Bambai Meri Jaan Series Review: Kay Kay Menon anchors the umpteenth retelling of the you-know-who story
The series oscillates between gradual world-building and meticulously crafting characters to sudden exposition and last-minute additions that will turn the wheels in season 2
Now, who is the protagonist of Bambai Meri Jaan? Is it the conscientious father who is forced to endure a life against his principles? Is it the boy who grows up to be the antithesis of his father and becomes the Baadshah of the Bambai underworld? Is it the mother who is conflicted by her choice of choosing what is right for her children but feels bad for letting family come in the way of their mental peace? Is it the sister who grows up in the annals of power and violence, and believes revenge is a dish best served… immediately? Now, we have seen some 736 reiterations of how the son of a police officer became Public Enemy No. 1 in India. Prime Video’s latest series, Bambai Meri Jaan, is yet another retelling of the Dawood story and is based on Hussain Zaidi’s best-selling book, Dongri to Dubai. Just like the book, the series is about Dawood’s rise but also about the other players in the game who painted the city of Mumbai red.
Cast: Kay Kay Menon, Avinash Tiwary, Kritika Kamra, Saurabh Sachdeva, Nivedita Bhattacharya
Created by: Rensil D’Silva and Shujaat Saudagar
Streaming on: Prime Video
The series starts off by chronicling the life of Ismail Kadri (a brilliant Kay Kay Menon), a no-nonsense cop, who is entrusted with the task of taking down the Bambai mafia headed by Haji (a chillingly effective Saurabh Sachdeva), Azeem Pathan (Nawab Shah), and Anna Mudaliar (Dinesh Prabhakar). While the names have been changed, there are no points for guessing who these people are. Ismail’s son Dara, the hope of the family, grows up to be Dawood… I mean, Dawood-ish after a series of incidents forces Ismail to slip into the wrong side of the law. These portions are the most effective of the series because it is one part of this oft-retold story that is not often retold. We see what made the livewire Ismail become a weary workhorse. Although there is no sympathy generated for why Dara becomes the dreaded gangster, the fingers are pointed at the father. However, the childhood scenes with Dara, and his brothers Saadiq and Ajji, point at them turning to the murky world of crime without much prodding. In a way, the writers of Bambai Meri Jaan don’t really paint Dara as a victim of his circumstances, but as someone who clearly wanted to do what he wanted to do.
In Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai, we saw the narrative stem from the eyes of the cop who used gangsters to fight other gangsters and gave rise to the dangerous underworld. With a father telling the story of how his decisions turned Mumbai upside down, it is a fascinating approach to an old tale. We see his carefully constructed world crumbling down just as Bombay goes up in flames as Dara goes up against the three musketeers of the Underworld — Haji, Pathan, and Anna — and the violence that ensues is gratuitous to a fault. While it is understandable that the representation of violence is a subjective matter, the intensity of the blood and gore feels more like violence for the sake of it because we are not really invested in the emotional arcs of these characters. There are so many players being introduced into the narrative, and after a point, it wasn’t just tough to keep track, but they were just names and not real people. We don’t really get why Haji wants to play the waiting game even when Pathan’s family members are violently gutted to death. But again, these family members are no saints either, and it is like they had these deaths coming, but not for a moment, do we really care about anyone except Dara and Co.
The gratuitous violence notwithstanding, the dialogues are too contrived to really register as a stern exchange between warring members. There is no old-world charm in these scenes. In fact, there is hardly any charm in the latter portions of the series, it is all just one shootout after another, and it gets a bit tiresome after a while. The primary reason for this exhaustion is that things fall into place much too easily for Dara and his D Company. We don’t really see the stakes being raised or why the three musketeers aren’t able to really create a dent in the company. On the other hand, points to the way the writers have sketched the characters of Ismail’s wife Sakina (Niveditha Bhattacharya), and their only daughter Habiba (Kritika Kamra). Their machinations are fascinating, and I’d have loved to explore their psyche. Even as the series boasts of such interesting asides, it is also burdened by having to tie every loose knot and misses out on fleshing out the important players like the cops, who are relegated to the sidelines with almost nothing to do. It acts as a major dampener because, without a worthy adversary, Dara just feels like a rebel with no cause. The fall of Ismail from grace and him having not even an iota of redemption barring a cracker of a scene in the final episode, feels like a missed opportunity. Yes, it is important to understand Dara, but the series was also about Ismail, and it would have helped to see more of Ismail as the D Company grew its roots from Dongri to Dubai. Also, the Bambai we see in the series doesn’t always have a sense of character, which proves detrimental to Bambai Meri Jaan.
The series oscillates between gradual world-building and meticulously crafting characters to sudden exposition of details and last-minute addition of characters that will turn the wheels in season 2. What really holds these ends together is the strong performances of the principal characters. It is impressive how Kay Kay Menon loses his towering presence and cowers down as a has-been with a strong sense of righteousness that continues to be trampled with every passing day. The transition from the swashbuckling cop to a defeated family man is excellent, and the scene where he breaks down after understanding his world will never be the same again is the hallmark of a really powerful performer. Avinash Tiwary gets to brood and glower a lot but isn’t given enough to really chew on as Dara. Even his romantic angle with Pari (Amyra Dastur) is underwritten and doesn’t get the same emotional heft that the two-scene romance between Saadiq and his Chithra gets.
As more characters get introduced, and killings happen with alarming consistency and increasing intensity, the stage is set for phase 2 of the D Company as Dara and Co set their sights on The Gulf Tiger. We know what all happened when the D company supremo left the country. We know what happened to the ones who got left behind. We know how allies became enemies. Season 2 isn’t exactly going to say anything new. But I will return for the same, and it is not just because of the brilliant performers, but because… the story of the man who remains elusive is a fascinating fable for the ages.