In a house full of killers, it’s hard to keep your hands off blood. But the story of how Haji Mastan, the most notorious mobster of India, built his empire will surprise you. Born on 1926 in the coastal town of Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu in a poor family, Mastan moved to Mumbai at the age of 8. He worked with his father at his cycle repair shop where they barely made enough money to feed the family. As the Mumbai’s richest whizzed past him in luxury cars, he knew he had to break out of his circumstances.
In 1944, he started working at the Bombay docks as a porter. After building strong ties with the local police and authorities, he helped people smuggle gold biscuits and other electronics items.
“Mastan was ethically so strong that he returned a gold biscuit to the person whom he helped smuggling it, 3 years after that person was released from the prison for smuggling that biscuit.“
At the docks, he later met a fisherman-turned-smuggler Sukur Narayan Bakhia and together, they rose to become kings of smuggling. Soon after, he met Karim Lala, who would later become his mentor. With no daring rivals, Karim Lala as his mentor, and the police in his corner, he created a smuggling empire that was unchallenged for over 20 years.
Come the 1960’s, and Mastan was an unrivalled millionaire don of Mumbai.
“Mastan’s political clout was so dense that at a point in time, he was beyond any law whatsoever.“
While Mastan’s rivals dreaded him, a large number of people considered him a Robin Hood in disguise – the mafia king who would steal from the rich and give it to the poor.
“Mastan never ever killed a single person throughout his time as the don of the Mumbai underworld.“
Though it’s pretty obvious, he would have made his hitmen do the dirty job, nowhere in documented history, has a single murder case been registered in his name.
With millions at his disposal, Mastan turned towards his childhood fantasy—Bollywood. While he already enjoyed a feared stature in Mumbai, financing movies came easy to him. His humble personality made him friends with the likes of Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Dharmendra, Firoze Khan and even Sanjeev Kumar.
“He loved designer suits and had a Mercedes Benz decked with a television and radio.“
Amitabh Bachhan met Mastan personally for the former’s smash hit portrayal of Mastan in ‘Deewar’. While movies financed by him bombed at the box office, he still rose to the status of a celebrity. Matter of fact, to the status of a ‘Celebrity Gangster’.
Then came into effect the infamous emergency of 1975-77, and he was imprisoned. After 18 months of incarceration, Mastan surrendered to Janata Party leader Jayprakash Narayan. In the 70s, to move past his infamy, he turned into a haji and went on a social reform overdrive. He used his money and influence as much as he could to help the poor.
“There used to be a queue in front of his bungalow every day for food.“
To further get rid of his ‘smuggler image’, Mastan decided to reinvent himself into a Muslim leader in 1984, and formed Dalit Muslim Surakhsha Maha Sangh in 1985. He enjoyed a massive Muslim following. But little did he know that god had already written his destiny and he could never actually become a politician or a producer. People loved him as an underworld godfather who would serve the poor. Contrary to popular belief, Haji Mastan died of a heart attack, and wasn’t shot dead by his protégé Dawood Ibrahim.