It must have been a challenge for director Ashim Ahluwallia to make a biopic on a living gangster turned politician. One has to be cautious of not making a hero out of him or even implicate him. Arun Gawli’s story invokes both intrigue and interest as he is one of the few mafia dons of his time who did not flee the country fearing death. Unlike his contemporaries, Dawood, Chhota Rajan, and Amar Naik, Gawli faced the law and said to have conducted criminal activities from inside the prison walls with impunity. Daddy begins as a dark and gritty film but gives into the banality of a typical gangster film.

Daddy traces the life of Arun Gulab Gawli, one of the most notorious gangsters of Mumbai underworld who went on to wield immense political clout in the southern part of Maximum City. The story takes us into several flashbacks where we see an investigating cop Vijayakar (Nishikant Kamat) conversing with an old lady, a sex worker, Gawli’s wife giving insights into Gawli’s life. In the late 70s, Gawli (son of an unemployed mill worker) and his accomplices Rama Naik, Babu Reshim resort to robbery, smuggling, and murder which get them the moniker of BRA (Babu, Rama and Arun) gang. They eventually get in touch with Maqsood Khan (Farhan Akhtar in a filmy spin-off of Dawood Ibrahim) and begin working for him. However, Gawli falls out with Maqsood after Rama Naik gets killed in a police encounter which was allegedly engineered by the underworld don. A bloody gang war ensues and both sides lose their men. However, for all its initial grittiness, the film loses its shine after the interval as Gawli’s stint in jail and his decision to join politics is not explained well. Towards the end, the film also begins justifying the reasons for him becoming a criminal. Sample this–“Agar aap ek chawl me paida hota aur wo (Gawli) ek police officer ke ghar to aap gunda hota aur wo police officer.” an old lady told an investigating officer or this–  ‘gareebi uska sabsa bada mistake tha’.

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The production design team of Daddy deserves applause as traversing through 70s, 80s and into the new millennium must have taken a lot of effort and their work is quite evident on screen. Mumbai’s dark underbelly with its drab chawls and dimly-lit alleys have been shown to great effect in the film. Another good aspect about Daddy is that it desists from unnecessary melodrama or over the top dialogue.

One has to give it to Arjun Rampal for the kind of effort he has put in to transform himself into Gawli. He had to shrink in size, lose about 11 kilograms and get a prosthetic nose for this role. Though he lacks the natural Mumbaiya streak that we saw in Satya’s Manoj Bajpayee or in Parinda’s Nana Patekar, he succeeds in bringing a certain amount of realism in his character. It’s quite a journey for the 44-year-old model turned actor who was once written off by critics but has been gradually trying to make a mark in parallel films. Farhan’s portrayal as bete-noire of Rampal’s character was not as impactful. Akhtar tried to keep his act understated but was not convincing enough. Nishikant Kamat’s act of a frustrated cop hell bent on killing Gawli was another disappointment.

Daddy may have faltered on a few fronts, yet it’s a film that cannot be ignored. The upheavals in Gawli’s life even with a tinge of drama will keep you entertained or you can go and watch it just for Arjun Rampal.