We look at the underworld with multiple fears. Fear of death, fear of extortion, kidnapping, maiming etc. We are okay with reading about the Dons of this world, its fascinating to hear about them on television, the gang wars, the street fights, the killing! So long as we are invisible to them, we ‘re ok. It is neither wise to be friendly with them, nor sensible to rub them the wrong way! Keep your distance, would be my advice.
Haji Mastan, though, is a different story from a different era. He was a gangster who made his millions through smuggling, but did not kill anyone in the process. He valued life, and it didn’t need to be wasted for something as simple as smuggling. His heart was extra-large when it came to the poor and the underprivileged. He was more like an ‘ethical don’, with moral principles that governed his business of smuggling gold from Dubai to Mumbai and other parts in the 70s.
Popularly known as Sultan Mirza, Haji Mastan was the undisputed ‘Don’ of the underworld. He was inherently a social worker, deeply in love with Mumbai. His charitable deeds can still find mention in the poor regions of Mumbai, where Haji Mastan left a kind imprint.
The likes of modern-day gangsters – Dawood Ibrahim, Chhota Rajan, Chhota Shakeel, Arun Gowli – were all trained by Haji Mastan. He laid the foundation for them, but he never could have imagined the monsters his students turned into. He taught them the nitty-gritties of international smuggling, a craft he was a master at. He sharpened their minds with brainstorming exercises on ingenious methods of smuggling. He always asked them to stay away from ending human lives, through drugs, guns or any other means.
Responsible for hundreds of deaths, collectively, they were the mutants of his class. Dawood Ibrahim, Chhota Rajan, and Chhota Shakeel have built their empires through fear of death. Their lieutenants did the actual killings.
Dawood Ibrahim’s father was a PSI at a police station and helped Haji Mastan escape prison many times. He did so because he believed Haji was a generous, compassionate soul. The experiences he gathered in jail helped him transform into a more righteous person. He had learned Hindi in the prison and quickly began doing his bit for the society. He was a reformed man and a mentor to many reform-oriented youths.
Haji Mastan was the first celebrity-gangster of Mumbai, the real deal! He was a successful distributor and made a deep impact in the cinema business. He began to produce films himself as his influence in Bollywood grew with time. He even planned foray into films, with a project titled Mere Garib Nawaz, followed by other movies. He had excellent relations with Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Shashi Kapoor, Sanjeev Kumar and many others. Haji Mastan was instrumental in helping Parveen Babi and Helen re-enter the film Industry. Amitabh Bachchan, Salim Khan, Dharmendra, and almost all the celebrities used his experience and wisdom to solve their issues. Haji Mastan was always happy to help. Few of the Bollywood movies are also inspired by him like Deewar, starring Amitabh Bacchan and Once upon a time in Mumbai, starring Ajay Devgan.
Haji Mastan fell madly in love with the famous Bollywood actress, Sona, and married her. He adored her so much that he even financed a few movies for her, and gifted her a bungalow situated near actor Dev Anand’s house, in Juhu.
After leaving smuggling behind, Haji Mastan entered politics and floated ‘Laghumati Muslim Dal’. He owned a huge mansion in the posh locality off Peddar Road, opposite Sophia College. Interestingly, he virtually lived his life in a small room built on the terrace of his bungalow. He used to travel in a white Mercedes Benz, which was a status symbol in those days. Despite having millions through smuggling gold, silver and electronic goods, he left it, floated his political party and devoted time to holding periodic meetings with the poor. He joined hands with anti-drug abuse activists like Dr. Yusuf Merchant and implored the youth to stay away from killer drugs.
They don’t make Dons like Haji Mastan anymore. Haji Mastan died in 1994 on 9th May, because of cancer.