With Scam 1992, Hansal Mehta proves yet again why he is the Oliver Stone of India

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali Khan

When Gordon Gekko, Michael Douglas’ predatory investor and corporate raider character in Oliver Stone’s 1987 film Wall Street, declares “Greed is good,” he must have had insatiable people like Harshad Mehta in his mind. After all, for mere mortals even greed has its limits. But then mere mortals aren’t deified with monikers like “The Big Bull”. For the uninitiated, a bull is a stock market player who buys a holding in a stock hoping that in the very short-term it will rise in value so that it can be sold to make a quick profit on the transaction. A bear, on the other hand, is an investor who attempts to make a profit from a decline in stock prices. In other words, a bull wants the market to soar high whereas a bear wants the market to take a dip. A major part of the 10-episode SonyLIV series, helmed by Hansal Mehta, titled “Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story” focuses on the constant tussle between the bear and the bull lobbies vying to control the market.

When a young and ambitious Gujarati man named Harshad Mehta takes up a low-level job at the BSE (formerly Bombay Stock Exchange) during the ‘80s, he quickly understands the enormous control that the bear lobby exercises on the stock market. He is also smart enough to understand that bears propagate pessimism, instilling the hearts of investors with fear. That the only way to counter their negative tactics is by selling hope in abundance. But for that he must first show them that it’s actually possible to make the market rise in spite of best efforts of the bear lobby, whether by hook or by crook. And the rest, as they say, is history. In the years that follow, Mehta’s reputation as the spearhead of the bull lobby grows to a point that the media starts referring to him as the Amitabh Bachchan of BSE aka “The Big Bull” until his methods are finally questioned by a journalist named Sucheta Dalal whose 1993 book, co-authored by Debashish Basu, “The Scam: Who Won, who Lost, who Got Away” forms the basis of Hansal Mehta’s series. The part of Dalal is essayed with conviction by Shreya Dhanwanthary. 

Scam 1992 stars Pratik Gandhi in the central role of Harshad Mehta. It’s a breakthrough role for Gandhi who has been associated with Gujarati Theater for well over a decade. He has also acted in Gujarati films. He played the lead character in Wrong Side Raju (2016), which won the National Award for Best Gujarati Film. The choice of Gandhi as Harshad Mehta is really an inspired one. It’s so heartening to see a talented actor from one of the regional entertainment industries attaining national recognition while portraying a real life character. It’s been a long struggle for Gandhi who career has seen the ebbs and flows for the last decade and a half but the 40-year-old actor has finally announced himself with a knockout performance. It’s a reminder of how democratic things are becoming owing to the advent of the web. Quick-witted and oozing with an air of confidence and charm, Gandhi looks so natural during his portrayal of Harshad Mehta that one never really doubts that it’s not actually Harshad Mehta on the screen but merely an actor who is essaying him. 

Now, Hansal Mehta deserves a lot of credit for choosing to make a series on Harshad Mehta. Credit must also go to the co-director Jai Mehta and the writing team comprising Saurav Dey, Sumit Purohit, Vaibhav Vishal, and Karan Vyas. The supporting cast comprising the likes of Anant Mahadevan, Sharib Hashmi, Satish Kaushik, K.K. Raina, Lalit Parimoo, Rajat Kapoor, Vivek Waswani, Shadaab Khan, and Mamik also deserves a special mention. Mehta’s has been a rare voice in the country that seems to have taken interest in documenting real life characters and actual events though his films. He truly came into the lime-light with the 2013 biographical film Shahid based on it is based on the life of lawyer and human rights activist who was assassinated in 2010. His 2016 biographical film Aligarh is based a gay professor of Marathi who was suspended by the Aligarh Muslim University on grounds of morality. He subsequently made a web series on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose titled Bose: Dead/Alive, based on Anuj Dhar’s book India's Biggest Cover-up. And by making well-researched series like Scam 1992, Mehta has further boosted his reputation as a storyteller interested in documenting reality. In a way he can be compared to the great American filmmaker Oliver Stone who is known for making films about the Vietnam War, Assassination of President Kennedy, 1980 military dictatorship in El Salvador, American Stock Market, 9/11, etc. He has also made biographical films on the likes of Richard Nixon, Edward Snowden, Ron Kovic, Jim Morrison, George W. Bush, and Alexander the Great. Given what Mehta has achieved by courageously documenting real life characters and true events, it wouldn’t be a hyperbole to call him the Oliver Stone of Indian cinema.

A version of this story was first published in The Daily Guardian.

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