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.
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 game plan. 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.