Mumbai Mafia: Police vs. the Underworld is the most succinct documentary that transports you to the most terrifying period in Mumbai's history.
In the 1990s, a crime boss and his network ran the city of Mumbai without being stopped. That is, until "encounter cops" came along and killed the people they were after. Gangsters and organised crime were both synonymous with Mumbai in the 1990s. Travel back in time to the height of the Mumbai Mafia, when law and order and the criminal underworld were at odds with each other.
If you grew up in the 1990s and enjoyed movies, your adolescence must have revolved around films about the underworld and gangsters, which were lavishly produced in Bollywood. Everyone, from leading stars to leading filmmakers, cashed in on the subjects based on these real-life people who terrorised Mumbai for a long time. We saw movies like "Satya," "Company," "Shootout at Lokhandwala," and "Ab Tak Chhappan," among others, that had excessive violence and every character had a license to kill.
Mumbai Mafia is the latest Netflix true crime documentary, which is a blast from the past. In 87 minutes, we learn how Mumbai cops took matters into their own hands to "clean" up the city from rising gangsters in every nook and cranny. Francis Longhurst and Raaghav Dhar made it a true-blue first-person account, hearing from the horse's mouth of all the parties that were involved during the rise of the gangsters back in the 1990s.
Pradeep Sharma, who was later dubbed the country's "top encounter specialist," is seen holding a pistol and wearing a striped T-shirt as he makes an entry into the frame like a hero. The documentary seems to be in the works before 2021, as Sharma was arrested and charged with the alleged murder of a Mumbai businessman. He is still awaiting the trial as of now. It's mostly his narration, as the man has been a part of the Crime Branch since the 1990s and has been garlanded for being among the major contributors to wiping out the gangster era in Mumbai.
But with a balanced approach, we also get to see how things turned upside down for Sharma, as that became the very reason for him to be arrested with criminal charges on the grounds of a "fake encounter." It's admirable of the makers to show how human interest came into play and changed the entire scenario of the protectors being accused.
To get the context of the whole scenario, it's incomplete to show the story of the Mumbai Mafia without the mention of Hussain Zaidi. The writer and former investigative journalist put forward all the great knowledge he had gained over the years. If you are a fan of his writings, you can never get tired of listening to him talk about the coverage he did during the police vs. underworld era.
From Minty Tejpal's on-the-ground reporting on the shootout at Lokhandwala to Puja Changoiwala's focus on human interest, Mumbai Mafia is an hour and 27 minutes of precision about how the police turned a once-bloody city into one with a strong spirit. It comes along with the important sequence of showing the other side of the story, which was ignited by the Time Magazine writer, Alex Perry, with his story, Urban Cowboys, by calling Sandeep Sharma "India's Dirty Harry."
We speak of organised crime and encounters as if they were things of the past. But when it was there, like when Dawood Ibrahim's D Company took over the city, those were just moments that gave you goosebumps. The makers did a remarkable job of piecing together the circumstances leading up to the crime, paying great attention to detail.
With Rishi Rich's haunting music and the stitched pieces of the archival footage, you are easily hooked on the documentary. It's a story that is not unknown to many, yet there's a newness in the approach, which is linear, detailed, and intriguing at the same time.
"Once poster boys, they are now on the wrong side of the law," mentioned a newspaper article years back. Mumbai Mafia is not just about the underworld; it also goes to some extent to show how the police were also accused of terrorising people.
Mumbai Mafia: Police vs. the Underworld can be touted as the shortest and most precise documentary that takes you back to the time that scared the hell out of people in Mumbai. However, by adding a slight fictional touch to the first-person account, the documentary gives goosebumps in the same way that Ram Gopal Varma films must have done two decades ago.