Shujaat Saudagar’s 10-episode series features strong performances, particularly Kay Kay Menon’s, but it’s marred by gore and the weight of its tropes
Directed by Shujaat Saudagar, Bambai Meri Jaan is a 10-episode gangster drama based on S. Hussain Zaidi’s Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia (2012), a book about the rise of Dawood Ibrahim’s D-company, and the underworld’s transformation over the decades. While Bambai Meri Jaan claims to parade around as a fictionalised retelling of the organised crime in India’s business capital, there’s little divergence from the reality, and the evidently tweaked names of the characters show more than they conceal.
Dawood Ibrahim becomes Dara Kadri (Avinash Tiwary), Ibrahim Kaskar becomes Ismail Kadri (Kay Kay Menon), Shabir Ismail Kaskar becomes Saadiq Kadri (Jitin Gulati), Haseena Parker is Habiba Kadri (Kritika Kamra). The infamous trio of Haji Mastan, Karim Lala, and Varadarajan Mudaliar, become Haji Maqbool (Saurabh Sachdeva), Azeem Pathan (Nawab Shah), and Anna Rajan Mudaliar (Dinesh Prabhakar), respectively. The hitman Manya Surve becomes Ganya Surve (Sumeet Vyas) and so on and so forth.
Despite all the changes, Dara’s gang name remains D-Company, and the story of how the son of a police inspector grows up to be the most-feared gangsters of all time, stays pretty much the same, except for dysfunctional family drama that acts as an appendage to the larger story of Bambai, through the lens of the Kadri clan, and its kingpin — Dara.
It’s a tale told through the ages countless times; a tale of the blood and brutality that Mumbai grappled with during the terror reign of Dawood Ibrahim, which is the reason why Bambai Meri Jaan can offer only so much novelty than Hindi cinema through films like Black Friday (2007), Once Upon A Time In Mumbai (2010), D-Day (2013) and several others based on the infamous gangster. Not only Dawood, but Hindi cinema has dried the reservoir of underworld stories; consider films like Raees, Haseena Parker and Daddy (all three released in 2017). This also means that Saudagar understands the pressure to stand out.
A villain, not an anti-hero
In some ways, it does for the better, and for the worse. Let’s begin with the good part — Kay Kay Menon (one could stop elaborating, and it would still make sense). Menon as Ismail Kadri, a morally upright police inspector who has to sacrifice his pride in order to provide for his family, is absolute perfection; not less, not more. His performance is skill personified; a seasoned actor, he knows what he is doing, and can do it again and again, until forever. His moral dilemma is palpable, his disgust for his son even more so, which is why it’s a shame that towards the end, the show reduces him to just that — a disappointed father of an infamous don.
Perhaps this is also where the show begins to falter — in under-utilizing an actor who could very well be the weapon to make this story that is burdened by its tropes, stand out. However, except for the first three episodes, which primarily focus on him, while his sons are nothing but teenage nuisances, the rest of seven episodes sideline him, sending him into the shadows. The show starts out as something promising in its quest to make dysfunctionality of the Kadri family, its prime protagonist, instead of just Dara, but soon enough, it spirals down to exactly that; a tireless montage of the rise and rise of Dawood Ibrahim, one we’ve seen time and again.
Menon’s effectiveness overshadows Tiwary’s diligent craft; in fact, some of the best scenes of the latter are also those with Menon. The father-son chemistry, or shall one say, the lack of it, provided a good premise to look at the underworld from a different lens, but alas, the taste of what could have been had the makers chosen that path, threatens to jeopardise the rest of the show. However, Bambai Meri Jaan becomes one of those few projects that is able to establish Dawood as the villain, and not the anti-hero — again, it owes majority of that to Ismail (Menon) whose virtue even in the world of crime accentuates Dara’s devilry.
Surfeit of gore
Moving on, while an underdeveloped character arc for Menon is indeed heartbreaking, the show’s real problem looms much larger — gore. In desperation to be out of the ordinary, Bambai Meri Jaan takes the gore to a level that they should give you a trigger warning to not watch the show while eating something because you’re going to hurl your guts out (trust me, I know). While gore is a powerful tool to offer novelty at times, there’s also a fine line to tread when doing so. It’s a line that asks you whether the gore is necessary and whether it is watchable; in Bambai Meri Jaan, it’s neither.
In a scene that made one nauseous for a good 20 minutes, members of the enemy gang force an assaulted man to watch while they rape his newlywed wife in front of him. While the rape happens off-screen, the woman’s shrieking fills your ears as the camera focuses on the man’s face for what seems the end of time. The scene is too sickening to entertain. Moreover, the shallow use of rape as a plot device, especially to exact revenge is as problematic as it can get, even more so if you are exploring a man’s trauma while the woman gets molested and abused.
Had it not been for the endless cursing that makes one wonder if the show needed any dialogue writing, and the pathetic gore, then Bambai Meri Jaan might have stood a chance to be at least entertaining even if it didn’t stand out except for the father-son equation. To its credit, the first half of the show is intriguing, with striking performances from Kritika Kamra, who plays Dara’s badass sister, and Jitin Gulati, who also stars with Avinash Tiwary in Kaala that released just a few hours before Bambai Meri Jaan. Gulati is too good an actor, and deserves better projects than the ones being bestowed on him, but for now, his Saadiq in the show is quite easily the character with the most substance after Ismail (Menon).
To sum it up, there’s nothing one loves more than a good gangster drama, but if you’re going to spoil the taste with content that will make one green around the gills, then you better add some depth to the story. That said, Bambai Meri Jaan makes for a decent watch on a boring Sunday, if you aren’t as gore-sensitive as me.
Bambai Meri Jaan is streaming on Amazon Prime Video