In January this year, police officers monitoring a murder case stumbled upon a gangster's phone conversation. He was sorting out a family dispute over a multi-crore property in the central suburbs.
His intervention would earn him a considerable amount of money, and ensure that he doesn't have resort to extortion or bloodshed.
"If a gangster manages to solve a Rs100-crore dispute, he gets a minimum 10% of the property value. This way he does not need to indulge in petty crime," said a police officer.
After a bloody decade in the '90s, the fabric of the underworld changed. The ruthless and brash gangsters who had replaced the old dons and their ‘work ethics', toned down their activities. Instead of contract killings and extortion, they got involved in the corporate sector, especially real estate.
The new generation of gangsters took over the reins in the 1990s from the likes of Karim Lala, Haji Mastan and Vardharajan Mudaliar, who had built their empires based on trust and mutual respect.
This marked an end of an era of the ‘sophisticated dons', and the beginning of a ruthless and brash brand of gangsters who had to be cut to size with equal ruthlessness.
If the Pathan gang was blood thirsty, they met their match in Dawood Ibrahim, son of a constable. The first blow was struck by the Pathans when Samad Khan killed Dawood's brother Shabir.
But Dawood had the last laugh. He planned out strikes against Samad and Amirzada and killed them. Alamzeb was killed in a police encounter in Gujarat.
This was the start of the change in the underworld. It was also the beginning of corporate underworld, where people would keep guns in their drawer and earn money through investments, said crime branch officials.
Dawood, unlike other gangsters, ensured that his men were carefully chosen. A trait his aide-turned-arch rival Chhota Rajan inherited. "The men they chose in the '80s and '90s showed unflinching loyalty, and were willing to die for them. Especially because these gangsters took care of their men and families," said a crime branch officer.
But the bloodbath on the streets of Mumbai in the 1990s with gangs wresting for control, the rivalry between Dawood and Rajan, saw the Mumbai police unleash the encounter squad.
One by one the sharpshooters were chased down and killed. The police's crackdown saw the gangsters call for peace, and even divide their area of operation.
This, however, didn't put an end to them targeting the rich and famous. In 1997, producer Gulshan Kumar was killed. Later in 1998, six Sena workers were killed in mafia attacks, and two attempts were made on the life of Mumbai's former mayor Milind Vaidya in 1998 and 1999.
From 1995, the incidents of gang-related violence rose four-fold by 1998. This made the state enact the stringent MCOCA, which helped the police decimate the underworld's control to a large extent.
The crackdown saw the gangs spill over to Thane and Navi Mumbai, and also to the districts of Pune and Nashik. Also, it forced gangsters to get into agreements to keep their activities alive.
A large part of the plot was given out with the arrest of gangster Santosh Shetty in 2011. He had bared Dawood's plot to cut Chhota Rajan to size.
Police now believes there would have been an understanding between Dawood and Ashwin Naik to control the realms of Arun Gawli, who has been in prison since 2008. "In the underworld, there are no permanent friends or enemies. They work on the belief that an enemy's enemy is a friend," said a senior police officer, monitoring the underworld.
Except for the strained Dawood–Chhota Rajan relationship, today the underworld thrives on such understandings. There are hardly any killings and the extortion rates have gone down, the police said. "Gangsters know that gunrunning and extortion will not help them sustain. They have trained their guns on the real estate market," said an officer.