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Mumbai Mafia on Netflix Review: Watchable documentary too familiar for Dawood nerds and Bollywood fans

Shaurya Thapa
Shaurya ThapaJan 09, 2023 | 21:00

Mumbai Mafia on Netflix Review: Watchable documentary too familiar for Dawood nerds and Bollywood fans

Mumbai Mafia's first half might come as too elementary but the second half's focus on encounter cops is where the documentary picks up pace (photo-DailyO)

Dawood Ibrahim’s rise as a mafia kingpin in the 1990s was a boon for Bollywood. As the gangster and his accomplices (the notorious D Company) rose to power, the Hindi film industry that partly ran on underworld money got blessed by readymade story templates to focus on either rags-to-riches gangster stories (Satya, Once Upon a Time in Mumbai) or equally gritty thrillers on “encounter specialist” cops (Ab Tak Chappan, Shootout franchise). 

From a good chunk of Ram Gopal Verma’s post-Satya filmography to masala flicks like Shootout at Lokhandwala, the impact of Dawood-era Mumbai has converted Dawood from a mysterious menace to a boring cliche. The same can be said for other gangsters synonymous with the city, such as Haji Mastan and Abu Salem. 

By now, if you are ready to break into a yawn as you too have had enough of Dawood-ism, then maybe you can skip Netflix’s latest Indian original, a documentary film very unoriginally titled Mumbai Mafia: Police vs the Underworld. The premise is self-explanatory with the name leaving little for the curious mind. 

This doesn’t imply that Mumbai Mafia is unwatchable. It is definitely a well-made doc that tries its best to stray away from the usual sensationalism with which Indian media refers to Dawood. The documentary relies on former encounter cops, investigative journalists, and even criminals-turned-informants to piece together a narrative that can be broadly divided into its titular binaries: the mob and the police. 

Official poster of the documentary (photo-Netflix)
Official poster of the documentary (photo-Netflix)

Thankfully, there are no unnecessary conspiracy theories on where Dawood might be currently hiding but even though the documentary is largely factual, it just feels slightly bland. With its Indian subjects mostly speaking in English, the documentary does feel like a Netflix product catering to global audiences who might be thrilled with all the new information they might be unearthing. But back home in India, where Dawood has become a pop culture figure in his own right, the surprise element is absent. 

Not even journalist Minty Tejpal and his distracting eyebrows can hold the viewer’s attention in the first half as he uses his oratory skills to discuss his time in the 90s with great interest. He uses a couple of f-bombs to express how “unbelievable” it was for him to be a firsthand witness to the Mumbai underworld extracting weekly fees (hafta) from shopkeepers, financing Bollywood movies, inciting riots, and generally just wreaking havoc in the city. Again, if you have grown up on a diet of Bollywood masala, you wouldn’t be as surprised anymore. 

Investigative journalist Minty Tejpal (photo-Netflix)
Investigative journalist Minty Tejpal (photo-Netflix)

Even S Hussain Zaidi makes an appearance with little new knowledge to offer. For the unacquainted, Zaidi is a journalist-turned-writer who has penned books like Black Friday (adapted as Anurag Kashyap’s film of the same name), Dongri to Dubai (the inspiration for Shootout at Wadala) and Mafia Queens of Mumbai (one of its chapters was adapted as last year's Gangubai Kathiawadi). The man has already made his entire career out of what Mumbai Mafia attempts to rehash!

The lack of thrills aside, it must be mentioned that it’s the second half from when Mumbai Mafia picks up pace. It might be familiar knowledge for Indian crime nerds but the profiles on police encounter veterans like Pradeep Sharma and the late AA Khan do offer some interesting food for thought. While Sharma (a former Police Inspector) is projected as a remorseless gangster-killer with an impressive but controversial kill count, Khan (a retired Assistant Director General of Police) represents the other side of the coin. 

A younger Pradeep Sharma on duty (photo-Netflix)
A younger Pradeep Sharma on duty (photo-Netflix)

Whenever he’s in front of the camera, Sharma carries a steel-eyed and almost-arrogant conviction, strongly believing that he has just been doing his duty and any human rights violations or allegations of unlawful killings are farce. Meanwhile, Khan (who offered one of his last interviews in this documentary) acts as the voice of reason. He does come clean with his own violent past but does express his disappointment at cops turning into power-hungry vigilantes. 

AA Khan interviewed in 2021 (photo-Netflix)
AA Khan interviewed in 2021 (photo-Netflix)

Towards the end, Mumbai Mafia doesn’t offer any easy answers and you yourself have to draw a moralistic line, attempting to empathise with the uniformed men in duty as well as the men drawn towards crime. Cliched messages of crime and punishment might come to mind but the latter half is good enough to keep you thinking. If only the first half was this gripping, Mumbai Mafia would have been a better package.  

We're going with 3 out of 5 stars for Mumbai Mafia. 

Last updated: January 09, 2023 | 21:00
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