Cinephile Stock: Chef

Saif Ali Khan


DIRECTED BY Raja Krishna Menon
An Adaptation of Jon Favreau’s Film “CHEF”
WRITTEN BY Ritesh Shah (Screenplay & Dialogue), Suresh Nair (Screenplay) & Raja Krishna Menon (Screenplay)
PRODUCED BY Bhushan Kumar, Krishan Kumar, Vikram Malhotra, Janani Ravichandran & Raja Krishna Menon
STARRING Padmapriya Janakiraman & Chandan Roy Sanyal
Sobhita Dhulipala, Dinesh Nair Milind Soman
EDITED BY Shiv Kumar Panicker
MUSIC BY Raghu Dixit (Soundtrack & Background Score) & Amaal Malik (Soundtrack)

When I first heard that Jon Favreau’s enjoyable and mouth-watering Chef was to be remade in Hindi, I shuddered. Sure, the film has universal themes like food and family but Hindi cinema has the worst possible track record in the remake/adaptation sector. While Sanjay Gupta shamelessly lifts liberally from all sorts of films, you’ve also got Sidharth Anand, who took a below-average movie like Knight & Day, and made the awful Bang Bang. And we’re talking adaptations of films and not books, where one would set the benchmark as low as Chetan Bhagat, three of whose books have been turned into 3 IdiotsKai Po Che and 2 States, though that is more because there was no way anyone could screw up such shoddy source material and the only trajectory possible was upwards. Simply put, Hindi filmmakers are yet to reach a point where they can adapt a film from a different language rather than remake it frame for frame. To take the origin story of a film and set it in an Indian context with Indian characters is something the remake factory owners in Bombay are yet to grasp. 

I’ve always felt that Saif Ali Khan has never really been exploited as an actor. For the longest time, he was the face of Hindi cinema’s rom-com genre. But his other side has been neglected. He’s the only mainstream actor to have done ‘A’ rated films consistently when actors are worried about the rating given to their films by the CBFC, but Saif has done work like Go Goa Gone, Kurbaan, Being Cyrus and Ek Hasina Thi. Though he has had some great turns like Langda Tyagi in Omkara but most of his other roles never seemed to challenge him to push himself in terms of acting. But the helmsman here is Raja Krishna Menon, perhaps the only director apart from Neeraj Pandey who made Akshay Kumar act. Menon was the other reason I wanted to see this film. I really like his work in Airlift. Nobody would’ve thought of Akshay Kumar in the role of Ranjit Katyal. Menon did and he went a step further in making the film the hero and not the hero the film. Such directors are few and far between in Bombay.

Roshan Kalra is a divorced, middle-aged chef in a New York restaurant. Certain issues in life have caused him to lose his passion for cooking – a passion which led him to running away from home at the age of 15. Roshan’s ex-wife Radha and son Armaan live in Kochi. His relationship with the latter is non-existent. He takes care of the child’s basic needs but hardly interacts with him. ‘Uski zimmedaariyan uthayi hain; god mein nahi uthaaya.’ A customer’s criticism of his food causes him to lose his cool and almost break the man’s nose, which ultimately costs him his job. Egged on by his friend and former colleague Vinnie, he decides to go and spend some time with the kid in Kochi, thus commencing a journey of self-discovery.

First up, kudos to production designer Anuradha Shetty for the great job she does with the food truck/bus. The “khataara” is decked up in a style similar to the All India permit-carrying trucks one sees on the highways, with some of the gibberish one finds on them.

Editor Shiv Kumar Panicker’s work is sufficient, though a bit of the audio in one scene seemed out of sync.

Raghu Dixit and Amaal Malik whip up an eclectic soundtrack. Dixit’s background is appropriate, but the songs are a lot of fun, especially Banjara, crooned by Vishal Dadlani, and Shugal Laga Le, which Dixit himself has sung. Amaal delivers the beautiful, sorrow-filled Tere Mere with vocals by brother Armaan. The lyricists Rashmi Virag and Ankur Tiwari do a lovely job with their kalams.

Cinematographer Priya Seth, who also shot Airlift, does a fabulous job. The simplicity in her shot-taking is what endears one to it, apart from the framing. The Padmapriya-Saif dance is especially well shot. The Harmandir Sahib and the gallis of Chandni Chowk and Amritsar are also shot in very well, though it is the landscape of God’s Own Country that really takes the cake.

Playing Radha’s “friend” is Milind Soman, that dude who makes women swoon and chaps grit their teeth. He is better than Robert Downey Jr., who has been playing variations of Tony Stark for too long now. For all of Soman’s screentime, my eighteen-year-old friend couldn’t shut up about how incredible he was. He does a pretty good job and it’s easy to say why Roshan is jealous of his ex-wife’s “friend”. Dinesh Nair as the reckless ex-Army driver of the bus is hilarious. His character Alex has also worked with the State Transport Corporation, something that is quite evident. Sobhita Dhulipala fills the shoes of Scarlett Johansson. Her work too is nice, though she’s there for barely four or five scenes. Chandan Roy Sanyal is his ever-reliable self. His character Nuzroon’s sense of loyalty towards Roshan is brought out in a lovely manner, as is the nature of their guru-chela relationship.

Padmapriya Janakiraman is beautiful, but credit to Menon for not focusing on that. Instead, her turn as an independent woman who has no qualms about calling out her ex-husband for his behaviour is a big step for Hindi cinema. Radha’s work defines her, not her relationship status, and Padmapriya plays her just that way. It is also the way in which she goes about her job that make you wish there were more characters like her in Hindi films.

Young Svar Kamble is really good as Armaan. His behaviour reminds me of the kids who are a few years younger than me and I seriously felt like giving him a couple of whacks. That’s how good he was. He also shared an incredible chemistry with Saif and there seemed to be a genuine feel to their relationship. 

Saif Ali Khan was pretty good in Rangoon but he really enters his comfort zone here, and flourishes. This is his genre, a blend of drama and comedy. He was wasted in films like Bullett Raja and Humshakals. He is pretty good here. He seems to know his way around a kitchen for one and seems sorted enough in the cooking bits. The comical scenes are a credit to him because he takes the writing a notch higher. He is surprising in the more dramatic portions, especially the ones in which he loses his cool. He manages to bring out the frustration and pride of his character really well. And Saif does have this weird genuineness that he brings to his roles when he is doing well. The great thing he does is that he plays Roshan as a man whose made an ass of himself and finds himself in the frying pan. His chemistry with Svar is great, but it is also remarkable with Chandan and Padmapriya, with whom he has an odd, love-hate kind of thing going.

Writers Ritesh Shah, Suresh Nair and Menon himself deliver a faithful adaptation. They stick to the source story, but also do their own thing. A few scenes here and there are the only thing that seem to have been transported from Favreau’s film. It does get a little sloppy, because we are never really told the middle part of Roshan’s story and what made him successful, and we never know why he couldn’t figure things out with Radha. Some of the problem-resolving is overly-simplistic and nags. Ritesh writes quirky dialogue, especially one in which Nuzroon, while explaining the concept of Tinder to Roshan, makes you realise what is wrong with Roshan, who speaks so much about the importance of relationships, and also about the current 16-30 age group, whose closest relationships are with their phones.

Raja Krishna Menon does a fine job in the director’s chair. I don’t know whether the slow and simmering nature of the first half was deliberately so, but it was nice to see a film that takes its time but doesn’t get boring. His equating of the run-down bus and Roshan, as well as the journey the bus takes and the one he does, is incredible. His treatment of the father-son relationship is great too, because we get to see the son being teased about his friend and the father speaking out against the use of slang. His depiction of an amicable relationship of a divorced couple is also refreshing. I do have one complaint that there is not quite enough food in the film. The rotza looks mouth-watering but Roshan makes pasta far too often and it would’ve been nice had Menon explored that area more. That and some of the writing apart, the film works quite well.

I enjoyed this Chef more than the original. That one just lost the plot towards the end. This is more genuine, more warm and is the best adaptation India has seen of another piece of work. A word of warning though – you may be disappointed with the lack of food, just the way I was. 8/10.

Varun Oak-Bhakay


Up next on CINEPHILE STOCK: Zaira Wasim and Aamir Khan-starrer Secret Superstar on October 19.


Cinephile Stock: Kingman – The Golden Circle


DIRECTED BY Matthew Vaughn
BASED ON THE COMICS ‘The Secret Service’ BY Mark Millar & Dave Ribbons
WRITTEN BY Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn
PRODUCED BY David Reid, Adam Bohling & Matthew Vaughn
STARRING Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Mark Strong, Halle Berry, Pedro Pascal, Elton John, Channing Tatum & Jeff Bridges
Hanna Alström, Edward Holcroft & Bruce Greenwood
EDITED BY Eddie Hamilton, ACE
MUSIC BY Henry Jackman & Matthew Margeson

2015 saw the release of five spy films. Three of those were out-and-out action films from franchises: SpectreMission: Impossible – Rouge Nation and The Man From UNCLE. The other two were spy comedies: Melissa McCarthy played desk analyst-turned-field agent Susan in Paul Feig’s Spy and director Matthew Vaughn assembled a cast including Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong and Michael Caine for the screen adaptation of the Kingsman comic book. Of all these films, Kingsman was the most prominent one, simply because it was an unknown quantity. Colin Firth kicking butt?! Had anybody told me that “Bertie” could do that, I’d have laughed at them. Kingsman was unabashedly outlandish, which was its biggest strength. The makers knew that the film is frivolous and whacky but they didn’t try to market it as path-breaking, Palme d’Or-worthy stuff. It was a popcorn entertainer in the truest sense of the term.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle takes forward the story of the independent secret service which operates out of a Saville Row tailor shop. Psycho drug lord Poppy Adams has a deadly plan up her sleeve. Operating out of her little lair Poppy Land somewhere in the middle of Cambodia, Poppy attacks the Kingsman headquarters and all of its agents’ residences in a bid to ease her globe-crippling plan’s execution. Of all the Kingsman agents, only Eggsy and Merlin survive. They’re forced to go to the US of A to seek assistance from their cousins there – the Statesman, who have a liquor business as a  front for their activities. The agents of the two organisations come together to bring down Poppy. Question is, can they stop her?

The movie has too many issues bogging it down. The villain is never fleshed out in the way Sam Jackson’s Valentine was in the prequel. The outlandishness doesn’t come off as charmingly. There are traces of the wackiness that made the previous film what it was, but they are not enough to leave a lasting impression. Under-developed characters and under-utilised actors add to Matthew Vaughn’s mess. Shoddily done CGI also lets the movie down, simply because it is to be relied on in such a film. The editing by Eddie Hamilton is too loosely done and makes one feel that the makers lost control of the film. Writers Vaughn and Jane Goldman bite off more than they can chew by adding a lot to the plot, but none of it is layered or well-written. It’s sloppy and underwhelming.

Composers Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson do a fun job of recycling old tunes and add a soaring score of their own. Cinematographer George Richmond also does a pretty slick job, delivering wonderfully shot action set pieces and some glitzy work all over.

Bruce Greenwood is hilarious as the crazy US President (though he isn’t crazier than the actual incumbent; that’s impossible). Edward Holcroft is not menacing enough as Poppy’s henchman but does a fair job with what the writers seem to have given him. Hanna Alström is pretty good (and pretty) as the Princess of Sweden Tilde and Eggsy’s girlfriend.

The enormous star cast implodes in this film. I cannot imagine the great Jeff Bridges without his beard and he is absolutely wasted in his role as Champagne, the Head of Statesman. Halle Berry as tech support Ginger Ale is unremarkable and though Channing Tatum’s Tequila is funny, his screen time is next to nil. Sir Elton John plays himself and is quite funny in the few scenes he has. Pedro Pascal is the only one from the supporting cast who justifies his role with a solid performance as the lasso-wielding Whisky.

Julianne Moore looks incredible but cannot summon the craziness of her predecessor as the villain. Her character also lacks bite and is poorly sketched out, ruining her shot at a terrific turn as a villainess.

Mark Strong can always be relied upon to do his job, which he does with the right amount of sharpness and light-heartedness here. Colin Firth returns after dying in the prequel and is in good form. Taron Egerton as protagonist Eggsy is just as good as he was last time and carries the film well.

All of that ends up counting for very little because Matthew Vaughn’s direction lets down all the good stuff in the film. He is unable to bring the shock value the previous film carried. The massive star cast is not justified whatsoever because he doesn’t engage the viewer in the characters before them. There is far too much bloat on the film that needed to go and the film is stretched way too long at over 2 hours and 20 minutes. Vaughn seemed slightly scared of going all guns blazing on this like he did with the church massacre last time. He dumbs down the film unnecessarily and makes it difficult for a fan of the prequel to love.

All in all, Kingman: The Golden Circle is largely disappointing, which is sad because the ambition is there but the execution is lacking. It’s a humongous letdown from the previous film. 5/10.

Varun Oak-Bhakay


CINEPHILE STOCK will return with Raja Krishna Menon’s adaptation of the Jon Favreau film Chef on October 6th.

Cinephile Stock: Lucknow Central


Directed by Ranjit Tiwari
Inspired by the real-life Healing Hearts Band of the Adarsh Karagar, Lucknow
Written by Aseem Arora (Story & Screenplay) & Ranjit Tiwari (Screenplay)
Produced by Viacom18 Motion Pictures, Monisha Advani, Madhu G. Bhojwani & Nikkhil Advani
Starring Farhan Akhtar, Deepak Dobriyal, Rajesh Sharma, Inaamulhaq Gippy Grewal
Ronit Roy, Diana Penty, Manav Vij Ravi Kishan
Photographed by Tushar Kanti Ray
Edited by Charu Shree Roy
Music by Arjunna Harjaie (Soundtrack & Background Score), Rochak Kohli (Soundtrack) & Tanishk Bagchi (Soundtrack)

Emmay Entertainment has done some good work in its four years of existence. Co-founder Nikkhil Advani’s D-Day was a thrilling debut for the company and though the company’s next two films were unremarkable (to say the least), Raja Krishna Menon’s Airlift changed the game for them. That was followed up with a mega TV project with Star India – an adaptation of the Israeli show Hatufim (adapted in the USA as Homeland). POW: Bandi Yuddh Ke may not have been the best of Hindi TV, but it was a relief from sexist comedy shows and the saas-bahu fare. With Lucknow Central, Advani gives his longtime assistant Ranjit Tiwari his directorial debut. Another protégé – Gauravv K. Chawla – will follow with financial drama Bazaar in December. These two films, apart from the successes of Emmay, mark them out as a significantly unique production house in Bombay.

Lucknow Central is inspired by the Healing Hearts Band of the Adarsh Karagar, Lucknow. The twelve-member band was formed upon the suggestion of Senior Superintendent VK Jain and comprises inmates of the prison who are serving life imprisonment on charges of murder.

The story revolves around Kishan Mohan Girhotra, an aspiring musician from Moradabad, who is falsely accused and convicted of the murder of an IAS officer. Kishan is packed off to Lucknow Central Jail to await his fate, which is in the hands of the High Court. He meets the jailor, the wily and cunning Raja Srivastava, and is introduced to the harsh realities of the big bad world after facing off against Tilakdhaari, an of-sorts mob boss in the prison. An NGO worker (the character inspired by Nikkhil’s wife Suparna Gupta) is asked to form a band by the IG Prisons upon instructions from the Chief Minister. Her first bakra is Kishan, who then recruits fellow inmates Victor Chattopadhyay, Panditji, Dikkat Ansari and Pali. But the band is just a facade. As Kishan says, ‘Plaan kuch aur hai.’

First up, Amit Ray & Subrata Chakraborty create an impeccable set of the prison. It feels real and is detailed to the point of fault. The walls are grimy, there are no showerheads to bathe from and the lighting is dingy. Tough to believe that this was actually a set in Mumbai and not the real deal.

Arjunna Harjaie delivers a rousing background score. The music is quite good. Rochak Kohli’s composition ‘Meer-e-Karwaan’ was my favourite piece from the album, though ‘Rangdaari’ and ‘Teen Kabootar’ are also pretty good. The latter is actually quite a unique composition. And since the music is brought to you by T-Series, there has to be a remake of an old song. ‘Kawaan Kawaan’ from Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding is the song with that honour here, though Harjaie fortunately doesn’t screw the song up.

Editor Charu Shree Roy also does a fine job and ensures that the pace doesn’t slacken during the film.

Tushar Kanti Ray’s cinematography has a classy feel to it, especially the way he lights scenes. He shoots the prisoners in softer colours with moving shots and the jailor in a more subdued, formalistic manner.

The supporting cast is outstanding: Veerendra Saxena is pretty good as the humourless IG Prisons who is caught between a rock of a subordinate jailor and a hard place of a boss. Manav Vij is menacing as the bald Tilakdhaari, a polar opposite of his jovial cop in Udta Punjab. Just the way he looks into the camera is terrifying. Diana Penty is pretty good, though she does look too decked up. There are some scenes where she does well though, especially with Ronit Roy. Roy is given a role he has mastered over the years: the tough police officer. But he plays it with such snarkiness and humour that it feels fresh. Ravi Kishan is incredible as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, who cuts his massive birthday cake with a sword. He talks about the progress the state will make if it attempts to reform criminals, going so far as to say that he’ll tell the Donald to send inmates from the USA to be reformed in Uttar Pradesh. His chitter-chatter about police uniforms is funny too. It’s a relief to see Kishan in a different avatar after the way Bollywood has mishandled him over the years.

The motley crew that forms the band is also quite good. Gippy Grewal is fortunately not playing a stock Sardar and underplays beautifully as Pali. Inaamulhaq is great as Dikkat Ansari, a cleaner, pornographer and troublemaker. He is hilarious in one scene where they’re all discussing what they’ll do once they’ve escaped and, bored with their simplistic answers, he asks, ‘Bhai, tum log sax nahi karoge kya?‘. Rajesh Sharma is his ever-reliable self as the senior man in the crew, delivering a fine performance. Deepak Dobriyal is great as electrical engineer-turned-prison electrician Victor. Each of these four actors adds his own touch the role he plays when lesser performers would’ve reduced them to stock, one-dimensional pieces.

Farhan Akhtar’s performance is a vast improvement from his stock cop of Wazir, the torrid Rock On 2 and his awful take on Dawood from Daddy. This is the Akhtar who was in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and Dil Dhadakne Do and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. The one thing that is awkward about his performance is his incredibly muscled-up frame, which doesn’t quite fit the bill of the character. Apart from that, he is pretty good. He proves to us the innocence and simpleness of Kishan. He is comfortable in a milieu that is starkly different from his usual urban characters (BMB won’t count because that is a real person). That said, I personally want him to take a break from acting and don the director’s hat again. It’s been too long, Farhan.

The story by Tiwari and Aseem Arora is an interesting one, given the way our justice and police systems operate. Arora’s screenplay does have a couple of illogical scenes which may bewilder you and character arcs dawdle a little but the rest of it is pretty good. The dialogues also fall in place and Arora keeps it tight, making sure to give you a thrilling but emotional ride.

Ranjit Tiwari makes an assured debut in the director’s chair. He has a keen sense of characters and emotions but surprises you with his sense of atmospherics. He creates an authentic mahaul and doesn’t shy away from the realities of what prison must be like. He also focuses on the human side of things but never gets overindulgent. He raises pertinent questions about the system through his film and makes you wonder why you haven’t thought of those things before.

All in all, Lucknow Central is an enjoyable watch. Immerse yourself in the experience of this film. It is a must-watch for its production design, cast, writing and direction. Kudos to Emmay and Viacom18 for producing such content.

Verdict: (Engaging and Enlightening). 7 out of 10.

Varun Oak-Bhakay


Up next on CINEPHILE STOCK: Matthew Vaughn’s sequel to his 2015 spy caper Kingsman: The Secret Service – Kingsman: The Golden Circle, on September 22.

PS: One of the writers – Aseem Arora – retweeted my review.Screen

Cinephile Stock: Logan Lucky


Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Rebecca Blunt
Produced by Channing Tatum, Gregory Jacobs, Mark Johnson & Reid Carolin
Starring Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, Seth MacFarlane, Katherine Waterston, Sebastian Stan, Jack Quaid, Brian Gleeson, Dwight Yoakam
Katie Holmes & Hilary Swank
and Introducing
Daniel Craig as Joe Bang
Photographed by Peter Andrews
Edited by Mary Ann Bernard
Music by David Holmes

In 2013, the man behind the Che Guevara biopic(s), Erin BrocovichTraffic and the incredible Ocean’s Trilogy retired from moviemaking after expressing his disappointment with the Hollywood studio system.

Traditionally, once the film is completed, studio marketing teams take control of cutting trailers and executing the advertising and promotional strategy of the film. They control things from poster designs to dialogue promos to media events, thus leaving a director isolated from his/her product and often creating a wrong perception about the genre of the movie (a common mistake Hindi film marketing teams make, cases in point Azhar and Daddy).

So what does the most multi-talented filmmaker of his generation do? He cuts the studios out completely by raising the film’s budget from the sale of overseas distribution rights and paying for P&A through the sale of post-theatrical rights. His actors – including leading stars like Daniel Craig and Channing Tatum – took pay cuts to ensure the film remained within a recoverable budget zone. Indie distributor Bleecker Street partnered up with Soderbergh for marketing and received a $1 million fee upfront for their services. They will collect more based on the film’s box office run and DVD and streaming sales. There’s no doubt that what Soderbergh has tried to pull off is a risk and it remains to be seen whether it’ll pay or not. Either way, he deserves a big hand for daring to pull away from studios and going it alone.

Logan Lucky is a messy film. You know, like a chocolate ice cream dessert on a holiday. It has a ton of characters for a film of its length and scale.

The story is about the Logan siblings and a robbery they plan and execute at the Charlotte Motor Speedway after one of them loses a job. The younger brother is a one-handed Iraq veteran who is a bartender and the sister is a hairdresser. Their accomplice is an explosives expert, aptly named Joe Bang. We also have a couple of racers, Jimmy Logan’s daughter and ex-wife, Bang’s dimwitted but enterprising brothers and an FBI agent, all of whom make for the one of the weirdest ensembles I’ve seen.

The cinematography, handled by Peter Andrews (Steven Soderbergh), is nothing to write home about, though the NASCAR bits are shot well and the simplistic style benefits the story. Edited by Mary Ann Bernard (also Soderbergh), the film is sharpened out though a little slow. David Holmes’ music is what I like to call ‘folkish American stuff’ and is passable.

The supporting cast don’t really do much of note and I even wondered what the point of casting Sebastian Stan was, since almost anybody could’ve played his role. That said, Seth MacFarlane was pretty funny as a pretentious Brit and Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson, playing the other Bang brothers, were quite good too. Farrah MacKenzie, playing Jimmy’s daughter Sadie, was incredibly sweet and her scenes with Tatum were pretty nice.

Katie Holmes and Hilary Swank were wasted in teeny parts but they did well despite their lack of screentime. Riley Keough was great as Mellie Logan, the hairdressing car expert. She held her own against some seasoned performers and left a beautiful mark. Adam Driver, playing the one-handed Clyde, was pretty good and brought an interesting innocence and honesty to the part. Channing Tatum was also quite good as Jimmy and played it low-key, much to his credit. The outlandishness was left to a fantastic Daniel Craig, who was so incredible in this new avatar that you couldn’t believe he plays 007. He was especially good in two scenes: one in which he tells Mellie not to look in the rearview mirror because he was about to get ‘nekkid’ and the other in a scene where he explains the science behind his explosive to the Logan brothers.

The film is penned by Rebecca Blunt and she delivers a no-frills heist comedy. Our heroes hardly use technology and rely on science and smartness to pull off the job. It’s a smartly written film but could have done without some characters and with a little more depth. The characters that matter are well-written and the dialogues they deliver are downright hilarious.

Steven Soderbergh is not known as a pretentious filmmaker. He was frank about The Ocean’s Trilogy and the canvas those films encompassed. Similarly, he is honest here about making a heist movie with ‘rubber band’ technology. The trademark Soderbergh stamp is there in the humour of the film. It does struggle from pacing issues but that is the only complaint I have of Soderbergh’s work on the film. It is a refreshingly fun film and ends on a cool cliffhanger, making you wish that a sequel is already being written.

Logan Lucky is the return of a great filmmaker with a fun film. Watch it for the laughs and for Craig. Yes, he does get almost ‘nekkid’. That may serve as incentive for some of you.

Verdict: (Delightful and Driven). 7/10.

Varun Oak-Bhakay


Up next on CINEPHILE STOCK: Ranjit Tiwari’s musical prison drama Lucknow Central on September 15.

Cinephile Stock: Daddy

Arjun Rampal
in & as


Directed by Ashim Ahluwalia
Based (in part) on the life of Arun Gawli
Written by Arjun Rampal Ashim Ahluwalia (Story & Screenplay); Ritesh Shah (Dialogues)
Produced by Arjun Rampal
Starring Aishwarya Rajesh, Nishikant Kamat, Anand Ingale, Rajesh Shringarpore & Farhan Akhtar
Photographed by Jessica Lee GagnéPankaj Kumar
Edited by Deepa Bhatia Navnita Sen Datta
Music and Background Score by Sajid-Wajid

Arun Gulab Gawli, known fondly by the residents of Dagdi Chawl as ‘Daddy’, is a bit of an enigma. Of course, my limited knowledge of the mill worker-turned-gangster-turned-politician comes from S. Hussain Zaidi’s non-fiction gangster epic Dongri To Dubai and from the bits about him on the Internet. Who is Arun Gawli? An innocent mill worker who turned to crime because of the system (laughable an excuse as that is)? Or, as is believed, is he an out-and-out gangster, the ‘A’ of the once-notorious BRA (short from Babu, Rama, Arun; also short for brassiere) gang that operated in Bombay over a quarter of a century ago? Is he the messiah the people of Dagdi Chawl believe him to be or is that all just a facade? Ashim Ahluwalia’s film, based on the pre-release interviews, seeks to explore some such questions about the man.

The film opens in 2011 with the gruesome murder of an MLA. The investigating officer Inspector Vijayakar is on the brink of retirement but jumps at the opportunity of catching the mouse who has constantly escaped his trap over the years, believing that the murder is the mouse’s handiwork.

The film then jumps into a narrative that skips back and forth between the rise of Arun Gawli to the investigation and his subsequent conviction in the case. We get to see the mill worker Gawli, followed by the small-time crook, murderer, one of the major figures of Bombay’s organised crime sector and finally, the politician. We see Gawli in his numerous avatars as he navigates through a life of crime, first as a hand of Maqsood (modelled on Dawood Ibrahim) with friends Babu and Rama and then his rival. His other side: that of a loving husband and a father is also on display here. We also get to see how he keeps bumping into Vijayakar along the way.

Daddy has its fair share of problems. It may not be a PR exercise ala Azhar, but Ahluwalia reneges on his talk of objectivity. We are repeatedly told that Gawli is what the system made him. Yes, the system is crooked. Yes, it can often be wrong. But no, that is not a justification for murder and other heinous crimes. Passing the buck on to the system in a fictional film is different but becomes a whole new facade when you do it in a biopic. It’s a shame that Ahluwalia, so vehement an opponent of the Bollywood system, ends up batting for it in this way. Another huge problem was Farhan Akhtar playing the character based on Dawood. Believe me that this isn’t Akhtar from Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. He makes for a terrible caricature rather than a compelling ganglord. Plus, the fact that we never actually see Akhtar’s eyes in the film is weird because he neither has an eye infection, nor is he blind. His character just has terrible fashion sense. Another point is that Gawli was an MLA from 2004 to 2009, but here, he is shown to be elected in 2009 when he actually lost the election. A sad fact for a film so thorough on research. The film also feels superficial when it comes to characters. Apart from Gawli and Inspector Vijayakar, every other character seems to be without depth.

Despite all these problems that weigh it down considerably, Daddy has some fine points. The costumes are all spot-on and fit seamlessly with the various periods the film is set in. Divya and Nidhi Gambhir nail the colours and the materials. Parul Sondh’s production design is outstanding. It is so brilliantly done that it almost transports you back in time. Sajid-Wajid’s music is average but they deliver a nice background score. There are no flashy dance numbers except for a situational one here. Deepa Bhatia and Navnita Sen Datta’s editing is snappy and deft, though the film does seem like a long plod. They cut swiftly from perspectives and keep the audience alert. The ever-reliable Sham Kaushal brings to the table great action sequences which are so seeped in the brutality and gore that is part of the Bombay underworld’s folklore that you can barely believe your eyes. It is the photography of the film that takes the cake. DoPs Jessica Lee Gagné and Pankaj Kumar deliver a set of visuals so unique that one can’t help but marvel at their work. Slickly shot and fascinatingly lit, the film’s look is what sets it apart from other Hindi gangster films. Sepia is left out of the palette and the DoPs rely on more realistic colour for the film.

Apart from a terrible Farhan Akhtar, the rest of the cast is pretty darn good. Aishwarya Rajesh is commendable as Asha Gawli and brings a certain degree of softness to the film. Anand Ingale is in fine form as Babu Reshim, as is Rajesh Shringarpore as Rama Naik. They fit their real-life counterparts physically too and add the missing depth to their characters. Director Nishikant Kamat is here as Inspector Vijayakar, a man hungry for Gawli. Kamat is fantastic as the manipulative crooked cop and makes you wonder whether you want men like this donning a police uniform.

The film is Arjun Rampal’s. Very often, Rampal is let down by his directors and by himself. That is not the case here. Forget the physical variation between the six-footer, lean Rampal and the short, stocky Gawli, and you’ll see Rampal become Gawli. He plays the man like the enigma he is. He gets the Marathi right and his body language, especially in the scenes where he plays MLA Gawli, is just short of perfect. He speaks little but conveys such a variety of emotions through his eyes that it is difficult to take your eyes off him.

The screenplay, written by Rampal and Ahluwalia, needed to be tauter. It falls into the biopic trap and struggles to paint a real image of Gawli. It is a disappointment because had it worked, the film would have been so much better. It is well-written, but it’s got its heart in the wrong place and it doesn’t flesh out the supporting characters. Ritesh Shah delivers nice dialogues, simply because they’re a relief from the metaphors men from the Bombay underworld spout in films. They feel like lines real people would speak.

Ashim Ahluwalia’s attention to detail is great. He shoots the film in real locations, adding a slightly raw flavour to it. It is his sway from fact that annoyed me a little. He also establishes a certain aesthetic of the film which is beautiful to look at. He falters in numerous places. Despite his numerous assurances about being unbiased in his storytelling, the film is quite obviously a shield for Gawli and his numerous crimes. The film’s pacing is quite sluggish, despite the fact that it is a mere 135 minutes in length. It plods on and never really gets going. It is a disappointing outing from Ahluwalia’s point of view and he doesn’t really try to break free from the shackles that usually hold down a film like this.

Daddy is worth a watch simply for its visuals and its performances. It doesn’t get carried away like Shootout at Wadala which was not only a bad film, but also a grostesque one. As a gangster movie, it is very different from the likes of Raees and Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai. As a biopic, it portrays a biased and somewhat skewered depiction of its subject.

Verdict: C (Cinematically Crafty but Clunky). 5.75 out of 10

Varun Oak-Bhakay


Next up on CINEPHILE STOCK: Steven Soderbergh’s return to cinema with Logan Lucky on September 9.