Written by Manisha Lakhe
The Reluctant Gangster
The king of Dagdi Chawl is Arun Gulab Gawli. God to the people around him and a gangster to the cops of Bombay. Brilliantly shot, the film gives us a great insight into the gangs that ruled Bombay during the seventies and eighties. The biopic of the reluctant gangster who managed to eliminate the other gangs, earn a reputation and respect of his gang, and win an election. In 135 minutes the movie crams a whole life and even though it is the biopic of a gangster, you don’t like the cops chasing him either. A decent watch.
Arjun Rampal, once reviled as a man with a wooden face, manages to give a marvelous performance of the quiet gangster who was reluctant to first, become a baddie, and second makes the best of the situation when the mantle of ‘boss’ is thrust upon him. Since he is quiet, he observes. And in his observation he manages to catch those who betray.
This is a tale of cops and gangsters and you watch in awe because they manage to capture the look and the feel of the era brilliantly. Arjun Rampal plays Arun Gawli, who is pursued relentlessly by the cop Vijaykar (played marvelously by Nishikant Kamat). We watch Arun the chawl lad get dragged into a life of petty crime by his friends Babu Reshim, Rama Naik and Vijay. As they learn to make their first kill, and steal money off Matka scammers, they get an invite from the Bhai from Dongri.
Even if you have no idea of the hierarchy of Bombay gangsters, you know that the Bhai is someone really bad. The four friends show up at Bhai’s home, and see only a little bit of him. Those in the know about crime families of Bombay, will know and see the incredible likeness of Dawood in Farhan Akhtar, who plays Bhai. While everyone is willing to take the pennies offered on the dollar they steal it is Arun Gawli who refuses to bow down. If they are going to steal and kill the men who cross Bhai, then they should be given adequate compensation, and even be treated as partners and minions, says Arun. That is how his life in crime begins.
There are guns and molls and betrayals and sex and violence. But it is surprising that you don’t flinch, not even once at the violence on the screen. You are not put off even when a man is being stabbed again and again and when a bad gangster is being bludgeoned to death with a hammer.
The transformation of the quiet lad into a gangster is amazing and Arjun Rampal has done a great job. The mood and the feel of the film is visceral, and you can feel the cramped spaces in the chawl. You also understand why he wears the white of the politician and wears it well. There is also a brilliant character of lawyer and friend called Sada (played with sass by Shrikant Yadav). Even though he enters late into the film, you like him instantly. You begin to care about what happens to him, and when the events avalanche, you realise you have found empathy.
The movie feels like they have crammed too many things into the movie, but you know that the filmmaker is being clever by not giving you time to think. There is action, action and more action, even though Gawli himself is laconic and deliberate. This film is different (and is not just the strange prosthetic nose which makes the gorgeous Arjun Rampal look scary) and you will enjoy the difference.
(the review appears on nowrunning dot com)