harshad mehta

(IMDb photo)

‘Scam 1992—The Harshad Mehta Story’ is a magnum opus—look at the actors’ roster. The 10-episode series that runs for about 450 minutes could have perhaps been racier with a rounded narrative of 400 minutes. Racier, we said, because “Scam 1992—The Harshad Mehta Story” is brisk, crisp and racy as it is.

A long series on the stock market (in cinema, “Gafla” had come and gone in 2006, and some years back came the fairly well-made non-starter “Baazaar”) will obviously be heavily technical, with terms, procedures, tricks of the trade and market and bank lingo bouncing heavily on and past a viewer’s head, but still, the writers and directors keep a firm grip on the scenario, just as Neeraj Pandey had done in 2016 on cricketer M.S. Dhoni’s biopic. And that’s a major triumph.

Here, the subject and canvas are much, much wider. The story begins in 1992, flashbacks to 1979 and ends in 2001. The subject is “Big Bull” Harshad Mehta, in whose lifetime, thanks of course to him, there was a bull run for the stock market, a run as bizarre as it was audacious. And as audacious as it was unethical!

Mehta, known as the Bachchan of the Bombay Stock Exchange, managed incredible feats, at first minus harm to anyone except for his rivals or enemies in the field. Raised in a lower middle-class Gujarati family living in a chawl, he had an impossible dream, and he managed to achieve it.

As in “Bad Boys Billionaires” a fortnight ago (and thankfully they steered clear of Mehta, whose exploits deserved this detailed marathon!), Mehta never stopped. He become more ambitious, and money meant almost all to him. But, as a Gujarati, he also loved his wife and kids, lived in a joint family with his parents and elder brother and sister-in-law. He never womanized, drank alcohol or was prey to any major vices. He had the gift of the gab, and the temerity and luck to prove what he claimed and promised. But he never realized his limits.

As the owner of a high-rise apartment with a swimming pool, a fleet of cars led by a Rs. 4.5 million (in the early ‘90s!) Lexus (for which he paid a million more just to score over a rival!), he thought he could do no wrong even when he was doing precisely that! A demi-god to the public for the way he was making them rich, he never dreamt that he would be held accountable when his methods became questionable—and remained so for years.

A doughty and bold Times of India journalist, Sucheta Dalal (Shweta Dhanwanthary) relentlessly went after him for months, and finally a Pandora’s Box of machinations and rot in the system—India’s and international banks, institutions abroad, India’s leading companies and even fraudulent ones that did not exist, and finally, the politicians all the way to the Central Congress government finally exposed an incredible scam of over Rs. 500 billion!

But Mehta’s fight was far from over, even as tons of cases were filed against him by every conceivable agencies and bodies like Income-Tax, Enforcement Directorate and many more. Sucheta stuck to her guns, helped by a colleague who fell in love with her, Debashis (Faisal Rashid) and not only married her but co-authored the book on which this incredible story is based. The screen version of Sucheta narrates the story, beginning with a tip-off she received from an anonymous and supposed State Bank of India employee, Sharad Bellary (Sharib Hashmi).

The adaptation, the merging of real and dramatic, is fantastically done. For Hansal Mehta, who had given the lovely but unsuccessful thriller “Chhal” in the early millennium and some critically applauded films later, this is his “Sholay,” no less. Achint Thakkar’s original title music is stunning and the background score amazing. The use of old Hindi film and even non-film songs is also brilliantly done. The camerawork (Pratham Mehta) and production design (Tarpan Srivastava and Payal Ghose) are of very high order.

But the strengths of the film are the dialogues by Vaibhav Vishal and Karan Vyas—a stupendous and perfectly done blend of realistic and “filmi dialoguebaazi” or playing to the gallery, and the magnificent performances. Topping the list is obviously Pratik Gandhi (the hero’s friend in “Loveyatri” and a big name in Gujarati theater) as Harshad. His mannerisms, bravado, and infectious smile and determined manner are among the treats to watch in his essay.

Matching him in far briefer roles are Shweta in her stunningly realistic role as Sucheta, Anjali Barot in a lovely turn as Harshad’s low-profile, caring and intense wife, Chirag Vohra as Bhushan Bhatt, Harshad’s right-hand and Rajat Kapur as the wily and ruthless CBI officer Madhavan.

Shadaab Amjad Khan as Ajay Kedia, Satish Kaushik as Black Cobra, Mithilesh Chaturvedi as Ram Jethmalani, K.K. Raina as Pherwani, Ananth Narayan Mahadevan as Venkitarajan and Hemant Kher as Harshad’s elder brother Ashwin are all fabulous. Kumkum Das and Ramakant Dayma impress as Harshad’s parents and a total surprise—pleasantly—is one-time hero-aspirant Nikhil Dwivedi as Tyagi, who is outstanding.

No doubt, there must be valid reasons why some actual names are retained (Jethmalani, Madhavan, Rajdeep Sardesai, Dileep Padgaonkar) and others changed (Venkitarajan and some more). But that’s a small thing. In the narrative, the maximum impacts came when real footage was merged with the storytelling, like Ram Jethmalani actually accusing Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao of complicity in the scam), and also when Sucheta takes someone to show the actual closed and derelict office of Mazda, whose shares under Harshad Mehta are touching the sky!

The film balances emotions well. We do feel a bit for Harshad’s resourcefulness and his final condition, but juxtaposed against the seemingly cold-blooded investigation of facts by the conscientious Sucheta are stories of how hundreds of the victims of the scam were destroyed, and many even lost their lives.

All the messages hit home. None are stuffed down our throat. And so, everyone associated with the series may take a bow. This is “unmissable.”

Rating: ****1/2

Produced by: Indranil Chakravorty, Sameer Nair & Deepak Segal

Directed by: Hansal Mehta and Jai Mehta

Written by: Saurav Dey, Sumit Purohit, Vaibhav Vishal & Karan Vyas and based on the book by Debashis Basu & Sucheta Dalal

Music: Achint Thakkar

Starring: Pratik Gandhi, Shweta Dhanwanthary, Anjali Barot, Hemant Kher, Chirag Vohra, Jay Upadhyay, Jai Mehta, Sharib Hashmi, Shadaab Amjad Khan, Mithilesh Chaturvedi, K.K. Raina, Ananth Narayan Mahadevan, Nikhil Dwivedi, Kartik Krishnan, Satish Kaushik, Brinda Trivedi, Kumkum Das, Jaimini Pathak, Ramakant Dayma, Kavin Dave, Paresh Ganatra, Varun Kulkarni,  Rajat Kapur, Ajitabh Sengupta, Vishnu Sharma, Viveck Vaswani, Raghav Raj Thakker, Ayaz Khan, Pankit Thakker, Rajesh Jais, Abhay Kulkarni,  Sharad Jagtiani, Faisal Rashid, Kenneth Desai, Mamik Singh, Lalit Parimoo & others

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