Hello again, Dawood Ibrahim. You may have changed your name. Your origin story may be a bit different from the one on record. You are a few siblings short even though you have shot up a few inches. But we’re not fooled. You’re still the same upstart blasting your way through the Mumbai underworld, defying your policeman father and the big-name dons along your journey to infamy.

Bambai Meri Jaan was announced a few years ago as an official adaptation of S Hussain Zaidi’s non-fiction book Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia. The Prime Video series now describes itself as a work of fiction based on a “story” by Zaidi (who also has associate producer credit). Despite the distance it seeks from its source material, Bambai Meri Jaan is unmistakably a chronicle of Ibrahim’s rise from rags to ill-begotten riches, with some help from the Mumbai Police.

The liberties taken by creator-writers Rensil D’Silva and Shujaat Saudagar allow them to pursue a psychodrama approach. Bambai Meri Jaan has a “blame it on daddy” slant, which includes frequent references to the Muslim faith of the main characters as well as copious chatter about sin, devils and righteous behaviour.

The 10-episode series, directed by Saudagar, largely spans three decades. India is leaving behind the certainties of the Nehruvian era and entering into a compromised age in which governmental authority is being steadily corroded, the show feebly suggests. (The creeping darkness also inspires cinematographer John Schmidt’s twilight-zone palette.)

Avinash Tiwary in Bambai Meri Jaan (2003). Courtesy Excel Media and Entertainment.

In the 1960s, Ismail Kadri (Kay Kay Menon) walks the path of the straight and narrow despite barely supporting his wife Sakina (Nivedita Bhattacharya) and his three sons. A fourth child, a daughter, is on the way.

Crime lords Haji Maqbool (Saurabh Sachdeva), Rajan Mudaliar (Jay Singh Rajpoot) and Azeem Pathan (Nawab Shah) have neatly carved up the city for themselves. Raids by an aggressive Ismail yield scant results. Meanwhile, Dara is tired of being poor and powerless.

Even as Ismail suffers a series of setbacks, Dara (Avinash Tiwary) has begun displaying brawn+brain . Dara’s ruthlessness is aided by his brothers Saadiq (Jatin Gulati) and Ajju (Lakshya Kocchar) and sister Habiba (Kritika Kamra). Dara is called “Dara Shikoh” at one point, making Habiba the show’s twisted Jahanara Begum, supporting her brother on his gore-strewn mission.

The clash between principled patriarch and amoral son – the narrative’s sodden heart – is the source of endless sniping as well as the only element that distinguishes Bambai Meri Jaan from numerous older productions about Mumbai gangland lore. Our father likes to live in permanent trauma, Saadiq cruelly jokes.

Kay Kay Menon and Saurabh Sachdeva in Bambai Meri Jaan (2003). Courtesy Excel Media and Entertainment.

The screenplay gives the appearance of being densely plotted despite bypassing many of the real-life details that make Ibrahim’s back story interesting, not to mention complex. The minor army of characters include Dara’s chief enforcer Abdullah (Vivan Bhatena) and policeman Malik (Shiv Panditt), who has the bright idea of using an upcoming criminal to checkmate the reigning gangsters.

Dara’s resolve weakens only in the presence of his childhood sweetheart Pari (Amyra Dastur). Nasir (Ashwini Kumar) is Dara’s Boswell, using his job as a news reporter to talk up Dara as the city’s latest emperor of the ashes. There are cameos for Sumeet Vyas and Aditya Rawal (the latter is likely to play an important role if a second season is greenlit).

The attention on interpersonal dynamics yields some memorable moments. Dara idolises Haji even as he seeks to topple him, resulting in tense encounters between the cool-headed veteran and the impatient arriviste. Saurabh Sachdeva’s Haji is as seductively elegant as Azeem Pathan is irredeemably crude. In one of the best sequences, Maqbool, while claiming to rein in Dara, ends up boosting him even as Ismail watches on in horror.

Although Avinash Tiwary is solid as Dara, the talented actor is saddled with a character designed as a facsimile of fictionalised Mumbai hoodlums. In a show about Dawood Ibrahim that isn’t about Dawood Ibrahim, Tiwary’s Dara is only the latest anti-hero with pronounced daddy issues.

Kritika Kamra, who has a vivid screen presence, finds herself in a similar situation. Kamra’s Habiba devolves into the kind of swaggering criminal beloved in fiction.

Kritika Kamra in Bambai Meri Jaan (2003). Courtesy Excel Media and Entertainment.

The sharpest character is the man who insists on lighting a candle in a raging storm. Kay Kay Menon is compelling both as disciplinarian and dispenser of sermons. Menon has several memorable scenes, including the one in which he has a meltdown after his colleague’s death.

Ismail’s anguish over his spawn gives his overwrought scenes with his family emotional heft. The domestic drama that forever clings to the Kadris also allows Nivedita Bhattacharya, as Ismail’s wife Sakina, several strong moments.

Handsomely produced (the production design is by Nitin Gaikwad), with a nifty animated credits sequence, Bambai Meri Jaan has every intention of being a definitive account of a notorious outlaw. But in the absence of a realistic context within which to view far-reaching shifts in Mumbai’s criminal universe, the show becomes yet another been-there-seen-that grab-bag.

The needlessly lewd dialogue (by Hussain and Abbas Dalal) and graphic, gruesome ways to die are as gratuitous as the show itself. They are clearly intended to jolt, but the most shocking thing about Bambai Meri Jaan is how predictable and banal it turns out to be.

Bambai Meri Jaan (2023).