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Updated: September 13, 2010 19:34 IST

The world of underworld

Rana Siddiqui Zaman
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Author Aabid Surti. Photo: Special arrangement
The Hindu
Author Aabid Surti. Photo: Special arrangement

Aabid Surti's “Sufi – the Invisible Man of the Underworld” gives an insightful account of Mumbai's underworld

The success of the recently released Once Upon A Time in Mumbai is still fresh in our minds. What made it impressive was the story behind the making of the smugglers of Bombay of the 1970s — now called underworld dons. The era of the '70s saw the height of gold smuggling, and names like Haji Mastan, Karim Lala, Yusuf Patel and Vardabhai emerged as famous gangsters.

Aabid Surti's “Sufi – The Invisible Man of the Underworld”, just published by Diamond Pocket Books, compassionately tells the story of the making of Mumbai's organised crime world.

“Sufi…” is actually a biography that the 78-year-old author prefers to call a ‘jugalbandi' with Iqbal Rupani (alias Sufi) — a dreaded name in the Bombay underworld but a devout Muslim. Both grew up in the dark alleys of Dongri — the centre of smuggling activities in the '70s — and saw “how people like Haji Mastan, Karim Lala, Yusuf Patel and other dons progressed step-by-step and how poor Muslims turned to crime, apart from the nexus between politicians and criminals,” says the author. The 410-page book covers the period between 1935 and 1965 and “all the characters and their names are true”, he asserts. ”I am aware of that life as I have grown up in that ghetto where I have seen Karim Lala as the supreme don, Haji Mastan moving up the ladder and Dawood Ibrahim playing gulli-danda with other kids,” says Surti who, like the above mentioned names came from an extremely poor family who could barely manage two meals a day.

If Sufi chose smuggling to achieve a comfortable life, Surti met some intellectuals and artists while in school that changed the course of his life. To manage his college fees, Surti joined the film industry as a spot boy with Shakti Samanta. “But he soon realised that I was not an ordinary, uneducated boy. Within six months he gave me the post of assistant director and I wrote the script for Singapore (Shammi Kapoor/Asha Parekh).” The film became a hit, and soon Surti joined director Mushtaq Jalili for whom he wrote scripts that turned into hit films like Dhool Ka Phool, Ek Phool Do Mali and Avatar among others, in the following years. But it was Raj Kapoor with whom he was associated for over 20 years.

Recalls the creator of India's first super hero Bahadur, who appeared in the “Indrajaal” comics of the 1970s-80s, “Raj Kapoor read my ‘Inspector Azad', a serialised comic strip in The Illustrated Weekly of India, and called me to join him. In the first meeting itself, he gave me the whole story of Inspector Azad and said, ‘If that's what's your story is going to be, I would like to make a film on it'.” Circumstances combined to ensure the proposed film never took off, despite Surti's long association with the doyen. AagBobbyPrem RogRam Teri Ganga Maili

Another famous cartoon character created by Surti is Dabbuji, who appeared in a comic strip in Dharamyug magazine Surti has just finished making a documentary on Gowandi — Mumbai's dumping ground where people live in inhuman conditions.

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