Television shows and movies in the period drama genre are tricky and expensive. Other than spending time on the narrative aspect, the makers must convince us with splendid world-building. The production, dialogue, and ambience add meaning to the story. Amazon Prime Video India has knocked it out of the park with yet another period drama this year. The streaming network gave us Jubilee in April 2023, and within a few months, they’d given us Bambai Meri Jaan. This gangster period drama was released on the platform on September 14, 2023. Based on S. Hussain Zaidi’s book Dongri to Dubai, the Prime Video follows a bitter rivalry between gangsters that eventually engulfs the city in violence and chaos.
Bambai Meri Jaan is told from the perspective of Ismail Kadri, who was an honest police officer with the Mumbai Police in the 1960s. The man always wants to do the right thing, but he ends up paying the price for his honesty. This does not deter him from his goal of bringing down the local smugglers, Haji and Pathan. Ismail Kadri’s golden boy, Dara Kadri, ends up having different ideas on how to live life, and he begins working for Haji and Pathan. This is just the beginning of how Dara’s life goes through a transition. There is no turning back for him and his family from a life of violence and power struggles. Ismail witnessing his kids taking the infernal route forms the crux of this epic saga.
Bambai Meri Jaan is a slow-burn watch. The show has a solid start where we get to hear Kay Kay Menon reminiscing about the choices he made as a father. The voiceover is present throughout the ten episodes and helps us understand the entire story from a father’s perspective. It gives the viewers an objective view of Dara, his siblings, and the life they chose for themselves. The pacing of the narrative takes time to pick up. The makers take their time to establish dynamics and relationships, which eventually work in favor of the show.
Every relationship mentioned in the show follows a path and has a culmination. This intensifies many subplots, and it makes the narrative easy to follow. The screenplay is a bit stretched, but that is essential to establishing the ensemble of characters. All of them had a role to play in making Dara the most dangerous man in the city.
Since the show is based on S. Hussain Zaidi’s book, it was hard not to notice how gritty the narrative is right from the start. This quality of the storytelling remains intact until the end. With period dramas, one must also investigate the authenticity factor, but the makers here ensure there are no unnecessary exaggerations or cinematic liberties taken for the sake of entertainment. Director Shujaat Saudagar and writers Sameer Arora and Rensil D’Silva do not cross the line when it comes to portraying Dara, Haji, and Pathan as larger-than-life characters. They are criminals, and they are treated like one on the screen.
Every good gangster drama eventually starts to mirror Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather films. A younger brother takes over an already established empire and rebrands it, while the older sibling feels a bit left out. This is a familiar narrative. The writers of Bambai Meri Jaan present the dynamic between the brothers uniquely without making the narrative too similar to the 1974 cult classic film The Godfather: Part II. One also cannot ignore the influence Hindi cinema has had on Dara’s life and the clothes he wore. It is interesting to see him getting inspired by Amitabh Bachchan’s persona of an angry young man portrayed by the actor in many films. For your information, most of these films were co-written by Javed Akhtar, Farhan Akhtar’s father.
Female characters are well-written, and they have not been added just for the sake of existing. Dara’s sister is a product of an environment where she doesn’t see the difference in how she or her brothers should behave and react. Sakina, Dara’s mother, is a character who was shrouded in guilt for making a split-second decision that changed her family’s destiny. Both the characters are leads, and they have been written in shades of gray.
Bambai Meri Jaan does meander when the makers add another subplot concerning Dara’s romantic relationship with his childhood friend Pari. It derailed the narrative until its addition made sense in the last two episodes. The clash between the gangsters and the back-and-forth that follows stays fresh. Every subplot takes the narrative forward, which leads to the climax of the show. The story and the screenplay are predictable since many films have been made on this subject matter. This time around, the makers give each character time to breathe, grow, and make the narrative fierce. This is probably the advantage of a longer format, like a web series. A film restricts a character’s growth to two to three hours.
The show has a multitude of characters, but thankfully, none of them make the screenplay messy. Their graphs are tightly written to make sure they do not drain the narrative at any point. The climax of the show is also predictable, but the strength with which the entire sequence is presented paves the way for good drama. There is a new character introduced in the last two episodes of the show, but the makers infuse the character into the narrative in such a manner that the subplot does not feel out of place. The direction throughout the show is consistent. Shujaat never loses grip over the screenplay, which adds to the engaging factor as well. The direction created a sense of anticipation after every episode ended. Shujaat has proven himself to be an outstanding director through this show.
The dialogues written by Abbas and Hussain Dalal are excellent. It is the essence of the show and elevates the character graph. The mix of Urdu and Mumbai slang is reminiscent of Vijay Maurya’s work in Gully Boy, which is also an Excel Entertainment production. John Schmidt, as the director of photography, makes Mumbai beautiful and dark at the same time. The work with silhouettes and lights adds a layer to the lead characters, who are inherently immoral.
The production design by Nitin Gaekwad is exquisite. The world building would have floundered if not for the excellent production design, which made Mumbai another character in this show. The costumes by Bibi Zeeba Miraie are very era-appropriate. Many a time, the makers become too indulgent with the set design and the costumes to emphasize the decade the show is set in. Thankfully, that does not happen in Bambai Meri Jaan. The sound design by Anirban Sengupta is brilliant because it gives every firearm its own unique signature that is instantly recognizable, especially in a scene involving Dara’s family being attacked in The Godfather style.
The casting of the show stands out for the most part because every actor has been perfectly chosen for the role assigned to them. Bringing together the real-life couple Kay Kay Menon and Nivedita Bhattacharya to play Dara Kadri’s parents is a brilliant choice. Every good story becomes better if the maker chooses the right actors to play it. The performances of all the lead actors in Bambai Meri Jaan elevate the viewing experience. Kay Kay Menon, as Ismail Kadri, is a force to be reckoned with. His portrayal of an idealistic father who may have made some questionable decisions that changed his family’s destiny is a performance that will be remembered for years. His pain, anger, and guilt are palpable and effective.
Avinash Tiwary’s transition from a rowdy to a gangster is seamless. Audiences get to see how money and power inherently change him and his siblings. Avinash puts across Dara’s confidence, arrogance, and ruthlessness with absolute finesse. His performance towards the end is reminiscent of Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Part II. Dara is angry, quiet, and terrifying. Kritika Kamra is a standout performer as Habiba Kadri, the equally merciless sister of Dara, who is hell-bent on exacting revenge as well. Saurabh Sachdeva as Haji Maqbool, who sees a lot of himself in Dara, is excellent. His portrayal of the man who is trying to cut down the rift between his associates and Dara is one of the best scenes of the show. Saurabh, as Haji, is calculative and knows how to handle the situation.
Bambai Meri Jaan exceeded our expectations. It is easily one of the best shows of this year because it conveys stories compellingly. The show is captivating, and it deserves a watch.