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Movie Review

Bambai Meri Jaan: Actors breathe life into cliched storyline

By Arnab Banerjee

New Delhi, Sep 15 (IANS) Ambitious gangsters have worked their way up the ranks of the criminal underworld and go on to hit big time too. This is an over-familiar tale with nearly all offenders claiming a childhood that looked normal but some minor aberrations and later major ones, turned them into the most wanted category of lawbreakers.

Mumbai can’t seem to forgive or forget Dawood Ibrahim. With good reason too. The global terrorist is an Indian mob boss, drug lord, and terrorist from Dongri in Mumbai, who is wanted by the Government of India.

‘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.

The makers and Prime Video have vehemently denied any similarity though, and have distanced themselves from the original source. But then, Zaidi is also one of the associate producers. How does Prime Vidoe account for that?

Anyway, ‘Bambai Meri Jaan’ has a man as the central character who wants to be rich. No harm in that, but he’s ambitious with meagre earnings; he needs to have more money, and thus more power.

At its heart 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 though some wonderful performances here. 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.

Crimes are unrelenting and are persistently committed; and the cops on duty — honest and some duty bound — would leave no stone unturned to get to the bottom of any and every crime, and nab the perpetrators.    

At places, the series does fictionalise — particularly the portions when the criminals are shown to be children — to weave a plausible explanation for why innocent but go-getting minds to 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.

Many of the young viewers may not be aware of the death-defying actions that many of the cops were involved in; some even lost their lives trying to catch criminals.

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.  

There are also a few nuggets to allow us a glimpse into India under Nehru and how soon it all begins to reach a state where the authorities were in cahoots with the criminals to grant legitimacy to their crimes.

Kay Kay and Tiwary do their best to infuse life even into the dialogues 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!

Film: Bambai Meri Jaan (Streaming on Amazon Prime Video)
Duration: 10 episodes
Director: Shujaat Saudagar Cast: Kay Kay Menon, Avinash Tiwary, Saurabh Sachdeva and Kritika Kamra
Rating: **1/2

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