Vikram Chandra's "Sacred Games" is the "best" Bombay book, whichever way you look at it. It is set in Bombay and it is about the great metropolis.
Bombay is probably the main character in this "tome" (900 pages and 7 years in the making), which is at first difficult to penetrate, but completely addictive and rewarding once, you go past the 200 page mark.
What makes the book difficult to penetrate is the profusion of characters and the confusing at first-plot structure. (and to readers not from Bombay, the language. Chandra uses bombay street slang (which itself is derived from a multitude of languages and is its own "bambaiya" dialect) without your usual italics or a useful glossary as an annexure.) (The american edition, i understand carries a glossary)
The book is at core a love song to the Bombay which the author loves, but works on multiple levels. Firstly, it works as a solid piece of Victorian fiction. Not as much a "whodunit", as a "why they did what they did" . Secondly, it is a deep introspection of the changing nature of that wondrous megapolis, which nurtures and nourishes its many economic immigrants. Religion, the Underworld, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Bollywood,the glitterati etc etc, are covered by the broad canvas of this novel which spans from pre independence India to the present day.
Granted, that not all the side stories and minor characters pay off or add to the overall narrative (some of the insets are frankly self-indulgent), but that is but a minor blemish in a book which gives you a character as accomplished and complete as Ganesh Gaitonde.
Ganesh Gaitonde- the "don", the "rags to riches"- it can happen only in bombay phenomenon, the taker of boys, the ravager of women, a connoisseur of Bollywood cinema, the self-learned street fighter, the at once dangerous impulsive, globe trotting, central character. It is apparent that Gaitonde has been invested with the 7 years of research and an infinite supply of humanity. This is a fiction character which will surely stay with you.
In comparison, Sartaj Singh, the 40 year old, divorced cop,pales, but only slightly. Sartaj is the unwitting hero, in this novel, where all the characters are painted "pale grey" at best.
Some of the other characters which Chandra creates, from jojo - the madam, to Katekar, Sartaj's constable are indeed Bombay characters of our times.
Bollywood plays a huge role in this book as well. From the aspiring actress, Zoya Mirza's rise to Gaitonde's boys discussing what a Mukesh, Mohammed Rafi and a Kishore Kumar ditty, stands for.
This is indeed a big, clamorous novel, very similar to Bombay where the sound of the crowds, the daily bump and grind, is its own sweet melody.
This is probably the best bombay book ever. Move over Rushdie...