Godfather of Dharavi: The Story of Varadarajan Mudaliar

Mumbai is known as the commercial capital of India, but it is famous for more than just its financial setup. One of the things that make it renowned is its film industry, which is filled with hustle and bustle, giving Mumbai the nickname “City of Dreams“. The other thing is the dark underworld of organized crime, referred to as the “Underworld“.

However, it is not that movies are not made elsewhere in India or that organized crime does not exist in India. But still, as soon as the name Mumbai comes up, the thought of movies and mafias comes to our mind.

Perhaps there is an unsolved connection between movies and mafias, which is why on the one hand Mumbai’s so-called Bollywood is telling stories of the underworld, while on the other hand, the world of the underworld is filled with glamour, guns, and gangs just like Bollywood movies.

This is the reason why some names have become famous in both Bollywood and the underworld, people whose lives were no less than a film story. We will tell you about such a person who was once the fearless king of Mumbai’s crime world but still people considered him a savior.

Varadarajan Mudaliar: The forgotten Underworld Don Of Mumbai

A person whose life started in a shanty but whose body was sent by a chartered plane, this was the cinematic story and larger-than-life existence of this individual, which kept the entire film industry busy in depicting his glamorous life. This person was none other than “Varadarajan Mudaliar“, also known as Vardhabhai.

NameVaradarajan Munniswami Mudaliar
Born 9 October 1926
Death2 January 1988
OccupationHard Core Criminal
Death Reason Heart Attack
Age61 Years
ChildsMohan Mudaliar, Jayaram Mudaliar, Mahalakshmi Mudaliar

Varadarajan, who once ruled over the entire city of Mumbai, can be estimated for his popularity by the fact that India’s renowned and critically acclaimed film director Mani Ratnam had made a film(Nayakan) about Vardarajan’s life, which included one of India’s most famous artists, Kamal Haasan.

This film, which was released on the day of Diwali in 1987, not only achieved commercial success at the box office but also earned Kamal Hassan the National Film Award for Best Actor.

After this, in 1988, the Hindi movie Dayavan was released, followed by the 1991 Malayalam film Abhimanyu, 2007’s Thottal Poo Malarum, the super hit Hindi film Once Upon a Time in Mumbai in 2010, and the character of Varadarajan Mudliar was repeatedly played in many films thereafter.

Year Movie Name Actor
1983Ardh SatyaSadashiv Amrapurkar
1984MashaalAmrish Puri
1987NayakanKamal Haasan
1988DayavanVinod Khanna
1998InterviewAmitabh Bachchan
2007Thottal Poo MalarumRajkiran
2010Once Upon Time In MumbaiRavi Khanvilkar
2015Yagavarayinum Naa KaakkaMithun Chakraborty

Now the question arises, what was so special about Varadarajan Mudaliar? How is it that some people considered him a Robinhood despite being labeled a criminal in police files? So let’s try to find the answers to these questions in the pages of Varadarajan Mudaliar aka Vardha Bhai’s life.

The Rise of Varadarajan Mudaliar

To say the story of Varadarajan begins in Tamil Nadu, about 1500 km away from Mumbai, when he was born on 9th October 1926 in Tuticorin. However, the first chapter of this story was written in 1945 when Varadarajan took his first step towards work in Mumbai.

Upon arriving in Mumbai, Varadarajan started working as a porter at the Bombay VT Station, which is now known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT).

Even though he was poor at the time, Varadarajan used to feed the poor at the nearby Baba Bismillah Shah Dargah, located near the VT Station. As a result, many people who were living in the slums of Dharavi came to know Varadarajan’s name from the beginning.

In the early 1950s, the government of Morarji Desai imposed a ban on liquor in the state, leading to an increase in illegal alcohol and smuggling activities. Meanwhile, Varadarajan met with some liquor smugglers and was shown a way to make quick money, fueling his dream of becoming a big shot from Madras to Mumbai. It was from here that he took his first step into the dark world of crime.

Varadarajan started with transporting liquor and began to take liquor from one place to another for other dealers, avoiding the police. At that time, Muthu was the king of the entire bootlegging business, but due to illness, when Muthu took semi-retirement, Varadarajan took over all of Muthu’s legal liquor trade business.

Not only that, but Varadarajan also formed his gang with Thomas Kurian and went straight into the business of liquor manufacturing and selling.

In those days, people used to call Varadarajan’s gang “Madrasi gagbaz“, while on the other hand, by the time 1955 came, Haji Mastan had established himself in the Mumbai underworld. During that time, he established a large network of gold smuggling with the help of the Bakhia Brothers.

Along with this, Haji Mastan had also gained a good hold among smugglers working on the docks and maritime borders, but by now he had realized that he would need reliable muscle power along with money and smugglers on rent to rule over Mumbai, and this search led him to Varadarajan.

Here we would like to inform you that Haji Mastan, like Varadarajan, also came to Mumbai from Tamil Nadu. Famous investigative journalist Hussain Zaidi writes in his book “Dongri To Dubai” about an interesting story of the first meeting between Haji Mastan and Varadarajan.

Varadarajan was involved in small-time illegal activities at the customs dock those days. In this regard, he was once arrested by the police for stealing an antenna. The police questioned Varadarajan for several days about the location of the antenna and other stolen goods, but he did not utter a word.

When Haji Mastan heard about this incident, he immediately instructed his people to gather information about Varadarajan and they found out that despite being involved in criminal activities, Varadarajan’s hold in the big Tamil population living in Mumbai is quite strong.

In such a situation, Haji Mastan himself went to the police station located in the dockyard to meet the Varadarajan. These days, Haji Mastan was a big personality for Mumbai, who had a separate status among the police. People used to recognize Haji Mastan from his white clothes to his shiny car from a distance. In such a situation, for someone else, Haji Mastan coming to the police station was a big deal.

Anyway, when Haji Mastan reached the police station, he went to the custody of Varadarajan and greeted him in Tamil by gesturing “Vanakkam Thalaivar“. As soon as Varadarajan heard this, he was shocked because like everyone else, he also recognized Haji Mastan, and hearing the phrase “Vanakkam Thalaivar” in Tamil from him was a big deal because in the Tamil language.

this word is used for a commander or chief, and this is exactly why Haji Mastan invited Varadarajan to join his gold smuggling business, which Varadarajan accepted. Not only that, Haji Mastan arranged a deal between Varadarajan and the police and got him out of jail.

In reality, Varadarajan himself wanted to do this work, but in those days, without Haji Mastan’s permission, even the Mumbai underworld did not move. In such a situation, when Haji Mastan himself offered Varadarajan to do this work for him,

There was no reason for him to refuse, and that’s how the trio of Haji Mastan, Kareem Lala, and Varadarajan started, which ruled the streets of Mumbai together for a decade and a half, during this time, Varadarajan added a chapter to his stories to the history of Mumbai’s underworld.

The Vardha Rule

During the 1960s and 70s, throughout Mumbai, Haji Mastan, Karim Lala, and Varadarajan were well-known figures. All three knew that no one individual could rule over such a large city alone. Therefore, they divided Mumbai into three parts. Karim Lala was in charge of South Mumbai, while Central Mumbai, where most smuggling and legal construction financing activities took place, was under the control of Haji Mastan.

During the dominance of Varadarajan in East and North Central Mumbai, he diversified his illegal activities from dock cargo theft to contract killing and narcotics, among others. As a result of dividing Mumbai into different territories, there was no disagreement within the Mumbai underworld from the 1960s to the early 1980s.

The unwritten rule among these three was that nobody would trespass into each other’s territory, nor would they get involved in any kind of gang war or violence with each other.

Haji Mastan, Kareem Lala, and Varadarajan Mudaliar all had the backing of their respective communities, especially Varadarajan had such a status among the Tamil community that he had established his parallel judiciary in Matunga and Dharavi, where his decisions were like the law of the land. In this way, he would resolve every problem of the people here, big or small, with his court.

Varadarajan used to spend a part of his black income on the poor people of Matunga and Dharavi, and most people knew him for his journey from VT Station to become the don of Mumbai, and they also called him Kal Babu. In this way, Vardarajan was like a messiah for the poor people living here, who supported them in every need and trouble.

Some people considered Varadarajan Mudaliar as the first Hindu Underworld Don of Mumbai, which is why his dominance had become so strong during this period that even the police avoided confronting him. In the future, there was a time when Varadarajan’s picture began appearing on the cover of Mumbai’s magazine.

In those days, while explaining Varadarajan’s influence, Hussain Zaidi narrates in his book “Dongri To Dubai” that whenever Varadarajan had to meet a police officer, a glass of Black Label would first be sent to that officer’s table, which made it clear to everyone that Varadarajan was coming to the police station. And whenever this happened, the entire police station was emptied except for the police officer at that table.

The situation of Varadarajan’s influence was such that even the police were afraid to enter his area without his permission.

Here we tell you that this was a time when resources, under the guise of illegal trade and black money, used to flow more towards these so-called Dons of the underworld than the police.

Local politicians also danced to their tunes, thanks to their unlimited dishonest money. Those who could be bought were purchased by the police and those who couldn’t be bought were silenced with political support.

However, despite being in jail from 1974 to 1977 under the Defence of India Rules (DIR), Varadarajan could not be proven guilty of any criminal charges against him due to his political backing and local influence.

You can estimate Varadarajan’s position during that time from the fact that, according to reports from the Times of India, the inauguration of one of the many temples built by Varadarajan on public land in Sion Koliwada was performed by the wife of a state chief minister.

Even in May 1983, when Varadarajan’s daughter got married in Madras, Tamil Nadu, the ex-chief minister of Tamil Nadu and a famous actor of the country, M G Ramachandran, along with his wife, participated in the wedding ceremony with other renowned personalities of the country.

Varadarajan also published photographs taken with M G Ramachandran during the ceremony as a paid advertisement in the Indian Express newspaper.

Varadarajan used to set up a Ganpati Pandal every year on government land right in front of the Bombay VT Station during the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi. During those days, this Pandal became one of the biggest Ganpati Pandals in Mumbai. Big names from the film industry and the political world used to participate in this stall. However, all this glitter was just a cover-up for Varadarajan’s shady activities.

The Setting Sun Of Vardarajan Mudaliar

Hidden between larger-than-life public appearances and glamour, Vardarajan was a hardcore criminal. In 1984, the COFEPOSA (Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling) Board recommended his detention in smuggling cases amounting to 47.66 lakhs.

Under the guise of social service, smuggling, and kidnapping was being carried out through an ambulance operated by Varadarajan. As a result, two of Varadarajan’s non-associates, Thomas Kurien aka Khaja Bhai, and Mohinder Singh Vig aka Soma, were also arrested. However, despite so much evidence, Varadarajan managed to evade police capture every time due to his political backing.

Despite the recommendation of Cofeposa, the state home ministry has imposed a ban on any action against him. They argued that the evidence against Varadarajan was not sufficient for detention, despite all the evidence that was found against him.

But this wasn’t the first incident where the police had to let Varadarajan go due to lack of evidence or political interference. Before this, in 1983, Varadarajan was also let go in a smuggling case from Polish Ship, Portoroz, after paying only a fine of 1 million rupees.

Despite the presence of evidence in the Maguli smuggling case, Varadarajan managed to escape the clutches of the police, but how long will his empire of illicit activities continue? Soon, Varadarajan, who considered himself a lion, met his match and was finally caught, and uprooted from Mumbai.

In the 1980s, amidst the increasing raids conducted by the police against Vardarajan, a name emerged quickly – that of police officer Y C Pawar, who targeted Varadarajan and his gang directly without caring about political interference.

As time went by, Y C Pawar’s effective plans gradually wiped out the entire gang of Varadarajan, with most of his gang members either being imprisoned or eliminated in police shootouts. This was the first time Varadarajan had suffered such a blow in his nearly 30-year-long black business career. As a result, Varadarajan, who used to send a glass of black liquor to the police station to announce his arrival, was left helpless and had to give up his illegal activities.

By the mid-80s, the police had tightened their grip on Varadarajan to such an extent that he had to flee Mumbai and return to Tamil Nadu, where he suffered a heart attack on January 2, 1988, which resulted in his death.

Haji Mastan, who had been Varadarajan’s longtime associate for over 30 years, arranged for Varadarajan’s body to be flown on Indian Airlines for his final rites in Mumbai, as per his promise. The procession included residents of Dharavi, Matunga, and Sion Koliwada to join in his funeral procession.

It ended like this for this don in Mumbai, who was a criminal for some and a savior for others.


Although many films were made about Varadarajan after his death, and even though Mani Ratnam himself went to Chennai to meet Varadarajan to complete his story, and even though his life may seem glamorous and larger than life when viewed from the outside, the unchanging truth among all of these is that Varadarajan Mudaliar used his earnings from his illicit activities in charity work.

Taking the support of unethical means to achieve a noble goal is neither right nor moral, as good fruits never grow on the tree of evil.


Who was Varadarajan Mudaliar?

Varadarajan Mudaliar, also known as Vardha Bhai, was a notorious Indian gangster and underworld don who operated in Mumbai during the 1960s and 70s.

What is the Death Reason of Varadarajan Mudaliar ?

By the mid 80s, the police had tightened their grip on Varadarajan to such an extent that he had to flee Mumbai and return to Tamil Nadu, where he suffered a heart attack on January 2, 1988, which resulted in his death.

What is The Birth Date of Varadarajan Mudaliar?

9 October 1926

What was the downfall of Varadarajan Mudaliar?

Varadarajan Mudaliar’s downfall began when he was arrested in 1982 for smuggling gold. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and his criminal empire started to crumble. After his release, he tried to regain his power, but he was never able to regain the same level of influence that he once had.

What is the Age of Varadarajan Mudaliar?

61 Years (1926-1988)

What is The Name of Varadarajan’s Daughter ?

Mahalakshmi Mudaliar

What is the Name of Varadarajan’s Sons?

Mohan Mudaliar, Jayaram Mudaliar

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