'Mumbai Mafia: Police vs the Underworld' review:  A good documentary, despite its flaws

The first portion of the film trains its lens on the elusive kingpin, Dawood Ibrahim. His criminal grip on ’80s and early ’90s Bombay was vice-like.

Published: 10th January 2023 07:49 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th January 2023 07:49 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

Mumbai Mafia: Police vs the Underworld’ engages you in the city’s inextricable link to organised crime. It traces its roots to the early ’90s via news footage, reportage, and a series of interviews with investigative journalists/writers, police officers, and mafia members to piece together a credible story. 

The first portion of the film trains its lens on the elusive kingpin, Dawood Ibrahim. His criminal grip on ’80s and early ’90s Bombay was vice-like. His infamous D-Company syndicate ruled the roost. Be it contract killings, extortion, smuggling, gambling, or prostitution, they had a finger in every pie. Their influence was so far-reaching that the hafta extended to big business, Bollywood, and cricket.

Executions and shootouts were a common occurrence, with gang warfare and rivalry claiming more than its fair share of lives. It was about this time when the police made its major move. Under the leadership of then Additional Commissioner AA Khan, surveillance was upped on Dawood’s aides. Raids were undertaken to apprehend two of his right-hand men. This led to a gunbattle in broad daylight at the Lokhandwala Complex in 1991 when the men refused to surrender. The aftermath left seven gangsters dead and several police officers and civilians injured. 

This bloody effort to clip the underworld’s wings gave birth to the coinage of “encounter” in the Indian context. Encounter specialists—gung-ho cops who took pride in snuffing out criminals for the betterment of society—became relevant overnight. Their methods of meting out justice were in the same vein as the ones they wished to police—the mob. In the heyday of an ‘eye for an eye’ environment as this, the media kept track of each officer’s kills, the public lauded their valour, and films were inspired by their glorious tales. The fact remained that the said encounters were extrajudicial killings.

The force’s version of events didn’t match up to the accounts of family members and eyewitnesses. There was no exchange of gunfire or attempted escape. Gangsters were picked up from their homes by police teams, taken to a secluded spot, and shot. Instead of playing the role of law enforcement properly, the police was taking matters into its own hands. When officers Pradeep Sharma and Ravindra Angre say things like, “Woh criminals hi they na? Gangsters hi they na?” and “Us time kisi ne kuch nahi bola…na ki public, na ki human rights groups.

Yeh sab media waalon ki creation hai,” you get a sense of their philosophy of justice. Espousing such a skewed idea of right and wrong, being a police person, no less, sets a dangerous precedent. Even after we take into account the influence the Bombay underworld had over the judicial system, there is no room for justification here. AA Khan chose to voluntarily retire in protest of the force’s brazen, high-handed means. Alex Perry of Time Magazine compares a statistic of gang-related shootouts in ’90s Bombay to Mumbai of the 2000s. It apparently went down from around two a week to two a month after the advent of encounter killings. 

Mumbai Mafia does well to glean various perspectives from across the board, painting a vivid picture. It is as critical of the ruthless mafia as it is of extrajudicial murders being routinely carried out by the police. Representation from the D-Company or those with close links to Dawood (a former associate and two of the don’s Bombay neighbours from back in the day) is sparse, as is understandable. The makers ought to have done a better job with the introduction to the city’s organised crime.

How did Dawood come to be so powerful? Who were his precursors? There is no mention of Haji Mastan, Varadarajan Mudaliar, and Karim Lala—three mainstays of that milieu. Their influence had begun receding in the ’80s but they were still around. Chhota Rajan, a former key aide of Dawood’s, is not brought up in conversation, either. In their effort to focus on the fake encounters, they reduce precious time on the mafia (an entity central to the telling of this narrative). An additional half hour to recount a more detailed story would have been the way to go. 

Despite the pitfalls, it is an intriguing real-life tale worth investing in. The candid nature of the encounter specialists is unnerving. To know that encounters exist is one thing, but to hear it from the horse’s mouth, quite another. One of Pradeep Sharma’s comments delivered casually indicts the whole police establishment. “When crime escalates, you are given free rein. When it is brought under control, there is no need for encounter cops. So, they are removed from the system. No one will be as frank about this as I’m being with you,” he says. Those eerie words reference superiors who let problematic practices flourish only to find scapegoats when the external clamour got deafening.

Mumbai Mafia: Police vs the Underworld
Cast:  Pradeep Sharma, AA Khan, Ravindra Angre, Minty Tejpal, Puja Changoiwala, Shyam Kishore, Alex Perry
Director:  Raaghav Dar, Francis Longhurst 
Streaming On:  Netflix


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