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DADDY DONS DON’S HAT: HATS OFF TO ASIM, ARJUN FOR ARUN

Right at the outset, one must admit that Asim Ahluwalia’s Daddy is indeed a praiseworthy effort for several reasons: it is made with pure passion of cinema as an art form in true classical sense and this is evident aplenty from absolutely outstanding effort in art direction that successfully manages to create a feel of an era encompassing four decades since seventies; its fabulous focus on minutiae and depiction of minutest details of objects, couture, costumes, claustrophobic chawls centred urban sprawl and creation of a complete social-eco habitat that is world-class and the effort can be compared to world’s best despite not having the comfort of comparable budgets ; it’s a period film and an era is perfectly portrayed except for some minor gaps like golden rimmed Cartier glasses that came much later, BY filmonalyst Sushil Kumar.

The film shuns softening of brutal reality by avoiding use of soft focus lens that softens hard reality be it lines on faces, warts, pimples, wrinkles – unlike softened surface reality shown in of most Shah Rukh films ; the film is virtually a social document and documents the tale of an individual of times in documentary format , fusing it with drama format of commercial film specially violence and lingo for effect ; it’s one of the few film that openly states to be based on a true story in Hollywood tradition , whereas earlier films depicting D or D company only allude indirectly , be it Company, Once Upon a Time in Mumbai, D , Risk , D-Day and others ; the film evens ends up fusing the images of real and reel life lead character during credits roll down- a feature usually absent in Indian films barring a few recent ones like Sarabjit or Neerja .

The film is reflection of true reality that exists in realm of real and for that reason, it is a straight stare back and straight in your face film and for that reason is not really an escapist entertainment film or fit for family viewing; the portrayal of real life is authentic that portrayed reality has potential to bite and one squirms and shudders at hard reality portrayed. Most film goers in India still go to see films as pure entertainment though minor message dosage is ingested a la Dangal. The entertainment quotient in commercial formula films leads to downing of one’s emotional shutters to forget harsh reality temporarily through temporary suspension of belief – a genre of escapist cinema made famous by masterful Manmohan Desai and Subhash Ghai.

As stated above, it’s a straight stare back and on your face mirror reflection of stark reality; it requires a lot of emotional strength to gulp down so much guns in guts and gore galore. In keeping with this perspective, the film tells a tale as a matter of factly progression of a personality with no glorification of Gawli as a hero , despite emerging victorious after several attempts on life and exemplifying tremendous courage in taking on the most powerful ; only during his speech in the assembly and in voice over does the director allude to contradictions in court’s conviction and social judgment ; the protagonist is punished for his crimes in law and is not made a hero despite winning people’s verdict in elections and in fact the credits show that he is still in prison waiting for an appeal.

Approximating actual reality, the movie’s depiction mimics the complexities connected in comprehending reality comprehensively in differential definitions and space and time contexts and shirks from the usual simplistic style of taking sides- simplified as good and bad in most films. The film fuses particularistic perceptions of a parent, paramour, prostitute, policeman, politician and pals that pose problems in combined picture portraying Arun Gawli as a goon-gangster given to gore and gumption to go from prison to peaks of power over people and politics.
This style of storytelling, using multiple levels of perceptions of people and places, prevents easy painting of Gawli as pariah and will go down as wonderful specimen of making movie shunning moralistic overtones and value judgments. Film leaves the final judgment solely to the viewer when he walks off after watching the film and the film surely will make him think for days whether Arun was a victim of circumstances, product of his times and society with very little options open to him in real life. It has some bit of Citizen Kane style of film making. One is sure that the film will definitely remain as lesson for the film connoisseurs much like films of Ray, Govind Nihalini, and Shyam Benegal. The film uses a story complete with Indian societal, cultural, political, economic, psychological ideas and idioms much like the other blockbusters Bahubali or Lagaan did this year. Take the example of how the film uses the chawl corridors and narrow lanes of slums to show migration based ugly underbelly of urban sprawl of megapolis Mumbai to convey claustrophobic existence or how it uses telegraphic street dialect (though creates comprehension issues) to convey complete Indian curry like flavour. Though Gangs of Wasseypur and Satya used these elements, yet they softened some social reality scenes that sanitized the story to add some glamour. In this film, even the disco scene genuinely looks like a typical dance scene seen in marriages – avoiding the usual temptation of inserting an item number as done in Shootout at Wadala and others.

Most mafia films portray transformation in clothes of gangster whether be it in films like Company, Once Upon a Time in Mumbai but this film stays true to the real in portraying protagonist’s preference for the Gandhi cap and staying on as family man in same chawl.

Though most average rural Maharashtrian men don these caps, it is associated with Mahatma’s motif; and it may appear ironical and incongruous when this motif is juxtaposed to the gangster’s life and gore. The story’s context may also indicate how the idealism and ideas behind independence struggle started dying after thirty years and how when confronted with hard existential reality, object of earlier non-violent opposition turned inwards with violent consequences- as if non-violence switched sides to address issues of deprivation, hunger and poverty through guns on failure of a dream. Perhaps this also explains how Maoism, Naxalism later developed in other parts and is shown in film like Chakravuyh (incidentally starring Arjun Rampal).
As the picture seeks to portray multi layered, often contradictory, patterns in perceiving reality, it resorts to merging and mixing of multi-linear strands of story and to make matters easier, it gives hints of timelines. For a perceptive audience, this may make sense sooner or later but use of this mode definitely deters audience arriving to see entertainment and escapist fare. And for that reason its appeal would be limited though it would have tremendous appeal in megapolis of Mumbai as films like Rangeela, Satya, Vaastav, Parinda did.

Daddy’s director can be appreciated for being true to the medium and hasn’t made a film for pleasing critics as none know what critics appreciate or want to see and most anyway don’t give criticisms, not critiques or constructive criticism. Moreover, one doesn’t know how much one should sugar-coat reality for entertainment as this formula is not known in exact proportions and even when made, the criticism comes as entertainment being far too divorced from reality. It’s rare that films like Dangal and Toilet Ek Prem Katha hit the jackpot in judging perfect juxtaposition of entertainment and message for social improvement. Daddy is deliberate effort in school of cine realism style of film making with a difference – it gives no real or final message and even doesn’t take sides, a tough job as it leaves too much thinking to be done by the viewer.

The film seems to be unmistakably inspired by storytelling style, motifs, metaphors of ultimate gangster/ mafia classics like On the Waterfront and the Godfather including its sequels. India film makers have liberally borrowed motifs from these films – seen in films like Dharamatma, Deewar in seventies to Nayakan/Dayavan, Company, D, Once Upon a Time in Mumbai, Vaastav, Satya and the list is endless.

The film casting director needs appreciation as not one actor looks not the character portrayed on screen. One can soak in the dust, grime, sweat, dust and space choking and claustrophobic chawls and unplanned ugly urban sprawl- quite like Slumdog Millionaire does in many scenes of Salaam Bombay did some years ago.

Though the film doesn’t dwell on declining profits and employment potential of textile mills, it ably recreates an existential struggle amongst youth that sets the text and context, creating objective conditions ripe for crime and criminals. And like in most such similar situations, trouble shooters arrive on scene to shoot down the trouble through guns and fists, a pattern that never goes away; it hasn’t gone away since seventies till today.

Film alludes to similarity of existential experience at the social end of the spectrum for both majority and minority community at least in the beginning as Arun Gawli was married to a Muslim and D company’s major sharp shooter was Chotta Rajan and others, till Bombay blasts ripped through this and then others drove a wedge to suit their ends and pitched one against the other.

Another film that comes close to this film is original Tamil film titled Nayakan where Kamal Hasan acting was world class, unlike its Hindi version where Vinod Khanna lip locks with Madhuri for many moments made more news and was an avoidable apology of its Tamil version. But Nayakan didn’t claim to be based on a real life character though it was loosely based on Vardharajan Mudaliar or Vardha bhai of the then Bombay. Of course, the other equally famous don Haji Mastaan inspired many movies like Deewar and later Ajay Devgan portrayed a similar role in Once Upon a Time In Mumbai.

The socio- eco- cultural context of chawl and poverty clearly created conditions conducive to crowd’s craze for gambling. The love for gambling emanates from an eternal hope of escaping from current hopeless material condition. Imagine living in fear when mill workers are more and work depends on labour needed; one lives with immense insecurity and matka offered some hope in supplementing income for medical or ceremonial needs. For these reasons, hope offered in winning lottery and other forms of gambling of any sort (card games, horse racing, and matches) is an ubiquitous life motif of all lower classes at the lower edges of the social spectrum – present everywhere, from Asia, Africa, Americas or other continents.

This is evident from the continuum of this habit at the bottom end of social segments. It was matka initially that had links with daily rate at which New York Cotton Exchange traded cotton. When State sought to demolish this practice, the poor shifted to lottery numbers including its digit variants that consumed many lives and this was followed by betting on cricket matches. However, throughout these decades the business- bureaucratic- politician nexus remained the same. The natural progression from betting on matka to lottery numbers to cricket matches showed operation of hope motif for the poor. The money generated from these created a bureaucratic-politico- gangster nexus that shifted to big profits of real estate and that further brought more bucks and black money that in turn was used by Bollywood, business and politics in a vicious cycle.
Gawli, despite forays into crime, stayed as a believable human character cherishing family values and shunning alcohol and allure of flesh and this may have resonated well with people to win him elections though the film doesn’t depict this aspect due to director’s aversion to make Gawli a hero.

Shekhar Kapur’s Phoolan was really a path breaking in the genre of cine realism; before that films like Mujhe Jeene Do, Mera Gaon Mera Desh only glamorized the dacoits to create easy identification with the masses. Daddy unfortunately will not be able to travel that path and would remain for restricted viewing. Phoolan portrayed a wronged person metamorphosis into a life of crime and eventual cross over to politics where she wasn’t accepted fully by the political establishment – much like the character that inspired Raees and Gawli of Daddy. Both films portray how the powers that be want to use these characters as subordinate subject partners and never as equals. In one case one loses life and in this film the protagonist is in prison awaiting his appeal application.

Arun Gawli’s story stands out differently from other gangster’s genre where the gangster sooner or later seeks political protection(Godfather); in this case, he seeks to become the political boss himself as he knows the system from grass roots level upwards. This is new path from one sought out by the Haji Mastaan and Vardabhai as they only sought to align or seek political patronage for protection from prosecution rather than become political players themselves. Gawli’s attempts mirrors several real life politicians that arose in UP and Bihar later. The protagonist Gawli perhaps understood that without political patronage, it would be eventually difficult to survive.

The Gawli’s case clearly exemplifies how the welfare state’s avowed aim to empower the labour failed in context of textile mills of the then Bombay despite Datta Samant determination and support of legal establishment through Industrial Disputes Act and pronunciation of Justice Krishna Iyer. And how this failure led to substitution of businessman’s exploitation through their stooge in form of emerging Mafiosi that led to prolonged strikes and birth of bandhs culture in Bombay (remember George Fernandes). Mills strikes became the background for several stories when someone strikes out and in locked out situation breaks open the locks of limited life to lead a larger than life life. The decadent textiles infrastructure and the dilapidated ruins of abandoned mills still continue to be the context of real estate scams. Film’s chawl and mills symbolizing pigeon hole existence where nothing personal exists is a continuum of urban migration nightmare that continues to mount monumentally forever and gangsters get lost in lanes and labyrinthine alleys and where policeman even hesitates to further harass already harassed and harrowing life lived at bottom end.

Actually there is hardly any existential choice when there is no difference in life lived at slum clusters and in closed confines of jail. Similar story exists in US where majority of prison’s population is Black (i.e. 37% though are 12% of population) that also ekes out a living at the end of social scales.

Arjun Rampal acting is worth applauding and so is the acting attempt by actors of all his friends from chawl specially Rajesh Shringarpure. The bespectacled inspector Nishikant Kamat doesn’t look the part. The camera work is outstanding despite limitations of space and angles that may been available. As stated the ambience and feel is world class and can be comparable to on the Waterfront, Godfather, Goodfellas,Scarface and many others.

Minor suggestion- could have been clipped to hundred minutes to make it tight.

The film surely remains in memory of movie makers, movie crafters, movie writers and would motivate many many more. Great effort.

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