“Bad Boy Billionaires” is a Netflix documentary series that focuses on three of the richest men in the country (the fourth episode on Ramalinga Raju of Satyam Computers is facing a legal wrangle, and a stay was sought on these existing three episodes as well), it is a show that has two ways of looking at it. One, for the person who knows nothing or very little of these stories that went from glorious to sordid, this is a compelling or rewarding watch, offering insights they could not dream of, or those that come as absolutely startling revelations.
To those who have followed their sagas at the respective times—not too far back at all, nothing much is there on offer, which is understandable. However, even they will find the stories breezily entertaining, even if there is no newness.
The three stories are "The World's Biggest Family" (on Subrato Roy of Sahara India Pariwar), "The King of Good Times" (on liquor baron Vijay Mallya) and "Diamonds Aren't Forever" (on ace jeweler Nirav Modi).
Each series is about an hour long and chronicles real footage (extensively—the platform has clearly spent a bomb), documentary type excerpts from news channels, and finally, live interviews. These live interviews are of close associates that obviously span close friends, Mallya's son (weirdly unapologetic), business associates, employees, and happy as well as disgruntled beneficiaries, some of whom are now victims.
The cumulative lesson or message that comes across is the age-old wisdom that one should never bite off more than one can chew. However, clearly the reasons for all these vary—we see variations of greed, misplaced ambition, arrogance, and above all, a predominant self-aggrandizement that stems from diverse causes like visions of grandeur and prestige to panic at the thought of losing all that is gained.
Visually, and for obvious reasons, the Mallya episode is the most enticing, though finally one is appalled at the man's complete apathy to his employees in the way he robbed them of their salaries and yet celebrated his birthday with obscene lavishness. Glamour obviously comes in, in a big way, as we see stars galore being pandered to and later almost being servile to these tycoons who ultimately had to resort to crookedness.
As we all know, their ultimate fate until now varies: Modi is in a British jail, fighting an extradition battle. Mallya is based there too, and the Indian government is struggling to get him home. The debts are incredible, and we cannot help wonder how the British government is not handing the two over but spending citizens' moneys keeping Modi in jail and overlooking Mallya's duplicity. And the way some—a lot actually—people are still fooled into thinking that Roy did no wrong is a shocking statement about the extreme stupidity of simpletons who Roy fooled.
Full marks to the individual research, writing and editing teams and the directors for showing us these sagas, and happily, a victim denounces a claim by John Crabtree, common to all three films, that India is sparing bigger criminals but latching on to Mallya for the glamour. As she puts it correctly, a criminal cannot be quantified. On the other hand, the interview with (and footage of) "The Daily Telegraph's Mick Brown, who is credited with successfully pinning the fugitive billionaire Modi’s location in London and confronting him, is supremely interesting.
All in all, a rather 'Good' docu-series on the Bad Boys of India.