RAMPAL ON BRINGING DREADED GANGSTER TURNED POLITICIAN ARUN GAWLI’S LIFE TO THE BIG SCREEN
by ASJAD NAZIR
THE story of Arun Gawli fascinated Arjun Rampal so much that he decided to produce, co-write and star in a biopic of the notorious gangster-turned politician titled Daddy. He overcame a number of challenges and went through drastic makeover for the story, which is set across 40 years and has the blessing of the now jailed Gawli. The newly released film sees Rampal present all sides of a man who has gone down in Indian folklore and deliver one of the most powerful performances of his career. The brooding actor was just putting the finishing touches to Daddy and was feeling quietly confident when Eastern Eye caught up with him to talk about his most ambitious movie project yet.
What did you like about the Arun Gawli story that made you want to produce, write and star in it?
He has had an extraordinary life. If you liked the story of Pablo Escobar you would love this guy’s story even more. He has been kind of a legend. There are loads of legendary stories about him in Mumbai. He is the only guy who didn’t run away from the country. He served his time in prison, came out and became a politician. So he has had an amazing life and I thought that would be a very interesting film to do. I am really attracted to this genre anyway, so for me as an actor I found it very interesting.
What made you want to co-write and produce it?
As a writer it was totally accidental because we wanted to get the script right, but weren’t getting there and then I started bedding down all the stories from the research I was doing. That is how we started putting the stories together and it just happened, as a producer because I didn’t want anybody else like a studio or an investor to interfere creatively. Others can end up diluting the story and take away from the credibility of the subject. I thought the best thing to do would be to stay far away from that and so I decided to produce it myself.
Did you interact with Arjun Gawli while putting the movie together?
So he is serving time in prison right now. He came out on parole a few times and that is where I got to meet him. So yes I did interact with him.
Did the fact you were making a life story of a feared man like him put pressure on you?
(Smiles) If you get scared then you shouldn’t make the movie. I was just hoping he would allow us to tell the story the way we wanted to tell it and not just have his point of view on it. So that was the pressure part of it. It was about not just glorifying someone and just portraying him like a Robin Hood type of character, which he was of his era and a politician, who did so much for his people. It was also about him being a milkman’s son, who through various circumstances joined the underworld and rose up to become an accidental Don, how he grew from there and did a lot of nasty things too.
Did he say yes to all that?
So to be able to show all of that and then get his stamp of approval and his backing to say yes this is my story was, I think, the toughest part. But slowly he realised what we were trying to do; not trying to make it about the underworld, a gangster, a Robin Hood character, or a messiah, something like that. We wanted to tell a story of a human called Arun Gawli. The feelings he is going through via all these incidents and more.
How did you come upon on the title of Daddy?
It’s because he is called daddy by his people.
How did you decide on your look in the film?
Ashim Ahluwalia, who is the director was very clear that if you are going to go ahead and make this film that I have to become him and look like him. So if you Google Arjun Gawli, and you see my picture we look alike. The whole idea was to become him and not see Arjun, to see Arun Gawli.
You are a good-looking guy, did they try to talk you out of doing the prosthetics?
Both of us were on that page. It was not about being good looking. I am playing a part and getting a chance to do a biopic. It’s a brave decision by a man to share his life so you have to do it complete justice. As an actor it is not about your looks.
When you were playing Arun Gawli and researching for the film, what did you find was his driving force?
I think it comes from a lack of opportunity and not having anything to do. When you are sitting at home and people are starving around you, the whole environment becomes a kind of a cesspool. Society is looking down on you, the government isn’t helping and you are kind of neglected. That drove him into the world of crime and then you create the big crimes. Then it becomes a habit. Then they make their own laws and make their own rules out there. They rule places like that.
Do you have a favourite moment in Daddy?
It is very layered and there are many wonderful characters in the film. There is so much detail and so much history. So people will want to understand how it was done. I think there is a strong message. We are not trying to glamourise or say this is what you should become, but it has a particular reality check for everybody. Finally he is also a human being and you do kind of empathise with Arjun Gawli’s story and that is important because if you don’t he becomes inhuman. That is not the case at all.
Did you encounter many challenges and obstacles while making the film?
(Laughs) Bro I am encountering them even today. I am still not done with them.It seems like you have framed it like a Hollywood film. That isn’t me but Ashim Ahluwalia, the director, has a great eye for detail and his aesthetic sense is fantastic. We had a wonderful female DOP from Canada who came to shoot it named Jessica Lee Gagné. We had wonderful art directors who captured the different periods from the film across 40 years. So you have the retro vibe going on in seventies, eighties and nineties. Then it comes into the 2000s, where we have the technology coming in.
What kind of gangster films do you enjoy?
My favourite obviously is the Godfather trilogy. I don’t think there has been a better one. I also like Goodfellas, Scarface, Carlitos Way and The Untouchables.
What is your driving force as an actor?
I have not followed the commercial trend for a long time because for me it is about walking out of a film feeling satisfied. That is the most I can do. After that I let go of the film and character. If you walk out of a film wondering how it will do and doing calculations it is a miserable experience. You are an artist, not a micro manager, so you have to enjoy your art for what it really offers. What it offers you is to play wonderful and different characters. If you can’t do that it is very boring.
Will you be producing more films?
Well I hope so, lets see. Now that this is done, there are other scripts I would love to be part of. But yes I will produce another film. I just hope it doesn’t take that long again.
Why should we watch Daddy?
Because I don’t think a film like this has ever been made. It is a true story. It will entertain, but also keep you engaged. It is very hard-hitting and intense. If you like that type of movie you should watch it – it won’t disappoint.