His role in the Mumbai gangster saga has come full circle for Kay Kay Menon. After his written-in-Bollywood-annals turn as top cop Rakesh Maria in Anurag Kashyap's Black Friday — for many, the seminal Hindi film on the Mumbai underworld — the actor plays yet another cop in Bambai Meri Jaan. Ismail Kadri, with Kay Kay's chameleonic body language making this character the standout of his latest outing, is far less powerful than Maria. Kadri, rising from the alleys of Dongri, is honest to a fault, his salary of Rs 54 a month barely making ends meet for his family of six. And yet he hangs on, never bowing down to the new mafia on the rise — the glib Haji (played with seductive slipperiness by Saurabh Sachdeva) and the crude Pathan (Nawab Shah plays him straight and simple). Until one day, when a professional slip by Ismail finds him at the crossroads where, stripped of his job, he has to fend for his family. That helplessness makes him join hands with the "Devil", as he puts it, and Ismail is never the same again.
If Ismail's powerlessness makes him bow down, his son Dara's unending hunger to rule the city and lord over the masters who have enslaved his father makes him opt readily for a life of crime. In its trajectory and narrative, Dara's (Avinash Tiwary delivers an honest if sketchy performance) rise, fall and rise, is, of course, the story of Dawood Ibrahim, as chronicled in S. Hussain Zaidi's bestseller Dongri to Dubai. However, the makers of the series have chosen to distance themselves from the source material, opting to describe it as a work of fiction which is "based on a story by Zaidi", who also functions as an associate producer here.
Try as they might, even while seeing this story of gore and guts through the lens of a father-son relationship gone awry — Ismail's rejection of Dara's ways makes the latter a classic 'victim' with daddy issues — that Dara's story is that of Dawood Ibrahim and the feeling that we have seen most of what happens in Bambai Meri Jaan before is not easy to shake off.
Bambai Meri Jaan gets a sprawling canvas on which to base its story of crime and criminals. Dara's takedown of the existing mafia brigade, his reign over the Mumbai underworld and his eventual escape to Dubai is mapped out over 10 episodes, which could have easily been trimmed to six. While some parts of the series make for engaging storytelling — count all of Kay Kay's scenes, including those with wife Nivedita Bhattacharya (who also plays his wife in the series), and the significance of women, especially Dara's sister Habiba, played with grim tenacity by Kritika Kamra, in a male-dominated bastion — quite a bit of Bambai Meri Jaan is sluggish.
The series tries to stand out, often too hard, which also proves to be its undoing. That happens because in a story like this, no matter how much the ambition is to be different, there are certain genre tropes that need to be employed. The lewd dialogue (often quite unnecessary), the gunfights and the business of smuggling which metamorphoses into a bigger game of killing is cliched to the point of being all-too-familiar and smells too much of narrative fatigue.
But one thing we are sure of — Kay Kay Menon, also functioning as a compelling narrator here, can be cast in 10 more outings with a role as familiar as this... and yet, he will stand out.
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