Bambai Meri Jaan loosely translates to “Bombay, you are my life”. Mumbai, as we know, was called Bombay or Bambai several decades ago. As we have seen in several films, the Bombay underworld has been of great fascination to the Hindi film industry. There have been countless films particularly that have been modeled around gangsters and the glitz around them. Their stories have been told repeatedly, to the point that many of us are aware of what transpired when the mafia in Bombay was at its peak.
Bambai Meri Jaan takes us through the bitter rivalry between two factions of gangsters who want to control the city of Bombay through illegal businesses, power, and terror. The underlying theme of the show revolves around the dysfunctional dynamics between a father and his children. They struggle to understand each other’s ideologies yet somehow manage to live under one roof.
Bambai Meri Jaan begins with a phone call from Malik, the Assistant Commissioner with Bombay Police, who informs Abdullah that the police are closing in on Dara. Dara is instructed to leave the city in an hour for Dubai. It is established from this scene that Dara has committed unspeakable crimes, and leaving the country like a fugitive is the only way out for him and his family. Dara’s father, Ismail, refuses to join him. This stand taken by Dara’s father shows that he cannot be an accomplice in his so-called ‘businesses’ anymore.
Ismail decides to stay back, most likely to teach his son a lesson and make him reflect upon the repercussions of his actions. Ismail wants to face the storm instead of running away from it. From this setup, we understand that this series is presented from Ismail’s perspective. It will be interesting to see how critical Ismail becomes of his children’s choices.
Who is Ismail Kadri?
Ismail Kadri was a police inspector with the Mumbai police in the 1960s, and he was hell-bent on going after the gangsters who were running a parallel government in the city. Ismail, throughout the show, is known for his honesty. He never entertained his drug-addict brother-in-law Rahim either. On seeing his integrity and dedication towards the force, the central home ministry made him a part of the task force to bring down gangsters Haji and Pathan’s illegal businesses. Ismail was very vocal about his abhorrence for what Haji does for a living. Ismail was never intimidated by these powerful gangsters because he strictly believed the law was above such men. His walk-the-talk attitude made him the leader of the task force.
The task force is close to catching Haji’s men when one of Ismail’s friends, Ahmed, a police officer and a member of the task force, is killed. On the same night, Rahim shows up at Ismail’s home, covered in blood and terrified. On his wife Sakina’s request, Ismail asks him to leave the city instead of surrendering to the police. Sadly, Ismail learns that Ahmed was killed by Rahim, and he accidentally let the murderer go. Ismail is suspended from the force, and Haji took advantage of the situation to make sure all the inquiry procedures went against him.
He was facing punishment before he was declared guilty by the courts. The system in India works bizarrely. Those accused are always guilty until proven innocent, never the other way around. Ismail feels humiliated to have helped Rahim escape, and he knows this mistake will affect his family more. He felt betrayed by the force as well for not standing up for him. It is implied from this entire debacle that Ahmed died for nothing, and Ismail paid the price for being honest on his job.
This was the end for Ismail as a police officer because Rahim was captured and killed by Haji in his presence. Ismail had to swallow his pride and work for Haji to financially provide for his family. Haji always had respect for Ismail and never thought of eliminating the man who was trying hard to put him out of business. Maybe Haji was a man of integrity who appreciated Ismail for his strong principles and kept him around. He may have also kept him around because Ismail is his potential nemesis. As stated in “The Godfather” films, “always keep your enemies closer.”
Who are the gangsters who ran the city?
The entire ten episodes of Bambai Meri Jaan are told from Ismail’s perspective His voice-over is a staple throughout the show and it provides his interpretation of the events unfolding. Through Ismail, we learn of three gangsters who ruled the city just based on power, money, and the terror they created using their henchmen. Sulaiman, aka Haji Maqbool, and his business partner Pathan were the kings of the underworld. Their illegal smuggling and narcotics businesses flourished, and so did their power.
Haji was known for being intelligent, while Pathan and his gang were known for having brawny henchmen. The holy trinity was complete when Anna Rajan Mudaliar joined their team and provided a network of people who would share intel about anything that could harm their businesses. Business was the term used by these three men. They were committing crimes and getting away by bribing every top-tier officer in the customs and police departments. With Ismail being arm-twisted into joining them, Pathan especially feels that they have broken the man and his ideals. The three gangsters eventually had to face jail time due to ‘prevent custody laws’ enacted when the emergency was declared in the country.
Will Dara join Haji’s team?
Dara Kadri, Ismail’s second child, was always known for being a nuisance from a young age. He was the only child out of the four who was sent to an English-medium school. Dara always took advantage of the trust his parents had in him, but his father caught on to his mischief. With Ismail having lost his job, Dara resorts to stealing, which creates a major rift between the young boy and his father. This disagreement set the tone for their relationship from here on. It was bound to happen because Dara was always materialistic, while his father had a strong belief system about how money should come into the family.
One cannot blame Dara because he had never seen opulence until Haji drove up in his Mercedes to meet his father. As a young kid, he was fascinated by Haji’s lifestyle, and he wanted to emulate it. Dara was unfortunately taken out of the school because Ismail could not pay the fees.
Dara starts his little gang with his friends, who collect protection money from the local shopkeepers. Since Dara, his siblings, and friends had no education, they had to resort to petty crimes to sustain themselves. Their protection money racket caused a major rift with Pathan’s henchman, Bilawal. Bilawal ended up insulting Ismail, which irked Dara and his gang enough for them to burn their wrestling pit to the ground. Dara is slowly turning into an egotistical maniac, which made him take this drastic step in the name of safeguarding his father’s honor. Dara respected his father, but this was just a fight for power between him and Pathan’s men. Dara’s every move was supported by his siblings and friends, and they never questioned him.
Haji forces both groups to declare a ceasefire. Haji always took steps that would support his business in the long run. A truce will mean he and his associates will not have to waste money on violence. Instead, that capital can be used towards flourishing their business. He most likely saw a fire in Dara, which he could use for his own benefit in the future. Dara is asked to join Haji’s men, and the young man agrees to do so. Dara and his gang agreed to this proposal because it would help him learn the tricks and trades of this business. Dara, at this point, is also looking for ways to be like Haji. The only way to be him is to work under Haji’s shadow. Dara was indeed smart, and Haji could see that.
What caused the rift between Dara and Pathan?
Dara and his gang were slowly garnering a name for themselves, which Pathan and his men found threatening. Abdullah, Bilawal’s strongest henchman, starts getting along with Dara. Abdullah could sense that Dara treated him like an equal. We wonder if there is a caste angle to why Bilawal mistreats Abdullah because he keeps referring to the latter as a ‘lowlife.’ Dara, on the other hand, may have seen Abdullah as someone with potential.
Dara’s best friend Naser becomes a journalist for a local newspaper. As the rift between Dara and Pathan’s gang intensifies, the former asks Naser to write a news article declaring Dara the new king of the underworld of Bombay. Dara did it just to get a reaction from Pathan’s gang, but it turned brutal very quickly. Dara wanted to prove his power and influence over the media. A news article such as this one will help people gravitate towards Dara and not Haji. Haji, on the other hand, stuck to his stance of not causing any physical harm to Dara. Haji probably had a plan to psychologically demolish him. Pathan and his nephews, Yasir and Arif, had other plans. Pathan’s plan to eliminate Dara and Abdullah failed. He hoped to neutralize Dara to showcase their power over the city of Bombay.
Tragedy strikes when Naser is killed by Yasir and Arif on his wedding night. The two of them also brutally raped and killed his wife, Nasreen, on the same night. The two of them probably wanted to send out a statement on behalf of Pathan and Haji. Yasir and Arif knew Pathan would protect them at any cost, and the man did exactly that. As this tragic scene unfolded, Pathan and his men underestimated Dara and his gang. It was stupid of Pathan to think that Dara would not go after his nephews.
Dara could never recover from this tragedy. Naser’s untimely death created a rift that led to a trail of brutal killings that were fueled by revenge. Dara had found an ally in the Assistant Commissioner of Bombay Police, Malik, whose only aim was to finish Haji and his business. Malik was using Dara to reach his goal. In the process of encouraging Dara, Malik forgot that he was creating a monster he wouldn’t be able to control. Malik was not farsighted, which eventually led to many problems. He helped Dara locate Yasir and Arif. Dara and his gang showed no mercy and killed them to show their power. Haji was probably right about Dara after all. He had become ruthless and unstoppable at this point.
Does Pathan plan to eliminate Dara and his family?
Haji stood his ground about not killing Dara and his gang. Pathan, his men, and Anna were losing patience and could not trust Haji’s words anymore. Dara’s gang included his siblings Saadiq, Ajju, and Habiba. Habiba was turning out to be as menacing as Dara. She was raised during a time when a woman’s opinion was never taken seriously. She had to struggle to reach a position of power and make decisions just like Dara does.
Pathan and Anna went against Haji’s better understanding and decided to kill Dara and his family by hiring a sharpshooter. Haji could see the beast Dara could turn into if poked. Somehow, Pathan was not able to see that. It is easy to conclude that Haji was indeed a farsighted gangster, unlike his associates.
Pathan went ahead with the attack, but it did not go as planned. All the family members survived except Saadiq, Dara’s older brother. Pathan and his men expected this plan to work, but again, they underestimated Dara and his family’s will to fight back. Saadiq was alone and vulnerable, which made him an easy target. Dara, on the other hand, was taken by surprise, and they barely managed to survive this ambush. Saadiq’s death was the last straw, and the fight had become personal from this point on.
Pathan went after Dara because the profit they incurred from the businesses was to be split between Haji, his associates, and Dara. Dara went ahead and swooped on a deal with Dubai-based businessmen who had previously worked with Haji. Though Haji was unaffected by Dara stealing the deal, Pathan wanted to exact revenge for his nephews’ deaths and regain power over the city. This was a classic struggle between the old guard and the new one. Pathan and Anna have been in power for far too long and are unwilling to give it up. Haji, on the other hand, was willing to give Dara the benefit of the doubt, but his only allies refused to follow his orders. Haji informs Dara about the sharpshooter and the people who plotted to eliminate his family. Haji pulled this move because he knew keeping Dara around would be beneficial for his survival. He probably predicted the outcome of this gang war.
How Do Dara Avenge His Brother’s Murder?
Saadiq’s death led to a full-fledged gang war between the two factions. The back and forth of attempts to eliminate each other was bound to happen. Malik helped in locating and killing the sharpshooter. Dara and his men also ended up killing Anna and his gang, but Pathan’s two men, Raiszada and Haroon, escaped. Raiszada surrendered to the Bombay Police to gain police protection. This was a smart move because the police would have done anything to make sure Raiszada stayed alive. Pathan thought this was a good idea, but he forgot that Raiszada could become a police witness and reveal everything about his boss’ illegal businesses.
Malik was under pressure to make sure Raiszada was not killed. His death would open investigations into his connections with the ‘D Company.’ The fact that he helped Dara become a powerful gangster in the city starts affecting Malik’s position. Ismail was right about not supporting his son a long time ago. He stuck to his principles and avoided being an accomplice in Dara’s world of crime. He was not shocked to see all his children follow Dara’s path. Ismail didn’t feel guilty because his kids eventually made their choice.
Dara hired a sharpshooter named Chhota Babban to kill Raiszada on the court premises. Dara, at this point, does not care about what Malik wants. On the other hand, Malik, to rescue the man in his custody, takes his case directly to the judge’s chamber. A smart move that fell short when Chhota Babban found a way to kill the man on the court premises itself.
The character of Chhota Babban, as the name suggests, is based on the famous associate of the gangster that Dara’s character is based on. Dara and his siblings were invincible at this point and were blinded by the power they had. Dara could see an ally in Chhota Babban, and he made him an integral part of the gang. Chhota Babban could also see how he could benefit from being in the good books of Dara.
Chhota Babban was able to provide intel on Pathan’s location. Dara personally headed there to kill Pathan. Though the climax was predictable, killing Pathan was a power grabbing move. With Pathan gone, Dara proclaimed himself the king of the city. He had been wanting this since the day Naser was killed.
The bloody revenge saga ended, but Dara’s hunger for power did not cease. He probably developed a taste for killing people who spoke up against him. This also led to an increase in gang wars between the remaining small-time goons and Dara, which killed many bystanders as well. There was no way to stop this cycle unless Dara was arrested. His arrest would force his people to stop the killing spree.
The series ends with Malik being given orders to arrest Dara, but he informs Abdullah of the same. This conversation is connected to the first scene of the show when Ismail refuses to follow his children to Dubai. Ismail’s stern decision also made Dara’s mother Sakina to stay back in Bombay. Sakina wanted to stand by her husband because she had made a lot of mistakes all this while. Sakina probably felt she did nothing to stop her children from taking the path of crime and violence. Staying back with Ismail was her way to atone for the fact that she might lose her sons forever if they left the country. Dara, Ajju, and Abdullah would have to live with the fact that they might never be able to come back to India.
Habiba stays back to take care of her aging parents. She probably wanted to run the business from Bombay to remain powerful and aid her brother. Dara met Haji for the final time, and the veteran gangster admitted that Dara is now the king. This was Haji’s way of abdicating from his symbolic throne and agreeing to the fact that Dara was more powerful and smarter than he was. Dara became the next Haji Maqbool, but at the cost of being named a fugitive. Haji had never left the country and faced the law as it was. Dara escaped to avoid becoming powerless. This made Dara morally different from Haji.
As Habiba took over Dara’s seat in Mumbai, she reminded Malik that Haroon was alive and that the revenge would not be complete without his death. Habiba’s bloodthirsty motives mirrored her brother’s actions. Her men finally locate Haroon in Gujarat and eliminate him as well. The show ends with Ismail admitting that gods were responsible for creating evil, and in that context, he was a mere mortal father figure whose children chose to be evil. If the gods could err, so can he. His statement implied that, as a father, he could not stop his children from becoming criminals. There was nothing that could change his fate or theirs.