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REUTERS - In 2014, when a producer came to Arjun Rampal and proposed a movie about gangster Arun Gawli, the actor was a little puzzled. Which role would he play? “The title role, of course,” was the answer. Rampal didn’t see any resemblance between him and Gawli, but that meeting planted the seed of an idea in him.
Three years later, Rampal is co-producing and acting in “Daddy”, where he plays one of Mumbai’s most feared gangsters. Rampal spoke to Reuters about the film and the process of making it.
Q: What is the history of “Daddy”?
A: This film came to me when I was shooting for “Roy”. That was around 2014, and these producers came to me and said they wanted me to do a movie on Arun Gawli. They already had a director on board and I was wondering which character they wanted me to play. I read the script and hated it. They had this guy flying on cables and high-speed shots of him walking and it is just a very superficial film.
I thought there would be a story there, but they were trying to make a commercial potboiler, which is what most people do with a gangster film in India. It is fine if it is just a gangster, but if it is a true story then you have to be true to it. And I didn’t see anything that was remotely like what his life was. But I was intrigued and they had done some work on the computer to show how I could look like him, though I was still not convinced. I told them, “If you have the rights and want to make it, why don’t you make a proper biopic.” I started pulling out material to give to writers, and they were keen on exploring it, so I have to give them credit for that. But it was always filmy, going down some kind of a fictitious mode and losing the realism of it, which a biopic really needs. Then I locked myself in a room for three months and started writing it. I sent it to Ashim (Ahluwalia) and he loved it. But he told me, “We have to have a frank chat because you are not going to be jumping off roofs in this film.” That was exactly what I wanted. Those producers saw us working on this film together and said, “These guys are a disaster”, (laughs) and ran away.
Q: Did they give you the rights?
A: They didn’t have the rights. That is what we found out. That is why they ran. Then we started talking to the family, convincing them etc. We got the script ready and took it to the big man and started shooting.
Q: Was there ever a temptation not to go to Arun Gawli and make his story without permissions?
A: Once you get so obsessed about a character and there are so many incidents in his life which are so interesting, it would be cheating to do that. It would be cheating that other person of it, but you would also be cheating yourself. One of the main reasons I wanted to tell this story was – Why is this guy not called “Bhai”? Why is he not called “Don”? Why is he not called “Godfather”? He is called “Daddy”.
Going deeper to find out why is a very interesting story. A man who spent all his life in jail, came out and actually reformed. Did he actually reform or was that a mask? That is another layer you want to explore, but at the same time, not making a propaganda film.
It is not about making an opinion on him being a messiah. It is a human story – where he came from and how he ended up here. When I met him, I realised he is a very humble man. He is very quiet, very soft-spoken, very well-mannered and got a lot of grace in him. How many people do you find sitting in high positions who give their word and keep it?
Q: What did you make of him when you met him? Did it change your perception of him?
A: He is a simple man. He is a smart man. He thinks ten steps ahead of you. He is not very expressive. He has a lot of resilience in him. To still have that energy after all he has experienced, that positivity is what makes him larger than life.
Q: Looking at the trailer, the resemblance is uncanny, especially to a younger Gawli. What went into it?
A: That was the scary part of it. When we both decided we are making the movie, the next thing was, will I look like him? I had lived this character so closely by now, I had researched so much about him, had lost 8 kgs before the look test happened. And just before I was about to go into the look, I said, “What if I don’t look like him? And what if it is a complete disaster?” And the answer to me was - Ashim is still going to direct this movie, I am still going to produce it but we’ll get another actor to do it. I sat in that chair and we did the look test and it was uncanny. It all came together.
Q: What was the shoot like?
A: It was not a small film. It was a film that kept getting scale, without us even realising it - the detailing of it, the sync sound, the ambience of the place. You are going to shoot in places which hated Arun Gawli, and I am Arun Gawli. We were like, “What the hell are we doing? Will we even get out of here alive?”
Q: Did you have to take any precautions?
A: The main subject is what you have be concerned about and to get his blessings for a film that will not be made like the ones which glamourise you and make you heroic. That was made very clear to him. We were going to keep it real and we were going to tell his story the way it is. If he was not comfortable with it, we wouldn’t have made the film.
Q: So you didn’t want it to be a sanitised version of his story.
A: Not at all. Not at all. (Thinks) Actually we did sanitise it a bit later. (Laughs). I can’t tell you what, though. I thought I could live with it, but sometimes I wish that scene was there in the film.
Q: Were you asked to remove it?
A: You know, if someone makes a film on me and I see something in the film that makes me go, “Dude, just don’t do that”, though it isn’t that person’s choice either because you have given the rights and signed off on it, on a human level I felt we went overboard with it and that is why I was OK with taking it out.
Q: What do you make of the way Bollywood makes its biopics?
A: I don’t judge anybody. Each one to their own. Some people like to make it to a palate which appeals to a wider range of people, keeping in mind the economics of it. Some people like to keep it pure. Ashim is a purist. I am a purist. Everyone who was associated with the film was either a purist, was converted into one, or left the film (laughs). Is it really true to Arun Gawli’s life? No, we have taken certain liberties. It is good that people are moving towards true incidents. Also there is a real dearth in good fiction writing so it is better to take stories that are real and people can identify it.