If you’re a director who got permission to shoot during the pandemic, should that come with added responsibility? Not a civic responsibility but a cultural one—a realization that these are extraordinary times and ought to be captured on camera to whatever extent possible. The Malayalam film Joji did this superbly; so did the country-hopping Netflix anthology Homemade. I wasn’t expecting Ali Abbas Zafar's Bloody Daddy, shot in the pandemic, to be similarly interested in its environment; with that title it was never not going to be pulp. But I was still disappointed by how little the film uses covid to its advantage. Even the nifty opening, which unfolds in a desolate Connaught Place, is a missed opportunity: had it taken place during the day, rather than early morning, the emptiness would have been so much more disquieting.
Bloody Daddy parcels out information in the manner of a film with rather more exciting reveals up its sleeve. In that opening sequence, Sumair (Shahid Kapoor) and Jagdish (Zeishan Quadri) steal 50 crore worth of cocaine. Sumair heads to his hotel and we find out he has a son, Atharv. Then we learn he and Jagdish are with the narcotics bureau. Two other cops, Sameer (Rajeev Khandelwal) and Aditi (Diana Penty), are introduced, and are soon shown to be on Sumair’s trail. There’s also Sikandar (Ronit Roy), whose cocaine it is, and whose swanky Gurugram hotel most of the film takes places in, and kingpin Hameed (Sanjay Kapoor), to whom the drugs were to be sold.
We never find out if Sumair had a plan to follow the robbery because Sikandar immediately kidnaps Atharv and demands his property back. Sumair is forced to comply, but matters are complicated when Aditi moves the drugs. As an increasingly frantic Sumair dodges the cops and looks for the drugs while trying to keep Sikandar calm, the film doles out some crunching fights. The best of these takes place in a gaming arcade, Sumair wasting half-a-dozen armed henchmen, the neon lights and suits reminiscent of the John Wick films (the stylized fonts are lifted from that series as well).
While it’s a nice surprise to see Mukesh Bhhatt as Hameed’s lieutenant, the one memorable minor part is the Nepali cook in the hotel kitchen, played by Anant Manger. He’s an immigrant, terrified of eviction because he’s been unable to pay rent as a result of the pandemic shutting down the hotel (“I’m a genuine person,” he insists). Sumair bullies him into making fake packs of cocaine with flour, but the cook’s transparent niceness thaws something in him. As he’s leaving, he leaves him the rent money and pats his face affectionately.
It's no secret Shahid Kapur is at his most effective when aggrieved and frantic. His Sumair is a fine lead turn in a film that lacks for meaningful support. Khandelwal is as he’s always been through his career: solid but not memorable. Roy’s even-voiced antagonist would be effective if we hadn’t seen him to the same thing in so many other films (him and Sanjay Kapoor swapping parts might have enlivened things). Quadri’s corrupt cop is a nice study in weakness but the film has less use for him after the opening half hour. Sartaaj Kakkar’s whingey Atharv made me wonder if it would be all that bad if the kid were to violently exit the picture midway.
Bloody Daddy is a nearly-there film, funny in parts, crudely thrilling in others, but neither dazzling nor pulpy enough to stick in the mind. The markers of covid are all there—santizers, masks, antigen tests—but none of the eerieness and melancholy of the time. Zafar continues his very interesting, uneven career: an action-minded director with a feel for large-canvas cinema, whose films are a lot of fun, often oddly touching, and usually stop short of great.
Bloody Daddy is streaming on JioCinema.