The gangs of Mumbai: These underworld dons ruled the city from early 60s to the late 90s. They ran a parallel Government!

The legend of the Mumbai underworld offers gripping tales of revenge and territorial domination. Growing up, I was fascinated by dramatic incidents of murder and smuggling. Bollywood has glorified and given such gangsters visibility through movies, turning them into inspirations for wannabe criminals. It’s a debate that must take place. Should Bollywood glorify murderous gangsters?

Of course not, but blood sells, and public responsibility is not Bollywood’s favourite subject.  Movies like Shootout at Lokhandwala, Satya, Once Upon a Time in Mumbai, Vastav, Gangster, and Sahib, Biwi aur Ghulam have gone on to become hits. A large portion of people get influenced by the life of gangsters, and quite a few of them turn into one. They will continue to make such movies, but it is up to us how we perceive it.

Let’s go through the lives of some of the most infamous gangsters of Mumbai over three decades.

Abdul Karim Sher Khan, alias Karim Lala – The Founder of Indian Mafia!

Crime lord, and one of the leaders of the Pathan Gang in the 1940s, Karim Lala was the pioneer of organized crime. He was involved in smuggling jewelry, running illicit liquor, gambling dens, extortion rackets, and selling hashish.


Haji Mastan Mirza, alias Haji Mastan – India’s ‘Celebrity Gangster’

Mobster and a big-time smuggler, Haji Mastan reigned for 20 years! He loved bollywood and had numerous connections. He produced quite a few films and in the process, developed relationships with Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Sanjeev Kumar and many others.


Varadarajan Muniswami Mudaliar, alias ‘Vardha bhai’- A muscle man to Haji Mastan!

For two decades, he was one of the most feared gangsters, along with Karim Lala and Haji Mastan. A notorious smuggler, he had connections within the customs office.

With Vardha bhai, the era of the ‘sophisticated dons’ ended, giving rise to a more deadly version.  The 80s and 90s played out differently. There was blood, drugs, murder, rape and all kinds of criminal activities and the gangsters had grown bolder, stronger, and more well-connected.

Varadarajan Muniswami Mudaliar aka Vardhabhai

Dawood Ibrahim – Godfather of the Indian mafia

The founder of the D-Company is currently placed at number 3 on the Forbes’ World’s Top 11 deadly criminals list. He is involved and sought by the Indian authorities for his role in the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, and for being the mastermind of the 1993 Mumbai bombings.

Abu Salem – Dawood’s delivery man for arms and ammunitions

Starting his career as a taxi driver, he became a delivery boy, then a garment salesman, and finally a real estate agent. He supplied weapons to Sanjay Dutt, killed Manisha Koirala’s personal assistance, and also murdered T-Series founder, Gulshan Kumar. He was also involved in the 1993 Mumbai serial bomb blasts.


Chhota Rajan – Dawood’s nemesis!

Wanted for many criminal cases that include extortion, murder, smuggling, drug trafficking and film finance. He parted ways with Dawood Ibrahim in 1996 after the bombings and formed his own team.


Tiger Memon – Prime suspect behind 1993 Bombay Blasts

He was recently hanged for his role in the Mumbai blasts. Nicknamed ‘Tiger’ after leading the police into a car chase at a speed of over 100 km/hr across one-way roads.


Chhota Shakeel – Financing Hindi films for quite some time

He is a close aide to Dawood.

The fabric of the underworld has changed. The ruthless bad guys have been forced to tone down their criminal activities. Instead of contract killings and extortion, they have gotten involved in the corporate sector, especially real estate because of extreme Police crackdown.


About the author


Whether it’s women issues, politics or the paranormal, Rubi has an opinion on everything. Art and entertainment interest her, too. Hindu College alumni, she has written for The Hindustan Times and The Financial Express. Every now and then, she loves picking up her camera to capture life and its various shades.

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