Bambai Meri Jaan Review: The Actors Save The Day In Sporadically Gripping Underworld History

Bambai Meri Jaan Review: Kay Kay Menon and Avinash Tiwary as a pair of father and son who do not see eye to eye lead the charge but there is much more to the series on the acting front than the two actors who turbocharge the show.

Bambai Meri Jaan Review: The Actors Save The Day In Sporadically Gripping Underworld History

Avinash Tiwary (L), Kay Kay Menon (R) in a shot from the series. (Courtesy: AvinashTiwary)

Another iteration of the oft-told story of the rise of Bombay mafia don Dawood Ibrahim in the 1970s and his flight from the city a decade before it became Mumbai, Amazon Prime Video's Bambai Meri Jaan is the first web show that fictionalises the gangster's early life.  

The action-packed period crime drama - it plays out from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s with a few stray sequences set in the 1940s - is buoyed by an exceptional cast of actors who bring authenticity, if not high-voltage star power, to the ten-episode retelling of a saga that does a reasonable job of presenting an account of a megalopolis' turbulent past.

Bambai Meri Jaan portrays on one man's obsession with power and money. It also delves into the nitty-gritties of the policing of a city in the grip of unstoppable criminal gangs at war with each other. The series, marred by a gratuitous surfeit of foul language, rides on the spectacle of cops and criminals in a tight embrace as Bombay grapples with the depredations of a rampaging underworld.

Kay Kay Menon and Avinash Tiwary as a pair of father and son who do not see eye to eye lead the charge but there is much more to the series on the acting front than the two actors who turbocharge the show. Several of the supporting cast members - notably Jitin Gulati, Saurabh Sachdeva, Nivedita Bhattacharya, Nawab Shah, Vivan Bhathena and Kritika Kamra - throw everything they've got into a show that requires all the heft that they can bring to the table.

Produced by Excel Media & Entertainment and created by Rensil D'Silva and the show's director Shujaat Saudagar, Bambai Meri Jaan rustles up a cocktail of organized crime, violence and vengeance and delivers it in a manner that focuses as much on the bloody gang wars on the streets and dockyards of Bambai as it does on the emotional dynamics that are at work in the life of a boy determined to change his and his family's fortunes.

Bambai Meri Jaan, lit and lensed by cinematographer John Schmidt, captures the grit and grime of gang wars that leave behind a long trail of bodies and push a city to the edge. It pits a morally upright, God-fearing patriarch against a recalcitrant son who figures out that honesty does not pay in a world where fear is the key. The latter bamboozles his way into a life of crime.

Dara Ismail (Avinash Tiwary) seeks to dislodge the reigning underworld triumvirate of Haji Maqbool (Saurabh Sachdeva), Azeem Pathan (Nawab Shah) and Anna Rajan Mudaliar (Dinesh Prabhakar), who have carved up the city into three zones to share the spoils of their smuggling and extortion rackets run in collusion with corrupt segments of the police force.

A special task force christened the "Pathan Squad" is set up under Ismail Kadri (Kay Kay Menon), a cop of unwavering integrity, and charged with the task of reining in the mafia dons. The squad does everything in its power to justify its existence but neither its best nor the power at its disposal is good enough to accomplish the mission of wiping out the underworld.

The story of Dara Kadri is narrated entirely from the standpoint of his father, Ismail Kadri (Kay Kay Menon), who detests his rebellious son's criminal activities and attempts to distance himself from him and the quagmire that he drags the family, which includes his mother Sakina (Nivedita Bhattacharya), elder brother Saadiq (Jitin Gulati) and younger siblings Ajju ((Lakshya Kochhar) and Habiba (Kritika Kamra), into.

Dara's father is a tragic figure, a sort of last man standing in a crumbling world. He is honest to a fault but pays the price for a single indiscretion. Ismail Kadri's fall from grace is swift. H is condemned to a life of great financial hardship, which forces him to accept the wily Haji's inducements and compels Dara to renege against his father and take on the rest of the Bombay underworld.

Bambai Meri Jaan is a crime drama that hinges on the ups and downs of filial relationships, which sets it apart a bit from other similar generic offerings that usually come out of the Mumbai industry. The equations between Ismail and Dara is the show's focal point but also important to the plot is the sibling 'rivalry' that arises between Dara and Saadiq (who feels he has always received the rough end of the stick) and the bond between Dara and his feisty kid sister Habiba.

Bambai Meri Jaan is also a love story involving a gangster and the city that is described his beloved. Dara is obviously no poet and he has no words of his own to express his passion for Bombay, for its underworld at any rate. The protagonist also has a more mundane love interest in Pari (Amyra Dastur), daughter of an Irani café owner he has frequently rubbed up the wrong way. Words fail him here too and he is barely able to profess his love for the girl he has been smitten with since he was a schoolboy. Neither Bombay nor Pari seems destined to be his in the long run but Dara isn't one to give up without a fight.

Bambai Meri Jaan begins in 1986. Dara Kadri, cornered by the law, is all set to fly out of Bombay. It is evident that this prelude is where the show is going to end. The story jumps a couple of decades into the past - to 1964, to be precise - and homes in on the Kadri couple surviving on a policeman's meagre salary and preparing for the birth of their fourth child. The financial strain worsens as the years go by and Ismail's second son Dara begins to go astray with intent.        

This is an avowedly fictional account inspired by true events. Most of the key characters, including Assistant Commissioner of Police Ranbir Malik (Shiv Pandit), who props up Dara Kadri with the aim of countering the clout of Haji and Pathan, have been drawn from real life.

The tale is hackneyed on two critical levels. One, the Dawood story has been documented on the big screen several times in the new millennium as well as given the documentary treatment as recently as early this year (in Netflix's Mumbai Mafia: Police vs the Underworld), so <i>Bambai Meri Jaan</i>, despite all the action and dramatic twists that it musters up, struggles to deliver anything that could be deemed novel.

Even the language that Bambai Meri Jaan employs - the screenplay is credited to Rensil D'Silva and Sammeer Arora and the dialogues have been written Abbas Dalal and Hussain Dalal - adds no real value to the exercise. It is coarse, which may be understandable to a certain extent given the setting, and the profanities are way too over the top.

Bambai Meri Jaan is sweeping and sporadically gripping underworld history couched in a highly dramatic shell that stands on generalisations about criminality, policing and a sprawling city of dreams and nightmares. It is the actors who save the day for Bambai Meri Jaan.


Kay Kay Menon, Avinash Tiwary, Amyra Dastur, Kritika Kamra, Nivedita Bhattacharya


Shujaat Saudagar