I had read decent reviews so I picked it up from a book shop last year. But there was something about the cover that prevented me from reading it. For nearly a year, the book lay untouched on my study table. Last week I made a day long trip to the city and carried it with me to read on the way. That too happened more by accident than design. I tend to procrastinate a lot in the mornings and get all rushed at the last minute, laying my hands on what I can find at that moment to carry with me to read in the car. Thankfully, I didn’t have to rue my choice. ‘Mafia Queens of Mumbai- Stories of women from the ganglands’ turned out to be a page turner. Simple and compelling. One of the best works of creative nonfiction I have read by an Indian author. Rather authors. The book has been written by S.Hussain Zaidi with Jane Borges. Both of them are Mumbai based journalists.
S Hussain Zaidi needs no introduction. His earlier best seller Black Friday was translated into celluloid by none other than Anurag Kashyap. I have read somewhere that Kashyap considers Black Friday to be the best film he has made. Unfortunately Paanch and Black Friday are the only two films of Kashyap’s that I haven’t watched. But like Kashap’s direction, Zaidi’s writing too brims with energy. The narrative shifts from third person to first person from essay to essay, bringing to life a group of spunky women who are at ease being avengers and murderers rather than nurturers and victims the Indian society wants them to be. What they seem to lack in physical strength, they more than make up with their wile and cunning. It is a little difficult to believe women like these actually existed, but their photographs in the book provide the evidence.
From the matriarch of the Mumbai Mafioso Jenabai to brothel madam Gangu Bai and from the avenger Ashraf to the drug peddler Mahalaxmi Papamani, each of these feisty women take it upon themselves to make a mark in a world ravaged by the most vicious of men. For lovers of film trivia, Monica Bedi, Abu Salem’s moll who was a part of the reality show Big Boss a few years ago also features in the book. But her story is probably the only tepid piece in this otherwise riveting book. Maybe because she is the only one capable of suing the writers. Otherwise this is a brilliant book, to use the cliché, a rare gem.
It must be because I watched Gangs of Wasseypur 2 the same evening, but I found myself focusing on the female characters more. They have a lot less screen time as compared to the men in the film but that’s understandable given the gangster ethos of the film. What is interesting is how Kashyap has made the women an essential part of the narrative. They may not actually fire the bullets but it is amply clear that if it wasn’t for them, the men wouldn’t act the way they do in the film. Maybe not even be what they end up being.
It is the ‘other woman’ Durga who hastens Sardar Khan to his death, feeling no remorse for her part in his death afterwards. Though she is hardly present for most part of the film and appears in less than half a dozen scenes in the movie, her rage and frustration at her son Definite opting to be a lackey of Faizal Khan, Sardar’s legitimate son is palpable. There is a tongue in cheek tribute to the 70’s Bachchan blockbuster Trishul made by the Naseeruddin Shah of the current generation, Nawazuddin Sidique in the film so we are left in no doubt about Kashyap’s reference point, so much so that the hazy visage of Durga in the climax made me feel the Waheeda Rehman of Trishul had been vindicated once again in a film made a good three and a half decades later.
Kashyap having claimed a sort of feminist credentials in his interviews can be counted on to construct the legitimate wife with a lot more substance than Yash Chopra accorded Geeta Kak. Richa Chadda loses none of the fire that she displayed in part 1 as the ageing matriarch in the follow up. It is a bravura performance, all steel and grit as she turns her sons into gun toting devils to avenge her philandering husband’s death. I would have liked Kashyap to include a scene between her and the illegitimate offspring of Sultan, but in the absence of that, the wedding song where suddenly tears start rolling down her cheeks, qualifies as the moment of the film. The clever actor she is, she lets us know without the aid of dialogues, the suffering of her accumulating losses. First the husband and then the children. Pathos is a new emotion for Hindi film weddings.
The two daughters in law are a study in contrast. There is a lovely touch of humour to Huma Qureshi’s Mohsina. Whether it is her avid TV watching or the way she leads the way in the bustling bazaar, ragging her husband for looking much older than her. The bitter sweet song she sings to her husband is also sweet in the ears. When I was growing up in Bihar, we used to call these songs ‘ant sant gaana.’ So there was a nice unexpected touch of nostalgia to watching the film.
The other daughter in law gets a wholly undeserved bullet in her head. Of the four women in the family, she is the one who fits best the conventional mould of the traditional Indian women. She tries to reason with her husband and extends warmth to her estranged brother. When she is shot in the film, you wonder whether it is because that is what the narrative of the film demanded or Kashyap wanted to punish her for not displaying enough spunk and spirit like his other female protagonists.