REVIEW: Mumbai Mafia – Police vs The Underworld (2023 – Documentary)

PHOTO: Netflix.

Directed by Raaghav Dar and Francis Longhurst.

To kick off the new year, you would expect that Netflix had a major 2023 film to release. Not so. Instead, their first major release of 2023, The Pale Blue Eye (review coming soon), is technically a very late 2022 film. But since they have released a new documentary straight to Netflix that I believe to be a 2023 release, I thought I would review it to get the 2023 list off and running. So, here we have Raaghav Dar and Francis Longhurst’s Mumbai Mafia: Police vs The Underworld, which, as you can probably guess, is the kind of documentary that gives the basic premise away right there in the title. 

The film chronicles the criminal underworld and how law enforcement tried to bring order to the streets of Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) in the 1990s. It features talking head interviews with former police officers, former crime syndicate (D-Company) members, journalists, and the former neighbor of Dawood Ibrahim, an infamous Indian gangster. Outside of interviews, it also features plenty of stock footage like images of Mumbai, a flashy title sequence, and lightly stylized slow-motion re-enactments of “encounters” between criminals and police officers in the organized crime capital of the country. 

I can’t say that I knew a lot about the story beforehand, and so, initially, I was worried that this was going to be a hagiographic account of the police and nothing more. It isn’t that. Thirty minutes, or so, into the relatively brief 90-minute ish runtime, the age-old question “can the police be trusted?” is asked. And suddenly the narrative shifts from a focus on a crime syndicate’s extortion of local businesses and how the mafia was so ubiquitous that it even dictated the terms for moviemaking to being about how these law enforcement officers misused their power as they claimed to “cleanse the streets,” as so-called encounter cops. These encounter cops were celebrated by the media, who had running tallies of how many criminals they had killed (some cops supposedly even had movies made about them). It wasn’t until a TIME reporter started asking questions that the misuse of power was widely criticized. 

Mumbai Mafia: Police vs the Underworld is primarily a by-the-numbers documentary that chronicles how the pendulum swung back too much and made criminals of the law enforcement that had initially set out to merely rid the streets of a controlling and dangerous crime syndicate. It did teach me a thing or two about what happened in Mumbai back in the day, but, even though it does have certain important interview subjects (namely the relevant encounter cops, including Pradeep Sharma), I’m not sure it managed to do more than give a somewhat superficial overview. Still, it should be said that it is relatively informative and that it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

6 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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