Who is Sapna Didi, who will be portrayed by Deepika Padukone on the screen?

Meet the woman who tried to kill Dawood Ibrahim, and is now the subject of Vishal Bhardwaj’s latest movie.

Vishal Bhardwaj’s upcoming movie with Deepika Padukone is based on one of the most unforgettable characters from Mafia Queens of Mumbai. The collection of profiles of women in the Mumbai underworld, written by S Hussain Zaidi with Jane Borges, includes a story from 1986, of a woman who dared to dream of killing Dawood Ibrahim. After the crime lord ordered the death of her husband, Ashraf Khan learnt to use weapons from gangster Hussain Ustara and renamed herself Sapna in order to carry out her audacious plot. Edited excerpts.

The vengeful widow

One afternoon, Ashraf excused herself from a training session for some ‘legal work’.

Feeling a little lost without her, I thought of taking a ride down to Marine Drive. However, just minutes before I could leave home, Ashraf walked in.

‘Mubarak ho, Hussain sahib,’ she said, removing her chappals and walking into my bedroom. She was holding some papers.

‘What happened? You seem very happy,’ I asked, trying to hide my pleasure on seeing her.

‘Yes, I am. There is so much to tell you.’

‘Do you want to take a ride to Marine Drive,’ I asked, adding, ’we can talk about it there.’ She agreed. This time, she rode while I sat pillion, and I must confess that the ride was as smooth as satin. She stopped the bike at a parking lot in Nariman Point and locked it. Then she got off and shoved some papers from her handbag into my hands. I was still sitting on the bike.

‘What’s this?’

‘Read it.’

‘You know I don’t have the patience, Ashraf.’

‘Okay . . . but promise me you won’t get angry,’ she said.

‘What is it about?’

‘Remember this morning I called to tell you that I won’t be in because of some legal matter?’

I nodded.

‘Actually my lawyer had called . . .’ she said a little timidly as if she had been hiding a thing or two for a long time.

‘Lawyer . . . what for?’

‘My petition against police inspector Emanuel Amolik is going to come up for hearing in the high court soon.’

‘What? When did you file the petition?’ I asked, surprised.

‘I’m sorry, I know I didn’t inform you about this before, but after seeking advice from a relative, I had filed a petition against Amolik in the high court last month,’ she said, sounding guilty. ‘Luckily, the case is coming up for hearing soon.’

I was baffled. It was not going to be easy for a young woman to take on a senior Crime Branch officer like Amolik.

‘So, what is the good news in this?’ I asked.

‘Well, this is going to make things easy for both of us from here on, won’t it?’

‘How?’ I asked, mystified.

‘See, if the court passes an order against Amolik, Dawood will be netted for his involvement, too. Then, we won’t have to go all the way to Dubai to kill him as he will be brought to the city following the court’s orders.’

Going after Dawood Ibrahim

Oh, God . . . she was so naive. I shook my head, hating to have to disappoint her. ‘If that were the case, then Dawood would have been here long ago. There are so many warrants and summons pending against him; yet he is still in Dubai, a free man. You think a petition against an encounter specialist will bring him back?’

Ashraf’s face fell.

Suddenly, an idea occurred to me. I came closer to her and whispered, ‘Dawood has a chain of gambling dens, protection and extortion rackets. His money is channeled by hawala from dance bars, nightclubs, film productions, etc. Find a way to stop the flow of money from these . . . he is sure to feel the pinch.’

She paused for a second, trying to absorb what I’d told her. ‘Can you tell me how to go about this?’ she asked.

Perhaps trusting her too much, I said, ‘Ashraf, I have for a long time been working as an informer only to get at Dawood. My networks feed me with information about his new businesses. I pass this on to the cops. The cops, if they succeed in doing something about it, give me a small percentage of the profits.’

Seemingly unaffected by what I had just told her, Ashraf said, ‘I am willing to do the same, if that will make life difficult for him. But first, how do I begin?’

I inched closer to her. ‘Align with his enemies. Befriend all his detractors, just like you got hold of me. They will help you. As of now, Arun Gawli seems to be the best way to crack down on Dawood’s business. Heard of him?’ I asked.

‘No,’ she said curtly.

‘Gawli is a big ganglord, a Hindu. He lives in Dagdi Chawl in Byculla, and Dawood and he are constantly waging war against each other.’

‘Do you know him?’ she asked.

‘No. I don’t know him personally.’

She walked towards the promenade and stood facing the sea for five minutes.

‘I am going now. I shall take a bus. Thank you once again. Khuda haafiz,’ she said and walked towards Mantralaya to take a bus from the depot.

Dreaming of revenge

The next day, Ashraf was her usual self at the training session, totally focused on the martial arts exercises we were doing. I, on the other hand, was completely distracted by her presence.

Suddenly, she stopped and said, ‘I met Gawli.’

‘What did he say?’ I asked, trying not to sound flustered by how quickly she’d acted on my suggestion.

‘He listened to me patiently. However, I think he is suspicious about my being Dawood’s agent or something. Also, he doesn’t seem to think that aligning with a woman is the safest thing.’


‘He turned down my offer. He said that although he is supportive of all those who are against Dawood, in my case he cannot do much except feel sorry for me and my husband.’

‘Well, at least you tried. I’m proud of you.’

She picked up a water bottle that was lying on a table, took a sip, and after a pregnant pause said, ‘But I have thought of something. It may sound foolish but I think that it is the only way forward.’

‘What is it?’ I asked.

‘I have decided to change my name,’ she said calmly.

‘And why is that?’

‘After yesterday’s encounter with Gawli, I have realised that these Hindu gangsters don’t trust Muslim women easily. I need to have a name that sounds more Hindu,’ she said.

I pointed out that Gawli himself had married a Muslim woman.

‘But even she has a Hindu name now,’ she retorted. ’I met her. Her name is Asha and she is a Hindu now.’

‘So have you thought of a name?’ I asked.

‘No, not yet,’ she said, and then, after a pause, ‘It is my dream to kill Dawood. It is the only thing I think about night and day.’
‘How is that related to this?’ I asked.

‘It’s my sapna . . . I think I’ll call myself Sapna . . . dream. And Sapna, after all, is a name acceptable to both Hindus and Muslims,’ she said.

‘Not bad,’ I said, adding, ‘from today Ashraf is Sapna. To celebrate, we should both eat biryani.’ She laughed.

From then on, Ashraf began to be called Sapna. She used this name when dealing with Hindu gangsters and the Mumbai police.

Excerpted with permission from Mafia Queens of Mumbai, S Hussain Zaidi with Jane Borges, Tranquebar Press.

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