The Original Matka King of India

The life of Ratan Khatri – the original Matka King and the man behind the massive nationwide popularity of the lottery-based betting game – is no less than a fascinating Bollywood potboiler.

He belonged to a time when Mumbai was still Bombay. From the early 1960s to the mid-1990s, he ruled the roost as the undisputed owner of an illegal Matka gambling nexus that ran pan-India and remained unshaken for decades.

During this period, Khatri raked in insane moolah as he successfully turned a dinky hobby horse of the mill workers’ into one of the biggest betting rackets in India. In his hands laid the fate and hopes of lakhs of punters who feared and revered him all the same.

From a migrant teenager doing odd jobs to becoming the Matka behemoth of the nation – his meteoric rise would either amaze you or make your hackles rise. There’s no middle ground.

Satta King Ratan Khatri

Don't miss out on: Matka Gambling in India: An Introduction

1. He Was Originally From Karachi, Pakistan

Ratan Khatri was born to a Sindhi family (of Momedain) in Karachi, Pakistan (erstwhile British India). He moved to Maharashtra during the 1947 partition as a teenage refugee.

For a while, he lived in Ulhasnagar – a city that homed the largest settlement of Sindhi migrants in the State’s Thane district. Later, he shifted to Mumbai and permanently settled at his home in Navjeevan Society in the city’s Central area.

According to his contemporaries, Khatri was a simple and humble man often dressed in a white kurta, pajama, and black chappals. More often than not, he would have a scarf tied around his head – a signature style he maintained till his death.

Whether he was walking the streets or hopping onto Mumbai’s BEST buses or riding a Kaali-Peeli, his get-up and demeanor helped him effortlessly blend with the working masses of the bustling city.

Perhaps that was the reason very few held him accountable and blamed fate instead when they lost money in Matka even when everyone knew he was jaywalking.

Ratan Khatri was rightfully counted in the league of gangsters Haji Mastan, Karim Lala, Varadarajan Mudaliar, and Yusuf Pathan who ran illegal activities in Mumbai.

2. He Used to Assist Kalyanji Bhagat – the First Matka Business Owner of Mumbai

Khatri took to having a flutter at a tender age in the 1960s. He would try his luck with small bets of ₹10, ₹20, and even ₹50 on special days. Soon, he was found by Kalyanji Gala Bhagat, who had birthed the very popular Worli Matka.

His game had caught on within just a month of being initiated in 1962. Bhagat was contacted by around 50 bookies from Zaveri Bazaar who wanted him to run the Matka in the betting market. However, he franchised his invention to only Khatri, who was working as a retailer in the betting market.

Bhagat laid just one condition – the name of the lottery will remain Worli Matka. Thus, before becoming the invincible Matka King, Ratan Khatri assisted the great Kalyanji Bhagat and managed his Matka business in Mumbai.

But after learning the tricks of the trade, he decided to part ways in 1964. Eventually, he set up with own Matka business on Dhanji Street in Mumbadevi attracting players who were placing bets on the cotton rates exchanged between the New York Cotton Exchange and Bombay Cotton Exchange.

Khatri came up with the New Worli Matka – a betting syndicate based on Bhagat’s idea that soon turned out to be a fantastic money-spinner. This new Matka gambling game was more transparent and hence, more successful than Worli Matka.

In fact, at times the daily turnover from it would reach as high as ₹1 crore. The New Worli matka turned so popular it was eventually renamed Ratan Matka and later Main Ratan Matka. Punters continued going gaga over it until the Mumbai Police’s crackdown in the 1990s.

3. He Started His Own Syndicate at the Behest of His Friends

Khatri’s decision to snap ties with Bhagat and start his own Matka syndicate wasn’t entirely his own.

In a short span of time, he had formed a network stronger than Bhagat’s. He was more popular among Matka patrons and his influence more impactful. Noting his popularity, his friends egged him on to fly solo and start a new business.

However, despite the duo being competitors, the relations between them remained unrattled until Indira Gandhi declared the Emergency in 1975.

During this time, Matka operators as well as bookies, including Ratan Khatri were imprisoned. Kalyanji Bhagat, using his contacts and ill health as an excuse, managed to stay out of the legal soup.

Khatri, who was banking on Bhagat to bail him out, was disappointed big time. Thereon, the relations between them soured and were never restored.

4. Patrons Considered His Matka Game More Authentic Than Bhagat’s

According to Matka patrons, Khatri’s Ratan Matka was more genuine than Bhagat’s Worli Matka even though the latter ran every day whereas the former only five days a week, Monday through Friday.

There were four main reasons behind this thinking.

  • Transparency: The gambling chits and cards were taken out of the pot in the presence of patrons, which kept the lottery transparent. Ratan Matka, even though a game of luck, was more believable than Worli Matka.
  • Convenience: People could place bets through phone calls. Telephones were also used to spread the word about the winning number. Therefore, wherever telephone wires went, the word about Khatri’s Ratan Matka followed.

In fact, MTNL would reserve trunk calls for the bookies to spread the word hassle-free after the winning number was declared. This is why during those days the general public would not be able to make trunk calls’ around 9 anywhere in the country.

  • Interactive Indulgence: To project Matka as a transparent game, Khatri would often roam the Kalbadevi area asking anyone from cafe owners to club employees to indulge in the game. He would ask them to pick three cards in front of a crowd to show that there is no foul play.
  • Favorable Odds: Khatri opined that the more you give people, the more they will play. For his Ratan Matka, he had made a few modifications to the original Worli Makta, which turned the odds more in favor of the players.

Where the original Matka game dismissed the Jacks but involved the Kings and Queens of the playing deck represented as 11 and 12 respectively, Ratan Matka dismissed all the Kings, Queens, and Jacks.

Also read: How to Play Matka

5. He Once Convinced an Air Traffic Control to Announce Matka Numbers

Once while traveling from Dubai to India, Khatri’s flight got delayed. He knew he would not be able to make it on time to announce the matka numbers for the day and presumed it might lead to a law and order situation.

So, a panicky Khatri approached the pilot to connect to the air traffic control tower to announce the numbers and prevent the chaos. Interestingly, even the cops were okay with his demand because even they didn’t want to handle the situation that might otherwise flare-up.

The late Rishi Kapoor in his autobiography Khullam Khulla has written about this incident in detail. Suresh Walishetty, a retired police officer, has confirmed the same, adding that the Matka results would be eventually published in the newspaper indirectly.

For instance, a character in an ad would be raising as many fingers as the winning number. Those who played the Matka, knew exactly where to find the results and how to read them.

6. He Served Prison Time During Emergency

As we mentioned earlier, Ratan Khatri was jailed along with other Matka operators and bookies during The Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi.

He had served a total of 19 months in prison. During this period his business suffered heavy losses. However, he got it back on track after coming out of jail.

7. Feroze Khan’s Movie Dharmatma Is Based on Him

In 1975, the Hindi thriller movie Dharmatma (lit. 'Righteous Soul') was released. Featuring Feroz Khan, Hema Malini, Rekha, and Prem Nath in lead roles, this was the first-ever Bollywood flick to be shot in Afghanistan.

Dharmatma was loosely based on the Hollywood epic ‘The Godfather.’ It, too, had the premise of a gangster who is a God-fearing do-gooder. However, Prem Nath’s character as Seth Dharamdas ‘Dharmatma' who is a don and a Matka King, is actually based on Ratan Khatri.

It is believed that Khan sat down with Khatri and interacted with him one on one to learn more about him and understand the nitty-gritty of Matka. In fact, Khatri also helped the scriptwriter of the movie Kaushal Bharati with the script and dialogues.

However, his Bollywood connection isn’t limited to just this movie. He went on to finance several other movies, sometimes anonymously. His favorite tryst with the film stars, however, was to ask them to pick Matka numbers.

Also read: 10 Lottery Movies You Need to Binge-Watch Today

8. He Produced the Bollywood Film Rangeela Ratan

In 1976, Khatri teamed up with producer Ramchanchandra Bhikubhai to co-produce the Bollywood film Rangeela Ratan. It starred Rishi Kapoor, Parveen Babi, and Ashok Kumar in the lead roles.

He not only invested money in the movie but also did a cameo. The scene involved Khatri stopping a fight between Rishi Kapoor and another actor. The term ‘dada’ was used in it. Interestingly, dada was Khatri’s pet name.

In his autobiography, Rishi Kapoor mentions Ratan Khatri as a ‘dubious character’ who would ask him or Ashok Kumar to pick a card. The number on this card would then flash all over Mumbai within minutes and be considered the lucky number of the day.

9. A Horse Meant for Films Was Named After Him

One Jeetu Verma from Mumbai, who supplies horses for film shoots has named one of his horses Ratan Khatri in loving memory of the former Matka King. The horse is 32 years old and has been featured in the movie Jodha Akbar.

During an inspection of a certain stable in Malad by a Horse Survey Team appointed by the high court, the horse was found wounded and ailing. Its retirement was hence, demanded.

10. The Upcoming Series ‘Matka King’ Is Based on His Life

Filmmaker Nagraj Manjule of Sairat fame has announced his newest venture – a series titled ‘Matka King’ which is inspired by true events and the life of Ratan Khatri. Set between the 1960s and the 1990s, it will extensively capture the life of Mumbai’s working classes.

The series will be released on one of the leading OTT platforms. Manjule has partnered with Siddhart Roy Kapoor for the project and would be making the series under the banner of Roy Kapur Films.

11. Post Retirement, Khatri Anonymously Indulged in Horserace Betting

Ratan Khatri retired from his business in the early 1990s and started living near Tardeo. However, he didn’t abandon his profession entirely.

During the later years, he would be seen sitting in the afternoons on the Janta Stands of Mahalaxmi Race Course and betting on his favorite horses anonymously.

Donning the same white kurta pajama and a scarf around his head, he would whisper to himself and play the ponies using a ₹10 racebook.

It is said that Khatri remained a simple man till his death. The whereabouts of the wealth he made in those three glorious decades remain a secret.

Ratan Khatri died of a brain hemorrhage on 9 May 2020 in his home in Mumbai Central. He was 88.