popular culture and imagination for ages now.

Arjun Rampal tries hard to get into the mind of Gawli as much as the physicality. Perhaps, it’s a problem singularly my own but prosthetics often take attention away from than add to the performance. To play a real person do you have to necessarily look like her or him? The nose turns a liability here for Rampal than an asset. It’s Aishwarya Rajesh as Asha Gawli, with her combination of grit and vulnerability, and the supporting cast, notably the BRA gang-Rajesh Shringarpure as Rama Naik and Anand Ingale as Babu Reshim-that you bring back home.

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Printable version | Oct 26, 2020 4:20:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/witnesses-to-a-prosecution/article19643449.ece

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