Bambai Meri Jaan is a period crime series streaming on Prime Video directed by Shujaat Saudagar loosely based on journalist-turned-author S Hussain Zaidi’s book, Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia. The ten-episodes long series follows the rise of Dara Kadri (based on Dawood Ibrahim) and the episodes are narrated by his jaded former cop father, Ismail Kadri.
Ismail Kadri (played by Kay Kay Menon) starts off as an honest cop who is forced to work for gangster/businessman Haji (played by Saurabh Sachdeva) when his livelihood is threatened. Ismail tries his very best to discipline his children so that they don’t get involved in criminal activities like himself. However, Ismail’s children seem to see the crime world as a place of endless opportunities and end up getting involved anyway. Not only do they get involved, they end up taking over the entire underworld of Bombay.
Dara’s (played by Avinash Tiwary) rise to power is fuelled by an endless cycle of revenge against the Pathan gang that is first set in motion when his best friend, Nasir gets brutally murdered on his wedding night. Later on in the narrative, Dara’s elder brother Saadiq also gets murdered which triggers another round of revenge killings by Dara’s gang. Despite his father’s warnings to put an end to the violence, Dara firmly refuses to stray from his murderous path. The show puts a series of moral dilemmas in front of the viewer with over-the-top religious metaphors to boot. While the series does drag in places, it puts the Kadri family in the centre of its conflicts and the portrayal of family tension is what makes the series truly shine.
The baap-beta battle in Bambai Meri Jaan
The sharpest observation about Ismail and Dara’s relationship comes from Sakina (played by Nivedita Bhattacharya) where she says, ‘You might have differing ideologies but both you father and son are inherently the same. The same conviction, temper and stubbornness.’ The father is tortured because his son doesn’t recognise that he put aside his principles and worked for a gangster because he didn’t want his son falling into a life of crime. On the other hand, the son is tortured because his father always refuses to look past his rigid moral compass and see the good that he has done for his family.
However, in his narration, Ismail regrettably observes how his children seem to think that money will automatically mean happiness and peace in their lives. This turning of Ismail’s character into a mere observer in his own family and life gives us a refreshing perspective on the usual rise-of-don narrative. Kay Kay Menon plays the character of righteous cop and defeated father to such perfection that it’s jarring. There is a significant moment in their relationship where Dara goes to Ismail and asks him to come back home and Ismail poses a moral dilemma to his son.
The shot shows Dara and Ismail standing in different rooms of the house divided by a pillar (just as how they’re divided in their thinking) and Ismail asks, ‘So, I was wrong to stop you from becoming a goon but now you want me to come back and stop your brother from cheating on his wife?‘ Dara answers that his matter was different but Ismail asserts that he sees both as his children sinning against God. However, this incident to Dara just becomes another time where Ismail fails to fulfil his role as a father so he can hold on to his high and mighty principles.
Despite their damaged relationship, Ismail offers a chance to his son at every event that led him further into a life of crime in Bambai Meri Jaan. Both when Nasir and Saadiq get murdered, Ismail requests Dara to stop retaliating but his requests only further distance Dara from him since he sees it as a betrayal.
At this point in the narrative, it becomes clear that while Dara might have started as a goon due to his hunger to become someone, he continues on his path of destruction only to prove his father wrong. ‘I am doing this for my family‘ just ends up becoming a cover for Dara’s greed. Overall, even though Bambai Meri Jaan is set against the backdrop of the Mumbai Underworld, the emotions of the father and son hailing from a typical low-income family is portrayed in a realistic and convincing manner.
The women caught in-between men in Bambai Meri Jaan
The Kadri family’s female characters, Sakina and Habiba (played by Kritika Kamra) manage to make a mark in the viewer’s mind with their stellar performances. It was very relatable how Sakina chooses to stand with her husband even when her children turn against him because she feels responsible for how their lives turned out. The trope of her husband helping out her brother because of her and her being eternally grateful to him about it is something that does take place in Indian households. Sakina carries the weight of that one choice on her shoulders until the end of the story in Bambai Meri Jaan.
On the other hand, Kamra’s Habiba shines as both a sweet sister to her brother and vengeful gangster in this series. Initially, I was disappointed when it seemed like Habiba will be married off early in the show but I was happy to discover that her character is left alone to be single and an active member of Dara’s gang. Similar to Sakina’s character, Habiba is also caught between the conflict of her father and brother but unlike Sakina, she sides with her brother through and through. The expectation of being the more benevolent person often falls on the woman but Habiba’s character is bold and unapologetic about her anger, just like her brother. At the end, she also inherits her brother’s beloved Bombay for herself and it was oddly satisfying to see a woman have an entire city under her feet.
Pari, the love interest of Dara didn’t make much of an impact on me but the portrayal of Saadiq and his affair with the prostitute, Chitra was interesting to watch. Saadiq says that Chitra is the only one who understands and respects him but all this statement did was make one wonder why Saadiq couldn’t be open with his wife in the same way. It seems, more than love, the answer lies in how powerless he feels in the gang and the sense of control he gains in his affair with Chitra. In Bambai Meri Jaan, Saadiq basically uses Chitra to take out his frustrations about how inadequate he feels with himself.
The only reason he doesn’t use Kainaaz, his wife in the same way is because he sees marriage as a sacred institution and that his wife demands a certain level of respect from him (sadly, his respect didn’t include staying true to her). What this also means is that he thinks that Chitra doesn’t deserve the same respect because she is a prostitute. Even if she gets married to Saadiq, she’ll never be on the same level as Kainaaz since she’s a well-bred girl from a good family and society will always put Chitra down when compared to her. To a certain extent, it seems Chitra’s character in Bambai Meri Jaan understands this because she says to Saadiq, ‘Let’s explain to her that your love is mine but your respect is all hers.’
Even though Bambai Meri Jaan was lacking on the action and suspense front, it managed to capture a typical Indian household’s tensions in a nuanced manner which is a treat to watch. One reviewer also rightfully pointed out how the show seemed to have too much gore and swearing and because some of these scenes seemed to serve no purpose at all. Furthermore, Dara didn’t come off as a convincing enough anti-hero because his character didn’t have any moments that pulled us to his side during the latter half of the show. Overall, Bambai Meri Jaan has its fair share of flaws but it did have some shining moments that made it worth a watch.