‘Daddy’ and the broken moral compass of the Bollywood gangster biopic

The film about Arun Gawli proves that Bollywood’s imagination is greater than its ability to portray reality.

The gangster genre in Hindi cinema is better off dealing with fictional characters rather than actual people. That is the inescapable truth about Daddy, the biopic of Mumbai don Arun Gawli that has been directed by Ashim Ahluwalia and steered by its producer and lead actor, Arjun Rampal.

Daddy, which was released this past weekend, is similar to Rahul Dholakia’s Raees in its ambition and its failures. Like Raees (2017), which is based on the Gujarat bootlegger Abdul Latif, Daddy charts Gawli’s corpse-strewn journey to wealth and political influence and points to the systemic corruption and behind-the-scenes manoeuvres that sustain his activities, but lets him off the hook by suggesting that he has been a victim of rival Dawood Ibrahim’s machinations and police skullduggery. Ibrahim is not named in the movie, and is instead referred to as Maqsud.

Gawli comes across as a Michael Corleone-like figure in his initial reluctance to embrace his seemingly inevitable fate, but only up until the point where Corleone kills his brother-in-law to avenge his father’s death in Mario Puzo’s novel and Francis Ford Coppola’s masterful film adaptation. The rest of the handsomely produced and slickly narrated story is far too much in thrall to Gawli’s questionable legacy, and is clouded in the haze in which hagiographies often lose themselves, never to emerge.

Scriptwriters and filmmakers have been as fascinated by the general public with the workings of the underworld, but in their attempts to dramatise this aspect of Mumbai history, they have stuck with the gun-slinging swagger and ignored the economic and political circumstances that nurture criminals. Old good-and-bad binaries have given way to either an overweening everybody-is-bad cynicism or a bad-is-actually-good dictum.

Biopics barely attempt to parse the complexity of criminal enterprise in Mumbai and unravel the knotty connections between politicians, the business class, the law and order machinery and outlaws who do the dirty work. These movies are steeped in greater realism than older productions, but their anti-heroes eventually are as white as older screen villains were pitch black.

Daddy (2017).

Modern Bollywood gangster lore is almost single-handedly the creation of Ram Gopal Varma, who in the late 1980s and ’90s directed and produced a raft of films that were ripped off the headlines of the Mumbai media. Satya (1998), one of the definitive works in the contemporary gangster genre, was based on the real-life battle between the Mumbai police force and the underworld in the ’80s and the ’90s. Yet, Satya was unmistakably a fictional yarn about the rise and fall of a migrant who chooses crime over more conventional ways of making a living. Borrowing from the films of Coppola and Martin Scorsese, Varma based his movie on real events and characters to create a fictitious mythology about a Man From Nowhere who gets Somewhere.

Movie criminals have typically been the products of flaws in the sociopolitical foundry, forged by economic factors or swirled this way and that by greater forces. Some iconic movies in the genre, such as Deewar (1975), Vidhata (1982), Arjun (1985), Tezaab (1988), Parinda (1989), Hathyar (1989) and Shiva (1990), are about the journey of lambs to the slaughter, creatures of circumstances beyond their control and comprehension. These anti-heroes demand identification and sympathy because they start out as good citizens whose faith is shaken to the point that they take the leap into the moral void. They invariably yearn to crawl out and regain their moral compasses. These movies always provide the opportunity for them to decry the forces that set them into the darkness in the first place.

Satya (1998).

Nonetheless, it is hard to shed tears for the eponymous protagonist of Satya, who chooses the hoodlum’s way after being jailed for a crime he didn’t commit. Satya’s rapid rise in the gang run by Bhiku Mhatre, who is inspired by Arun Gawli, among others, and the character’s amorality and willingness to do whatever it takes to survive differentiate him from other iconic screen gangsters. Satya makes his own bed and lies in it, and it becomes his grave.

Apart from making his own films, Varma has produced, among others, Ab Tak Chhappan (2004), loosely inspired by the various “encounter specialist” police officers who strutted across television channels in the ’90s, boasting of having killed gangsters in fearsome gunbattles that were actually extra-judicial executions. Despite its valourisation of these uniformed vigilantes, Ab Tak Chhappan manages to indicate the extent to which law makers have become the mirror images of the law breakers they are pursuing. The “system”, a buzzword in Varma’s films, creates perversions on both sides of the law, leaving us with a nihilistic world in which it has become difficult to hold on to the old good-versus-evil binary that lasted up until the ’70s.

Ab Tak Chhappan (2004).

Varma’s Company (2002) should have an epitaph for the genre. Instead, the fictionalised rivalry between Dawood Ibrahim and Chhota Rajan ended up enabling many more elaborate mythologies around real-life gangsters. Some have created a minor sub-genre revolving around Dawood Ibrahim. Randeep Hooda played a version of him in D (2005), produced by Varma and directed by Vishram Sawant. Ibrahim’s love for sunglasses even during the daytime and while indoors, second only to director Wong Kar-wai, has been enshrined on the screen to the point of parody. Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday (2007) has the most convincing portrayal of the fugitive gangster by Vijay Maurya.

Ajay Devgn does a fine job of channeling Ibrahim’s famed coolheadedness in Company (2002). In Nikhil Advani’s D-Day (2013), Rishi Kapoor plays a version of Ibrahim, who is easily identified by the omnipresence of the aforementioned sun-glasses and the gangster’s famed ruthlessness. Ibrahim inspired Emraan Hashmi’s upstart Shoaib in Milan Luthria’s Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai (2012). The honours in Daddy go to Farhan Akhtar, who is forever wedded to his cigarettes and shades. In Apoorva Lakhia’s September 22 release Haseena Parkar, Siddhant Kapoor plays the dreaded gangster, while Shraddha Kapoor plays his real-life sister, who, going by the trailers, is yet another victim of circumstance.

Haseena Parkar (2017).

The Mumbai underworld cannot be reduced to Dawood Ibrahim, of course. Other luminaries of the underworld have inspired movies, such as Lakhia’s Shootout at Lokhandwala (2007), based on the real-life gun battle between Mumbai hood Maya Dolas and police officer AA Khan. Dolas, played by Vivek Oberoi, gets what is coming to him, but not before he has been sufficiently glamourised through punchy dialogue and choreographed songs. Sanjay Gupta’s Shootout at Wadala (2013) valourises Manya Surve, played by the beefy John Abraham as a stud from the wrong side of the tracks.

All these movies depict gangsters as the heroes we seem to deserve, but without the necessary complexity or the honesty to acknowledge the consequences of their actions.

Daddy does mention Gawli’s origins as the son of mill workers, but omits his role in undermining the mill unions in Mumbai through his nephew, Sachin Ahir. The movie sets up Ibrahim as Gawli’s archrival, but another homegrown gangster was nipping at his heels – Ashwin Naik, said to have been responsible for the murder of Khatau Mills owner Sunit Khatau in 1994.

The contribution of Mumbai’s gangsters in breaking the back of the unions and engineering barely legal and highly lucrative land deals that have changed the skyline of central Mumbai awaits less hagiographic and more rigourous treatment. The irony of Gawli’s role in destroying the mills that once employed his parents, several family members, and, briefly, himself, is missing from a movie keen on depicting him as a wronged Robin Hood battling local iterations of the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Members of Arun Gawli’s family at a screening of Daddy in Mumbai.
Members of Arun Gawli’s family at a screening of Daddy in Mumbai.

Bollywood is frequently encouraged to seek inspiration from real life to anchor its movies in greater realism. However, the slew of recent biopics proves that the greater the influence of real-life characters on the movies, the less interesting and more risk-free they become. Gawli’s family has enthusiastically backed the movie based on the title given to him by his followers, and their support has been crucial to the production.

Daddy gets some things right – the fabulous Mumbai locations, the suitably grungy period design, the unforgettable array of faces and bodies who play various disposable hoodlums, and the smooth editing that uses different characters to tell the story of Gawli’s rise. At various points in the movie, prostitutes, relatives, police officers and former henchmen narrates key episodes from his busy life. Perhaps the addition of a mill owner or a mill worker would have rounded off the story better.

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Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

We’ve done the hard work so you can get right to what you want amongst the 40,000+ offers across 4 days.

The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

Make use of the Amazon trio – Amazon Prime, Amazon Pay and Amazon app

Though the festival officially starts on 21st, Amazon Prime members will have early access starting at 12 noon on 20th September itself, enabling them to grab the best deals first. Sign up for an Amazon Prime account to not miss out on exclusive deals and products. Throughout the festival, Prime members will 30-minute early access to top deals before non-Prime members. At Rs 499/- a year, the Prime membership also brings unlimited Amazon Prime video streaming and quick delivery benefits.

Load your Amazon pay wallet; there’s assured 10% cashback (up to Rs 500). Amazon will also offer incremental cashbacks over and above bank cashbacks on select brands as a part of its Amazon Pay Offers. Shopping from the app would bring to you a whole world of benefits not available to non-app shoppers. App-only deals include flat Rs 1,250 off on hotels on shopping for more than Rs 500, and flat Rs 1,000 off on flights on a roundtrip booking of Rs 5,000 booking from Yatra. Ten lucky shoppers can also win one year of free travel worth Rs 1.5 lakhs.

Plan your shopping

The Great Indian Sale has a wide range of products, offers, flash sales and lightning deals. To make sure you don’t miss out on the best deals, or lose your mind, plan first. Make a list of things you really need or have been putting off buying. If you plan to buy electronics or appliances, do your research on the specs and shortlist the models or features you prefer. Even better, add them to your wishlist so you’re better able to track your preferred products.

Track the deals

There will be lightning deals and golden hour deals throughout the festival period. Keep track to avail the best of them. Golden-hour deals will be active on the Amazon app from 9.00pm-12.00am, while Prime users will have access to exclusive lightning deals. For example, Prime-only flash sales for Redmi 4 will start at 2.00pm and Redmi 4A at 6.00pm on 20th, while Nokia 6 will be available at Rs 1,000 off. There will be BOGO Offers (Buy One Get One free) and Bundle Offers (helping customers convert their TVs to Smart TVs at a fraction of the cost by using Fire TV Stick). Expect exclusive product launches from brands like Xiaomi (Mi Band 2 HRX 32 GB), HP (HP Sprocket Printer) and other launches from Samsung and Apple. The Half-Price Electronics Store (minimum 50% off) and stores offering minimum Rs 15,000 off will allow deal seekers to discover the top discounts.

Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

Our top picks for washing machines are Haier 5.8 Kg Fully Automatic Top Loading at 32% off, and Bosch Fully Automatic Front Loading 6 Kg and 7 Kg, both available at 27% discount. Morphy Richards 20 L Microwave Oven will be available at a discount of 38%.

Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Also those looking to upgrade their TV to a smart one can get Rs. 20,000 off by exchanging it for the Sony Bravia 108cm Android TV.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch. For those of you just looking for a high quality fitness tracker, the Fitbit Charge has Rs. 4500 off on 22nd September.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and the super compact JBL Go Portable Speaker at 56% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

For home medical supplies and equipment, keep an eye on the grooming and personal care section. Weighing scales, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, body fat monitors etc. will be available at a cheaper price.

The sale is also a good time to invest in home and kitchen supplies. Mixer-grinders and juicers could see lightning deals. Don’t ignore essentials like floor mops with wheels, rotating mop replacements, utensils, crockery etc. Tupperware sets, for example, will be more affordable. There are attractive discounts on bags, especially laptop bags, backpacks, diaper bags and luggage carriers.

Interesting finds

While Amazon is extremely convenient for need-based shopping and daily essentials, it is also full of hidden treasures. During the festival, you can find deals on telescopes, polaroid cameras, smoothie makers, gym equipment, gaming consoles and more. So you’ll be able to allow yourself some indulgences!

Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of and not by the Scroll editorial team.