Shoulder: Gangubai Kathiawadi may be a Bollywood gangster flick, but it is another film based on journalist Hussain Zaidi’s books!
Hussain Zaidi – remember the name! The renowned Indian crime reporter is not only popular in his home country but also across the world, because of his books related to the Indian underworld. Be it Black Friday which revolved around the 1990s Mumbai attacks or Dongri to Dubai which chronicled the rise of the Indian gangsters, every book of his has done well whenever it has been published.
Not many know but Alia Bhatt’s latest flick Gangubai Khatiawadi is based on a chapter from Hussain Zaidi’s book Mafia Queens of Mumbai: Stories of Women from the Ganglands and had it not been for his book, director Sanjay Leela Bhansali might not have been able to conceive the film. This isn’t the first time the writer’s work has been turned into a film. His nonfiction books have inspired as many as four Indian films (including Gangubai Khatiawadi) while one fiction novel (Phantom) was so forgetful that only a few remember it.
What were the names of the books by the prolific author, that inspired Bollywood flicks and are still in everyone’s memory, let’s try to find out by diving into the world of crime, gangsters, and politics, the Hussain Zaidi way!
Black Friday, 2004
Based on: Black Friday: The True Story of the Bombay Bomb Blasts (2002)
Cast: Kay Kay Menon, Aditya Srivastava, Pavan Malhotra, Kishor Kadam, Zakir Hussain, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Murali Sharma
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Description: Long before Gangs of Wasseypur, Sacred Games, or Mirzapur made Indian gangsters famous, there was Hussain Zaidi’s Black Friday: The True Story of the Bombay Bomb Blasts which made the readers realize that there was more to the 1993 Mumbai blasts (then Bombay blasts) than meets the eye. Although the book was published in 2002 and the film was completed in 2004, it wasn’t released until 2007 due to pending court cases involving some of the characters mentioned in the book.
The film featured Kay Kay Menon, Aditya Srivastava, Pavan Malhotra, Kishor Kadam, Zakir Hussain, and Nawazuddin Siddiqui and was released in India five years after the book’s publication. It not only gave the visual to Hussain Zaidi’s book but also helped the audience understand how things work in the underworld, something they had no clue about despite hearing about it. Even after 15 years, the film remains one of the best adaptations from a book to a film and must be watched by everyone who has an interest in history, or the underworld.
Shootout At Wadala, 2013
Based on: Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia (2012)
Cast: John Abraham, Anil Kapoor, Kangana Ranaut, Sonu Sood, Manoj Bajpayee, Ronit Roy, Mahesh Manjrekar, Tusshar Kapoor,
Director: Sanjay Gupta
Description: Although the first film in the Shootout series Shootout at Lokhandwala was released five years prior to the publication of Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia, the readers’ interest grew in both Shootout at Lokhandwala and Shootout at Wadala after going through the entire book. It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that had it not been for this Hussain Zaidi book, people would have treated Sanjay Gupta’s films as one-off movies, rather than a historically accurate depiction of real-life incidents.
While the book traces the evolution of the Mumbai mafia from a group of thugs and smugglers to the present-day mafia dons of organized crime, the film helps in bringing the pages to life. John Abraham plays Manya Surve while Anil Kapoor is ACP Afaaque Baaghran (based on real-life cop Isaque Bagwan) who are indulged in a cat and mouse chase that ends in the death of the former. But not before he has narrated the story of his life to the latter, and made the viewers realize that every gangster isn’t born a bad man, but becomes one when life throws challenges at him.
Based on: Mumbai Avengers (with Gabriel Khan)
Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Katrina Kaif, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Sabyasachi Chakrabarty
Director: Kabir Khan
Description: This was Hussain Zaidi’s first nonfiction book that was made into a film in the same year as its publication, but didn’t appeal to the readers and the audience across the border as well as in India. It was as if the writer wanted to cash his popularity and make something that only appeased his readers in India, without realizing that many of his fans were not Indians. It revolved around a fictional mission where Indian spies were sent to Pakistan to avenge the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Although the idea seemed original, it was heavily inspired by George Jonas Vengeance, which details the Israeli government’s mission to avenge the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics.
Hussain Zaidi followed this flick with two anti-Pakistan films as well but none was able to get a screening on this side of the border. Even though the OTT platform – Zee 5 – behind the outrageous London Confidential and Lahore Confidential denies that these films weren’t the reason why Zee 5 was banned in Pakistan, their presence on the platform was clearly one of the reasons. Had the OTT platform distanced itself from these two films, Zee 5 might have captured the Pakistani market where there is a dearth of quality OTT platforms.
Class Of ’83, 2020
Based on: The Class of 83: The Punishers of Mumbai Police (2019)
Cast: Bobby Deol, Geetika Tyagi, Anup Soni, Joy Sengupta, Vishwajeet Pradhan
Director: Atul Sabharwal
Description: After reading the Hussain Zaidi book, and watching the Bobby Deol flick in a span of one day, what really hit me hard was that the film wasn’t an adaptation of the book, but something that was inspired by it. Set in the 1980’s Bombay (now Mumbai), Class of ‘83 revolves around Vijay Singh (Bobby Deol) who is transferred to a Police Academy as a punishment post, but for no fault of his own. He decides to use this opportunity to groom a few youngsters for a ‘project’ he had in his mind and trained them in such a manner that when they went out on the streets of Bombay, they became encounter specialists.
Bobby Deol gave the performance of a down-and-out cop who forgot that his rigorous training could affect the minds of young policemen, and that’s exactly what it did. The film changes gears when one of the five cops loses his life and the rest come back to their mentor to finish what they started. How they changed the way cops were perceived in Bombay is what makes this flick a must-watch, even if it isn’t exactly what Hussain Zaidi’s fans were expecting.
Gangubai Kathiawadi, 2022
Based on: Mafia Queens of Mumbai: Stories of women from the Ganglands (2011)
Cast: Alia Bhatt, Shantanu Maheshwari, Vijay Raaz, Indira Tiwari, Seema Pahwa
Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
Description: Although Mafia Queens of Mumbai: Stories of women from the Ganglands was Hussain Zaidi’s second book – with original research by reporter Jane Borges – it came nine years after his first book. Here he talks about as many as 13 female gangsters in Bombay (now Mumbai) who came from different backgrounds but became involved in various criminal activities. Bollywood director Sanjay Leela Bhansali used just one story from that book – with additional help from other Hussain Zaidi books – to come up with Gangubai Kathiawadi which chronicles the rise of a simple girl from Kathiawad, who had no choice left but to become a prostitute in order to survive in Bombay (now Mumbai).
Both the book and the film show the evolution of Ganga from a young girl who marries her lover at sixteen to Ganga who goes on to be known as Maa in the brothel community. Her foray into politics where she won, her famous meeting with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru regarding the rights of women and sex workers as well as her relationship with Rahim Lala (based on real-life Karim Lala) are depicted on screen, with the help of the text provided in the book. The real Gangubai might not have been a gangster per se, but she was involved in peddling drugs, had people killed by her goons, and her hold on her folks was so strong that after her death, her photos and statues were erected in brothels of her area.