Daddy movie (Bollywood) review: Arjun Rampal is believable only in fits and starts

09/08/2017

MUMBAI, Sept. 8: Daddy tells the story of a man who is, in equal measure, fascinating and repellant. Arun Gawli, son of a jobless mill worker, sets himself on the path to gangsterdom, becoming a larger-than-life persona, worshipped and feared by his constituency.

Ashim Ahluwalia makes his Gawli more a reluctant mobster in search of redemption than a ruthless cold-blooded murderer, and while that is an intriguing choice, the results are mixed.

What stays with you is the stunning camerawork, and the ‘look’ of the film-and-its-characters, just like in Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely. But the similarity between the two movies ends here: while Miss Lovely, a look at the sleazy underbelly of Hindi cinema in the 80s, was a brilliant sum of all its parts, Daddy works best strictly on the fringes, when the supporting cast is busy doing its thing.

Arjun Rampal who plays the lead character, is believable only in fits and starts. The prosthetic nose and other cosmetic changes never really fade into the face: the creation of a ‘Robin Hood’-like bad guy who steals from the rich to give to the poor, a line that we hear loud and clear right in the beginning, shackles both his performance. And the film.

And Farhan Akhtar’s don-who-flees-to-Dubai (here called Maqsud) is singularly lacking in menace: his lemon yellow glares that obscure his face are more memorable than his subdued body language.

It’s when the film moves over to the cops and the smaller robbers that it really comes into its own. And makes us go beyond admiring the beautifully shot grunge and the mean streets of the chawl, the encounters and the blood, and the 70s big hair and collars and flared pants, to the spot-on performances of Nishikant Kamat, the cop whose mission is to nail Gawli, and to the two guys who play Gawli’s close friends-cum-associates: Shringarpure and Ingale, and the many other actors who come and go through the film. In this very male, very violent world, a woman softly glows: Aishwarya Rajesh pitches in a fine act as Gawli’s beloved and constant companion.

Part of this film’s pleasures is also in how it nails a period, which is either too glossed up in Bollywood mob dramas, or too toned down. Where it falters in creating an exact fit between Rampal, who has clearly worked on his look and the lingo, and the hard-edged gangster he is trying to be. That one central performance could have resulted in a crackling retread of familiar gangsta territory, and given us a riveting account of an individual’s progress, from a guy who couldn’t do anything right to one who wanted to do the right thing.

It’s also the thickly-populated circuitous plot, which goes back and forth in time, which comes in the way of a solid crime thriller cum study of the making of a gangster. I ended up drinking in every single frame, and searching for a full film.

Daddy movie cast: Arjun Rampal, Aishwarya Rajesh, Nishikant Kamat, Rajesh Shringarpure, Anand Ingale
Daddy movie director: Ashim Ahluwalia
Daddy movie rating: 2.5 stars -TIE

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