SCAM 1992 Web Series – THE HARSHAD MEHTA STORY SEASON 1 REVIEW: A DRAMATIC RETELLING OF INDIA’S BIGGEST STOCK MARKET SCAM
STORY: Based on the book written by former Times of India journalist Sucheta Dalal and her husband Debashis Basu, ‘Scam 1992 The Harshad Mehta Story’, chronicles the meteoric rise and the inadvertent fall from grace of the controversial stockbroker Harshad Mehta – the man who became the face of India’s 1992 stock market scam worth 5,000 crore rupees that rocked the nation.
REVIEW: In his opening scene itself, director Hansal Mehta shows us a huge hoarding that screams, ‘Harshad Mehta is a liar.’ But it’s not that simple and with each passing scene, it becomes amply clear that you will get a crash course in bulls, bears, and banking before you find out the hows, whats, and whys of Mehta’s massive scam. Just like every rag to riches story, Harshad Mehta’s story begins quite humbly.
Living in a cramped one-room apartment in Mumbai’s Gujarati dominated suburb of Ghatkopar, the Mehtas are a regular Indian family. But Harshad’s dreams are far bigger to be contained here and after doing all sorts of odd jobs, Harshad realizes that the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) is his ticket to super success. Smart, shrewd, and a fast-learner, Harshad soon becomes the Dalaal Street wizard, who knows how to play the market for his own gains.
And this is the 80s when the BSE functioned like a fish market where ‘jobbers’ deployed by big brokers, physically cracked deals worth crores for them. Digitization was more than a decade away and this meant physical entries of all monetary transactions that left huge loopholes in the system, waiting to be exploited. Harshad, who starts as a petty ‘Jobber’, soon starts his own consulting firm named ‘Growmore’ and begins milking every opportunity to beat the system to his own benefit. He gets some of the biggest banks involved in his get-quick-reach schemes by bribing his way through corrupt channels.
As Harshad is fast scaling up, a Times of India journalist Sucheta Dalal (Shreya Dhanwanthary) is hot on his trail, but getting any evidence against him is a challenge. The story is driven from her perspective as her voice-over regularly narrates the parts where she is not present.
Spread out in ten long episodes, the show is so exhaustive and detailed, that it seems director Hansal Mehta and his writers (Sumit Purohit, Vaibhav Vishal, and Karan Vyas) televised every page of the book. As it chronicles the twelve most important years of Harshad Mehta’s rise (from 1980-1992), it gives us more than a glimpse into every character that was a part of Mehta’s financial wrongdoings.
It’s quite intriguing and with spurts of tension that you will feel every time, it seems like the noose is tightening around the big bull. But Hansal never really portrays Harshad as a dark and sinister character. There is almost a heroic quality to him which is highlighted through his larger than life lifestyle and ambitions. He is repeatedly referred to as ‘BSE ka Bachchan’ and at times, even portrayed as a victim with too many enemies, just because he was the proverbial ‘outsider’.
The show, however, completely misses the real stories of the retail investors, who suffered the most due to Harshad Mehta’s uninhibited greed and gross denial that his bubble will burst one day.
That said, the portrayal of some of the most seasoned character actors in key roles lend authenticity. From Satish Kaushik as the foul-mouthed broker Manu Mundra to Ananth Mahadevan as the wise RBI Governor Venkitarajan and from Nikhil Dwivedi as Citibank’s treasury chief A.S. Thiyagarajan to Rajat Kapoor as the upright and straight-talking CBI officer Madhavan – each one is full of conviction in the way they look and play their parts.
But it’s the show’s leading man Pratik Gandhi, who leaves the maximum impact. Gandhi is charmingly shrewd and effortless as the smooth-talking Harshad Mehta, with the right amount of Gujarati touch to his Hindi. A lot of times, you might even find yourself rooting for him because Gandhi makes it easy to like Harshad’s pompousness and excesses. Shreya Dhanwanthary is also excellent as the righteous and spirited journo, who is relentless in her pursuit of a story.
Ivan Rodrigues lends good support as Sucheta’s former colleague and boyfriend, who helps her break stories on Mehta. Hemant Kher is suitably restrained as Mehta’s younger brother Ashwin, who is the only voice of reason, often discarded as too timid by Harshad. Anjali Barot as Harshad’s supportive wife is the only other female character worth mentioning in the otherwise male-dominated narrative.
Visually, it’s a treat to watch the old world charm of the ’80s and 90’s Bombay that adds a great deal of nostalgia. The production detail is faultless and the cinematography (by Pratham Mehta) is intriguing with sweeping Ariel shots of the city that looks way cleaner than it actually is. While a lot of indoor sets are recreated quite well (e.g. The Times of India office, SBI headquarters), most of the Chroma shots do give away.
The opening track by Achint Thakkar is groovy and energetic just like the overall background score. Using retro numbers for end credits in a few episodes adds an extra punch. A lot of dialogues are filmy, but it works for telling a dramatic story like this. A lot of business jargon and Gujarati phrases are thrown in for good measure too.
The show doesn’t shy away from naming names just like its source material, which itself is so fascinating. At times, the pace drops as Harshad finds himself in repetitive problems and the stock market lingo becomes overbearing. But the fact that it’s a real story that captured the country’s collective imagination makes for a riveting watch. It’s almost like our very own desi version of ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ and we’re quite bullish that it will keep you invested.