Bambai Meri Jaan, a brand-new Prime Video India original, takes us to the underbelly of the city of Bombay. It is also about the young men who came up from nothing, became gangsters and eventually ruled the city. These gangsters were notorious for smuggling contraband and precious metals, supplying narcotics, and committing murders.
The show spans three decades and talks about how these gangsters eventually became a nuisance for the state government and its machinery. The central government raised issues concerning these men, and suggested arresting them. If not, the city will be put through chaos and anarchy. In comes Ismail Kadri, who is an officer with the Mumbai Police. The man is known for his integrity, honesty, and respect for the uniform. Apart from these characteristics, Ismail is serious about catching the men who work for these gangsters and bringing them to justice. He is one of the few officers who were not on the payroll of mafioso like Haji, Pathan, and Anna Mudaliar.
Ismail is not scared of these gangsters and the supporters they have gained in the city. He trusts law and order to the point that he arrested a senior police officer from a bar who was indulging in some illegal activities. It is assumed that the arrested police officer was an ally of Haji. Even though the senior police officer was bailed out and Ismail was reprimanded for it, the man was never embarrassed about the repercussions of his actions. He wore it like a badge of honor. His colleagues and best friends, Ahmed and Younis, were always by his side whenever he made any decision regarding an arrest. They always followed his lead.
Ismail’s hard work paid off when the Central Home Ministry formed a special task force, and he was made the leader of the group. Ismail finally felt his hard work was being recognized. The entire ten episodes of the show had Ismail’s voice-over speaking to us, the audience, about his perspective on how things work out. A lot of changes happen in his life, but Ismail does not stop putting forward his opinion. Ismail Kadri might be the most self-aware person in his family on the show. He plays to his strengths and is aware of his weaknesses as well. He never tried to overstep any boundaries by thinking he could achieve anything by being overconfident.
Ismail’s work with the task force goes well but his team faces setbacks in the form of corrupt customs officials and non-supportive workers at the dock. They refused to abide by his orders because almost all of them were on the payroll of Haji and Pathan. Despite these obstacles, Ismail finally gets a breakthrough. His team finds a shipment inside several fish trawlers. His first success led to him being recognized for his work. Meanwhile, Haji and Pathan were struggling because Ismail was crusading against organized crime. They shook hands with Anna Mudaliar, who is known to have contacts that could help them deal with cops like Ismail.
Sadly, his successful run with the task force came to a halt when his brother-in-law Rahim was accused of killing his friend Ahmed during a chase. Ismail was unaware of Rahim’s role in the murder until he was told about it by his seniors. Ismail goes on the back foot because he was put on suspension for helping a murderer leave town. It was an honest mistake. The suspension put a big dent in the finances of the household, which started affecting his relationship with his son, Dara. Ismail did not lose his ideals and principles just because his work was on hold. Even though the crime is serious, this does not stop Ismail from being a righteous man. He never stole or resorted to criminal activities that would get him easy money. Despite facing setbacks, Ismail was always good to his kids and wife and never resorted to any sort of abuse. We feel Ismail did nothing wrong as a father, but his good deeds never rubbed off on his kids, especially Dara.
Dara resorts to stealing a goat to feed his family, something that Ismail never approved of. This was probably the only time he ever raised his hand to his child, but ever since, there has been a cold barrier between the two. The father-son relationship was never the same. Ismail was disappointed in Dara because he was sent to an English-medium school, but the boy never took advantage of that education. The father always felt guilty for not sending Saadiq to a better school. He and his wife, Sakina, were a team, and they were raising the kids right. It was only the children who were having difficulty accepting their current social state.
Ismail ends up having to work for Haji after Rahim is found by the gangster and is killed instantly. If Rahim was alive, he would have surrendered, which would be an issue for Haji and his syndicate. With Rahim dead and Ismail finding no way to resurrect his career as a police officer, he worked for Haji out of pure desperation for money. His life had reached a dead end, and Haji gave him the option of being rescued or die hungry on the streets with his family of six. Ismail, just like before, never acted selfishly. He diligently worked for Haji, and the gangster always revered Ismail. There was a code of respect formed between the two that neither Pathan nor Anna could understand.
Ismail is appalled to see his son getting into petty crimes in a way that fast-tracked him into working for Haji. He could not handle the idea of father and son both working for the same gangsters. Ismail, probably for the first time, places his ego ahead. He left his work with Haji so that his son could do whatever he wanted. Ismail joined a local madrasa to teach kids about goodwill. It is ironic because Ismail’s children refused to listen to his advice on how to lead a life of honesty. But one cannot blame Ismail for Dara and his siblings taking the path of crime. They charted their destiny, which was the opposite of what Ismail had expected from them.
Ismail and his family faced the brunt of the life of crime for the first time when Dara’s friend Nasir and his wife Nasreen were brutally killed by Pathan’s nephews. This triggered a revenge saga that ended with the death of Pathan at the hands of Dara. In between, Ismail lost his elder son, Saadiq. He was done with the family and their involvement with crime, which made Ismail live separately. Living on his own was the only way to not be an accomplice. Dara and his father never had a steady relationship, and it worsened when the family was again attacked at a hospital. Ismail was approached by Haji and the Assistant Commissioner Malik to request that Dara slow down. Being a man of his principles, Ismail refused to interfere with the matters of his son’s profession. He lets them know Dara is a ruthless gangster only because the two of them encouraged him. Ismail did not have the strength to make Dara change his mind.
Ismail’s last straw was when Dara wanted to move to Dubai with his family after an arrest warrant was issued in his name. The man refused to leave the country, even if it meant going to jail because of Dara’s crimes. Ismail did not go because he probably wanted to teach his son a lesson. Living in India as a law-abiding citizen of the country was better than leaving the country as a fugitive. Ismail was inherently a police officer and believed in the strength of law and order. His wife also joins him in staying back in Bombay because, as a couple, they have been with each other through good times and bad. She intends to continue that. Ismail is indeed a person who was wronged by fate, his work, and eventually his family. Seeing them spiral is not something a father should have to witness.
Ismail is the kind of person who never gets carried away by the opulence his children showered on themselves and their mother. By the end of the first season, Ismail was apprehensive about his daughter taking up her brother’s seat. Seeing his children slowly becoming the kings and queens of the underworld, he ends up questioning his parenting skills. He feels that if God can give birth to evil, as a father figure he cannot do much about his kin. Ismail is far more complex than any father figure. He wouldn’t want anyone to harm his children, but he also wants them to take responsibility for the crimes they committed.