Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story
Cast: Pratik Gandhi, Shreya Dhanwanthary, Nikhil Dwivedi, Sharib Hashmi, KK Raina, Rajat Kapoor, Satish Kaushik, Anant Mahadevan
Direction: Hansal Mehta
Rating: * * * and 1/2
There is a basic challenge that Hansal Mehta throws, while narrating the story of Big Bull Harshad Mehta. Instead of letting his story unfold through the mind games of his protagonist, which would have made the series lucid and enjoyable for all, he often tends to immerse the narrative in a mire of heavy stock market lingo and logistics.
Perhaps Hansal Mehta was deliberately being uncompromising, to underline the fact that his 10-part web series is a rare Bollywood effort that truly tick-marks all criteria of the genre that Hollywood defines as the financial thriller. Yet, from Wall Street to Margin Call to Equity to The Wolf Of Wall Street — you could even include Money Monster by a stretch — we have seen enough instances where crime drama woven around money does not necessarily let money matters overwhelm the human factor of the story.
This aspect of Hansal Mehta’s latest effort is pertinent because if you gloss over that glitch, Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story is nothing short of brilliant as a biopic. The show tackles one of the most enigmatic stock market stories of Independent India, and it brings alive an era bygone with impressive detail.
Stockbroker Harshad Mehta’s life story on screen is based on Sucheta Dalal and Debashish Basu’s book, The Scam: Who Won, Who Lost, Who Got Away. Harshad rose from lower-middle class obscurity to become a Bombay stock market trader whose heady success would fetch him titles ranging from Big Bull to Raging Bull to Amitabh Bachchan of Dalal Street.
Harshad died at 47, after a meteoric rise and an equally dramatic ruin. At the time of death there were 70 criminal and 600 civil cases filed against him and family, according to this story. In between rise and fall, he was charged with financial crimes that underlined the Rs 5,000-crore securities scam of 1992. It was a scam that saw the Indian market collapse and stocks crash.
The script (Saurav Dey, Karan Vyas, Sumit Purohit and Vaibhav Vishal) captures Harshad’s life well, as he breathes life into Mumbai’s Dalal Street with his unorthodox but morally pliable gameplan. Hansal Mehta’s cinematic efforts are admirable for the way they capture the complexities of life beneath a deceptively simplistic milieu, we have seen in films such as Aligarh, Shaheed and CityLights. Scam 1992 brings alive Mumbai of the eighties and the nineties, and mixes the laidback lifestyle of a pre-digital era with the manic frenzy that Harshad Mehta triggers off.
The series does not paint Harshad either as a rogue or a messiah. Rather, the screenplay lets us sit back and watch the protagonist, and decide for ourselves. Gujarati stage and screen actor Pratik Gandhi’s Harshad Mehta is a dapper charmer, perhaps far more charming and definitely more photogenic than the real Harshad ever was. Accord some cinematic liberty to that fact, for Pratik pulls off his role with assuredness.
Shreya Dhanwanthary (as Sucheta Dalal) and Rajat Kapoor as the late CBI joint director K. Madhavan are other acts worth special mention, in an ensemble cast that delivers.
The series would seem just perfect if it was as meticulous in revealing Harshad Mehta’s thought process as it spends time trying to explain financial scams. One is reminded of The Wolf Of Wall Street in this context, and how plainly Hollywood maestro Martin Scorsese reimagined the saga of Jordan Belfort, impeccably portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio.