“Finally, I have entered the underworld,” Dinesh Prabhakar says with a laugh. The actor has often talked about how he landed in Mumbai (then Bombay) to “see the underworld and be a part of it,” dropping out of college, inspired by the Malayalam movie, Aryan. “Even though that didn’t happen in real life, I have lived that life on screen,” says the actor, referring to his role, Anna Rajan Mudaliar, in the new web series, Bambai Meri Jaan, streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Directed by Shujaat Saudagar and produced by Farhaan Akhtar and Ridhesh Sidhwani, Bambai Meri Jaan is inspired by the book Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of Mumbai by S Hussain Zaidi, who is credited with writing the story of the series.
Anna, as Dinesh is addressed in the series, is a South Indian gangster, based on a key figure in Mumbai’s mafia history, Varadaraja Mudaliar, who along with Haji Mastan and Karim Lala (Haji Maqbool and Azeem Pathan in the series), ruled the underworld until Dawood Ibrahim and team took over the business.
Dinesh says that he got a call to audition for the role from Casting Bay, the casting agency of the series.
Even though this happened in 2018, the pandemic halted the shoot when they were half way through. “When the shoot restarted, it was difficult to rearrange the dates of the actors and the project got further delayed. By the time the shoot was completed, several shows were lined up for release on Amazon, so we had to wait,” he says.
Dinesh says that it was overwhelming to shoot on huge sets. “Since the story is about the Mumbai of the past, the art team had their task cut out to construct sprawling sets. However, some of my scenes were shot in real location, Dharavi, known as Asia’s largest slum. We had to finish the shoot within a couple of days because it was difficult to work in that crowded area. It was left to us to take the people into confidence to shoot the scenes, especially my introduction scene and the fight scene towards the climax, on a ground inside the slum,” he says.
He talks at length about the cast, including Kay Kay Menon (as Ismail Kadri), Saurabh Sachdeva (as Haji Maqbool), Nawab Shah (as Azeem Pathan) and Avinash Tiwary (as Dara Kadri). “It was an honour to share the screen with some of the finest actors, be it the experienced Kay Kay and Saurabh or the comparatively new Avinash,” he says.
Dinesh adds that his character had no tropes of the South Indian characters usually shown in Hindi films and television shows. “The director did not want the character to be loud. He was also particular that I speak Hindi in a normal way because this character has been living in the city for so many years. It was sync sound recording. We also did away with other cliches like wearing a towel on the shoulder,” Dinesh explains.
It really helped that he has lived in Mumbai for many years, where he did several jobs and picked up Hindi. He was into mimicry, which gave him opportunities to dub for ads and serials, before he got his first film in Malayalam, Meesa Madhavan (2002).
The actor’s first non-Malayalam project was Madras Cafe (2013), followed by Waiting(2015) and Chef(2017). He entered the web series terrain with The Family Man (Season 1) and was also part of the anthology Flip. He has also acted in the multilingual Rocketry: The Nambi Effect.
“My friends in the Malayalam industry always ask how am I getting these projects. I keep telling them that it has all happened through auditions; I don’t have anyone in Mumbai to help me . In fact, for The Family Man, I did the audition on my phone.”
He will be next seen in a Hindi series centred on fake godmen. “I can’t reveal the details. It is a social satire and I have a full-length role. I have also been shortlisted for another series of a big production house in Bollywood,” he adds.
Dinesh has no qualms about admitting that having worked in Malayalam cinema for 20 years now, he is still waiting for that breakthrough role. “I sometimes call myself the anyasamsthana nadan (migrant actor) because I look around for projects in other languages as I am not getting interesting roles here. I have quite a few Malayalam films ready for release, but those roles are not integral to the storyline. Some films sank without a trace.” Dinesh, who used to be a casting director and dubbing artiste, also runs an advertising firm, Front Raw Films.
He mentions that the OTT space has rejuvenated the career of many actors. “Subsequently, South Indian artistes are treated with more respect when we work in Hindi projects. Having seen our content-driven films and the performances of our actors they want to know more about our industry, which was not the case before.”
Currently shooting for Mohanlal’s Neru, he will also be seen in Biju Menon’s Garudan and Tovino Thomas’ Nadikar Thilagam. In Tamil, he was last seen in Sardar and will start shoot for Yogi Babu’s new movie next month.
Bambai Meri Jaan is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.