Hats off to Arjun , After rejecting a certain producer’s “one-dimensional” script on the biopic of possibly Mumbai’s most feared gangsters, Arun Gawli, Arjun Rampal took upon himself to write the script and act in it as well. He got so obsessed with the subject that he locked himself in a room for almost two months to finish the script. He further finalised Ashim Ahluwalia to direct it, assembled the cast and crew, and soon enough his journey as a producer also began.
“When I was first approached, I did not like the script, it wasn’t exciting. The producer’s sensibility was different. It was a very typical portrayal of gangsters that we have seen in innumerable films. We were making a biopic so we had to be real and I didn’t find the level of realism in it, the incidents that had actually happened were avoided,” said Rampal, furthering, “I decided to produce it myself and got the official rights for the biopic. I didn’t approach any studio to avoid restrictions, and sudden changes. I have experienced in this past.”
Once the main cast and crew was assembled, the actor-producer-writer went through a staggering transformation to play the part. The uncanny resemblance to Gawli baffled many, as Rampal was almost unrecognisable in the get up.
“It was a huge process because Gawli has a distinct look. I had to shrink in size, lose about 11 kilograms and get a new nose. But when I went for the look test, I was very clear that if I failed test, we will get another actor and Ashim will still direct it. Luckily, this make-up artist from Italy worked on prosthetics and it went off well,” said Rampal.
For long in Btown it has been seen, Bollywood’s gangster movies have romanticised the criminal, portraying him as a man with the golden heart, wronged by the system and who turns to crime reluctantly. Be it Amitabh Bachcan’s Deewaar, Don or Agneepath, or even more recent films like Once Upon a Time in Mumbai or Shah Rukh Khan’s Raees
Gawli, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of a politician from the right-wing Shiv Sena party, wasn’t forthcoming. He portrayed a Robinhood kind of a figure and is known among his followers as “Daddy”. Gawli’s stronghold in Mumbai was at the Dagdi Chawl, a colony of seven buildings that houses families in one-room tenements. His family still lives there.
“It is not a biopic on a sports personality or freedom fighter or somebody who was extremely righteous. This person came from the world of crime. We told him that people need to know his story and that is what fascinates me and the director. We wanted him to allow us to show everything about how he became Arun Gawli. Initially, he had apprehensions about the portrayal of him and his family because they’re also part of the script. But later he probably saw our consistency, our belief in what we wanted to do. One day, he felt that we were right, that we should not be making a propaganda kind of film, and asked us to go ahead,” said Rampal.
The crew also shot in areas where Gawli’s biggest rivals lived, an environment that was openly hostile to them.
“Locations chosen were really zapping. I didn’t know these places actually existed. His area is Agripada and then you cross over to Nagpada which is Dawood’s area. When I would go dressed looking like Gawli into the Dawood area with a crew of 200 people I felt that hostility. Many times we had to stop the shoot as some guys would come and start inquiring. It was a bit scary, there was tension and we would take police help. But it was also quite exciting because that would bring the necessary energy into the film,” said Rampal.