Led by the inimitable Kay Kay Menon, Bambai Meri Jaan is a long, meandering exposition of the rise of organised crime in the business capital that questions the idea of crime and punishment
Fans of Pinki and Billoo would remember that, in the 1980s, suddenly, comic digests appeared in the market to whet the appetite of children. We were happy that we would get to read more fresh stories of Chacha Chaudhary, Nagraj and Commando Dhruv and wouldn’t have to visit the neighbourhood magazine store every afternoon. But soon we discovered that apart from the first two or three stories and smart packaging, the publishers had put together the same old stories that we had already consumed many times over. It is not that we minded poring over them all over again, but we could see through the conceit.
One is left with the same feeling after watching ten episodes of Shujaat Saudagar’s Bambai Meri Jaan which chronicles the rise of Mumbai mafia. It declares itself as a piece of fiction that focuses on the uneasy friction between a righteous father and his ambitious son. But anybody who has read Bollywood cinema could figure out that it is a hardbound digest of the adventures of Haji Mastaan, Karim Lala, Varadarajan Mudaliar, Dawood Ibrahim, Hasina Parkar and Chhota Rajan whose life sketches and modus operandi have added spice to the plate of many Hindi masala movies over the years.
Much of the Hindi film industry’s recent knowledge about the Mumbai mafia is based on journalist-turned-author Hussain Zaidi’s writing. As Bambai Meri Jaan is also driven by his research in Dongri to Dubai, there is a sense of familiarity that maims the promise of novelty that half-a-dozen writers make. The changing nature of crime, internal gang rivalries, a sulking brother and an unlikely friend of the don, and police turning a blind eye towards the emerging gang have all been mapped many times before. The series gives a feeling of deja vu, but it is a kind of road you don’t mind taking again because every time you feel Shujaat has left the editing scissors home, he exposes us to a bloodstained emotional turn.
The opening montage feels like a graphic representation of Zaidi’s novels. The bird’s eye view prepares us for the action that unfolds in the lanes of Dongri, Bhendi Bazar, and Dharavi. But more than the action, it is the emotional and ideological foundation that attempts to blur the line between the good and the evil that is refreshing. Usually, in such tomes about organised crime, the narrator is a journalist who writes the first draft of history or a police officer who cleanses the crime street.
Here the voice is that of a helpless father who could not prevent his from falling into the gutter. It reminds us of Deewar, where an honest police officer flashes back to how he could not save his brother from crossing the line.
Here we have Ismail Kadri (Kay Kay Menon), a devout Muslim and an honest lower-rung police officer telling us how like good, evil is also created by the Almighty, giving crime a divine sanction of sorts for in this case, the face of Satan is his second son Dara (Avinash Tiwary), a Dawood Ibrahim kind of figure, who feels self-respect can’t feed a hungry family. Suffering from a life-long guilt because of a moment of indiscretion, when Ismail makes a show of his righteousness, Dara tells his father that he could retain his conscience because his son wielded a gun. It is an interesting debate that ends with Ismail’s daughter Habiba (Kritika Kamra) taking on the mantle with another pungent one-liner that says how god could condone erring humans but men are not as forgiving. But then Ismail underlines the value of neeyat (intent) of one’s actions. There are no easy answers and the writers, thankfully, keep it that way for a large part.
Kay Kay is the actor when you need someone to depict a character troubled with moral dilemmas and an outspoken conscience. Here again his screaming silence, evocative eyes, and the ability to break a sentence in myriad ways to convey the deeper truth stand out.
Like the Nirupa Roy of Deewar, who had to choose between two sons, here we have Nibedita Bhattacharya giving Kay Kay impressive company as the mother squirming between a husband and a son who are a mirror image of each other. Avinash’s journey is more internal and at times his brooding intensity becomes a little too much but overall he provides a competent counterpoint to Kay Kay.
Another standout performance comes from Saurabh Sachdeva as the prudent Haji, the mentor of Dara, for whom business is more important than servicing one’s ego. Towards the end, Aditya Rawal makes an impressive entry as Chhota, the protege of Dara whose relationship promises a fiery second season. Cast against type, Kritika rises to the occasion as the girl who can shoot and slay with equal felicity.
Dalal brothers’ dialogues are an eclectic combination of profound thought laced with plenty of profanities that raise a stink. Very much like the fear factor in the crime world, too much spraying of bullets and abuses kills the fun. Here, Shujaat uses the blood and gore effectively to heighten the tension every time the narrative starts slacking, but when it comes to profanities, there is an overkill.
The series is buzzing with gangsters of all shapes and sizes but the police department in comparison seems thinly populated. In at least half a dozen episodes, there is only a sketchily written Malik (Shiv Pandit) and his boss. The moral dilemmas of the system and its motivation to control organised crime remain a little too simplistic, which means that Dara increasingly gets the author’s backing as the series progresses. It irks. Also, in the ten-long episodes, the writers don’t care to explore the tentacles of the underworld in the film industry and the proximity of politicians and Marwari businessmen with the mafia. Like Malik, the makers only want to see the gangsters fight it out among themselves. That’s a smart cop-out!
Bambai Meri Jaan is currently streaming on Amazon Prime