What is a Mumbai Underworld Film?


In the early 1970s, a new genre of Indian crime films and gangster films arose, set in urban India: Bombay underworld films, later called Mumbai underworld films.

These films are often inspired by real Mumbai underworld gangsters, such as Haji Mastan, Dawood Ibrahim and D-Company.

These films are often set around Mumbai slums such as Dharavi or Juhu, and gangsters in these films often speak with a Tapori or Bombay Hindi street dialect.


The genre was pioneered by screenwriter duo Salim-Javed. They began the genre of gritty, violent, Bombay underworld crime films in the early 1970’s, with films such as Zanjeer (1973) and Deewaar (1975).

They reinterpreted the rural themes of Mehboob Khan’s Mother India (1957) and Nitin Bose’s Gunga Jumna (1961) in a contemporary urban context reflecting the socio-economic and socio-political climate of 1970s India, channelling the growing discontent and disillusionment among the masses, and unprecedented growth of slums, and dealing with themes involving urban poverty, corruption, and crime, as well as anti-establishment themes.

This resulted in their creation of the ‘angry young man’, personified by Amitabh Bachchan, who reinterpreted Dilip Kumar’s performance in Gunga Jumna in a contemporary urban context.

By the mid-1970’s, gritty, violent crime films and action films about gangsters (Bombay underworld) as well as bandits (dacoits) had become popular. The writing of Salim-Javed and acting of Amitabh Bachchan popularised the trend, with films such as Zanjeer and particularly Deewaar, a crime film inspired by Gunga Jumna that pitted “a policeman against his brother, a gang leader based on real-life smuggler Haji Mastan” portrayed by Bachchan; Deewaar was described as being “absolutely key to Indian cinema” by Danny Boyle. Along with Bachchan, other actors that rode the crest of this trend include Feroz Khan,

The popular crime films written by Salim-Javed and starring Amitabh Bachchan reflected the socio-economic and socio-political realities of 1970s India, channeling the growing popular discontent and disillusionment among the masses, and the failure of the state in ensuring their welfare and well-being, in a time when prices were rapidly rising, commodities were becoming scarce, public institutions were losing legitimacy, smugglers and gangsters were gathering political clout, and there was an unprecedented growth of slums.

The cinema of Salim-Javed and Amitabh Bachchan dealt with themes relevant to Indian society at the time, such as urban poverty in slums, corruption in society, and the Bombay underworld crime scene, and was perceived by audiences as anti-establishment, often represented by an “angry young man” protagonist, presented as a vigilante or anti-hero, with his suppressed rage giving a voice to the angst of the urban poor.

Later milestones in the genre include Ram Gopal Verma’s Satya (1998) and Company (2002), based on the D-Company, which both offered “slick, often mesmerising portrayals of the Mumbai underworld” and displayed realistic “brutality and urban violence.” Another notable film in the genre was Black Friday (2004), adapted from Hussein Zaidi’s book of the same name about the 1993 Bombay bombings.

The genre later inspired the film Slumdog Millionaire (2009), which drew inspiration from Mumbai underworld films. Its influences included Deewaar, Satya, Company, and Black Friday. 1970’s Bollywood crime films such as Deewaar and Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) also have similarities to the heroic bloodshed crime genre of 1980’s Hong Kong action cinema. Deewaar had a Hong Kong remake, The Brothers (1979), which went on to inspire John Woo’s internationally acclaimed breakthrough A Better Tomorrow (1986), which set the template for the heroic bloodshed genre in Hong Kong cinema.

Examples of the Mumbai underworld film genre:

  • Zanjeer (1973).
  • Deewaar (1975).
  • Don franchise (1978-2012).
  • Nayakan (1986).
  • Salaam Bombay! (1988).
  • Parinda (1989).
  • Baashha (1995).
  • Satya (1998).
  • Company (2002).
  • Black Friday (2004).
  • Shootout at Lokhandwala (2007).
  • Slumdog Millionaire (2008), a film inspired by Mumbai underworld films from Indian cinema.
  • Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai (2010) and Once Upon ay Time in Mumbai Dobaara! (2013).
  • Shootout at Wadala (2013) a film is about Life Of Manohar Arjun Surve (Manya Surve).
  • Raees (2017).
  • Sacred Games (2018), a Netflix-produced television series based on the Mumbai underworld.
  • K.G.F (2019).

Mafia Raj Films

  • Gangs of Wasseypur (film series).
  • Amaran (1992).

Mafia Raj refers to a criminalised nexus of government officials, elected politicians, business interests, and other entities.

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