‘Bambai Meri Jaan’ is an action-packed period drama set in the 1960s, based on and a sneak peek into post-Independence Bombay and its streets riddled with crime. It is as much an honest cop’s journey as he attempts to protect his family. Based on S Hussain Zaidi’s book ‘Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia’, it is unmistakably an account of Dawood Ibrahim’s rise in the underworld and also tells us how it was all possible due to the collusion of the police.
At the heart of the series’ story is the Mumbai underworld with smugglers Haji and Pathan ruling. But it’s the reign of Dara Kadri (Avinash Tiwary), a man struggling between his father Ismail Qadri’s (Kay Kay Menon) law enforcement legacy and his own yearning to become the king, the signs of which can be seen early on when he as a schoolboy bunks school to play cricket and earn a fast buck.
As Dara’s lust for power grows, the gap between his father’s honest life and his life in penury also widens. Despite keeping a close watch, Ismail can’t stop Dara from becoming what he eventually does: a hardened terrorist. As one crime leads to another, it doesn’t take long for Dara’s transformation from a petty swindler to a dreaded criminal who could take on the might of the widely acknowledged operations of Haji (Saurabh Sachdeva) and Azim Pathan (Nawab Shah).
He also takes under his wings his brothers Saadiq (Jitin Gulati) and Ajju (Lakshya Kochar) and sister Habiba (Kritika Kamra), and together the four of them lead their way into all kinds of nefarious activities, gaining complete control over Mumbai all through the 1970s.
In a way, despite the sameness to plots, gangster dramas can be difficult to handle. Narrating the life of a man who’s the protagonist, and whose lust for power can do anything — even kill ruthlessly — can easily meander and slip into a heroic act. Most writers tend to lionise such characters, elevating their status in the public eye.
There are some wonderful performances here though. Both Menon and Tiwary add the much-needed flesh and gravitas to roles that are not always a cakewalk to enact. The police-criminal nexus, a seemingly inconsequential rivalry that proves deadly eventually, the cold-blooded heartlessness that we have only read about in newspapers, and the extreme loneliness that engulfs most of them later, are all woven into the 10-part series.
At places, the series does fictionalize — particularly the portions when the criminals are shown to be children — to weave a plausible explanation for why innocent but go-getting minds turn criminal. Had it not been the entire cast comprising some known and some lesser-known names, the series would have fallen flat at times. Not because of any extraneous material, but because of some very average writing that makes it a familiar story with precious little variation.
We have all known about Mumbai’s turbulent history riddled with a gory past, and hence, expect some more factual and unfamiliar details that still lay buried under piles of reports gathering dust at police stations.
A peek into the history of some of these dreaded criminals/terrorists deceiving the law and walking away with little remorse would expose the new generation to the real crime scene some four-five decades ago in an age without mobiles and other gizmos.
Kay Kay and Tiwary do their best to infuse life even into the dialogs that sound cliched. Other cast members, especially Saurabh Sachdeva, also leave their mark. All the female characters — Nivedita Bhattacharya, as Ismail’s wife, and Kamra as Dara’s sister are extremely competent actors and their roles should have been given more substance.
There wasn’t any need for any romantic angle, yet Amyra Dastur has a role that flits in and out of the narrative. Midhun Chandran’s photography takes us into the dark dungeons of chawls and the mega empire of the lords as the third character — the scene, viewers and the lens. The dimly lit rooms that look lived-in have a story to tell of poverty, grime and filth, all captured with authentic appeal! (Arnab Banerjee/IANS)