Scam 1992-Part 1: The Casting Coup
Sometimes you have so much to write about a movie that you do not know where to start. So let me start by writing about one thing out of ‘n’ number of good things about this movie, which I think is a kind trendsetter for the film Industry. It is about a new technique, which has started gaining prominence in the Indian film industry only recently and the technique is called ‘Casting’. The credit for introducing and perfecting this art of casting goes only to one person in the industry and his name is Mukesh Chabbra. The website of his company MCCC defines the scope of his work as “ MCCC team analyzes each character and its underlying motivations- whether subtle, implied, derived or pronounced. This helps in a thorough scan of aspirants to evaluate their perceived competence for the given role. The chosen artists are trained through tailored workshops to help them translate their potential into performance that the audience would cherish.’ If this would be the contribution of a casting director in the making of a film, I believe the foundation of a good film is already laid. This technique has brought in yet another big change in our films, which are following this model of casting and that is the increasing screen time or the screen presence given to the secondary star cast. The screen presence created by the secondary actors in such films is so strong that the director/editor is forced to increase the screen time for the secondary actors, consequently reducing the length of the footage given to the lead actors. This is completely in contrast to the earlier approach of filmmaking, where the lead actors used to consume most of the footage, thereby pushing the role of the secondary actors almost into insignificance. This new approach of research based casting makes the landscape of a film look more inclusive and more realistic.
Starting with the films like Gangs of Wasaeypur, Shahid, Dangal etc. Mukesh Chabbra’s latest casting coup is Scam 1992. He has perfected this art to such an extent that in a 10 episode long series like Scam 1992, the characters casted by him have overshadowed the storyline itself. These characters seem to be an integral part of the story line and the entire film comes to life through its ‘varied set of characters’ only – the lead as well as the secondary – they all seem to be absolutely authentic and real, be it Harshad Mehta (flawlessly played by Pratik Gandhi), brother Ashwin, his conscience keeper (played by Hemant Kher), his lonely wife Jyoti (Anjali Bardot), his partner Bhutan Bhat with his internal burns (played by Chirag Vohra), his handsome debauch broker friend Pranav Seth ( played by Jay Upadhyay), the gritty professionalism of Sucheta Dalal (superbly portrayed by Shreya Dhanwanthary through her expressive face and quiet demeanor), the quiet helplessness of RBI Governor ( played by Ananth Mahadevan), the snobbish Citi banker Tyagi ( Nikhil Dwivedi) , the insidious money market broker Ajay Kedia (Shadaab Khan) , the cool menacing bear king, Manu Mundra ( played by Satish Kaushik to perfection), the frustrated NHB Chairman (KK Raina), the grand Parasi style classiness of SBI Chairman (Vivek Vaswani), the exasperations of a righteous CBI Director Madhavan ( played by Rajat Kapoor), the vulnerability of being a PSU banker ( Rajesh Jais), the romance of being a young investigative journalist Debashish (Faisal Rashid ) , the itchiness of being stuck in a frustrating routine job Sitaraman ( Jaimini Pathak), the political side of a scheming Swami (Karthik Krishnan) and the stammering innocence of Sharad Bellary ( Sharib Hashmi). Such powerful performances by a battery of secondary actors in a popular and successful film like Scam 1992 will, I hope, open floodgates of opportunities for talented character actors. In fact this casting coup is a kind of a mini-revolution in the film industry as it is enlarging the scanning universe of potential actors and taking the searchlight to the smaller towns and cities of India- a welcome trend indeed.
Scam 1992:Part 2: Branding the deficits
The most heartening thing about the film is that they have tried to bring to screen the factors that created a phenomenon called Harshad Mehta. Harshad was a super hero for the retail investors in India but the real Harshad Mehta was merely an embodiment of middle class aspirations, particularly the middle class Gujarati aspirations with an inborn hunger for money and recognition. He had the handicap of being born in a family of meager financial means and also being deprived of an opportunity to have a good education. These ‘handicaps’ created a bundle of inferiority complex in his personality, which got manifested in his strong dislike for the elite or the privileged in society. When he started dabbling in the share market he realized that the affluence in life was not a factor of merit, it was rather a by –product of manipulation and machinations. The more he tired to dabble into the market -an outsider- the stronger came the repulse from the gatekeepers of the ‘citadel’. This resistance fuelled his hatred for the elite club and ignited his zeal to break into their domain. All his life was spent in trying to invent ways and means to penetrate into this fiercely guarded terrain of the elite and beat them in their own game in their own territory. It was like David vs. Goliath. And in order to win this war against the ‘mighty ‘, all he had in his armory was his bundle of inferiority complexes but a deep diving mind. He also realized that the entire business of the share market and the money market was built around a world of perceptions. These perceptions he soon realized were only a matter of few intangibles and could be crafty created by undertaking an image building exercise, an exercise which nobody in the financial domain had done till then. The inspiration for creating his brand Big Bull came from his filmi inspiration Amitabh Bachhan, the Big B. Some of the tangible ways of building the brand ‘Big Bull’ were his lifestyle statements like wearing a luxury watch and a holding a branded pen while signing and driving around in a Lexus car. This exercise of brand building was supplemented by a lot of PR, advertising and word of mouth publicity. So he strategically converted all his ‘deficits’ into a fashionable brand called the ‘Big Bull’. The brand Big Bull packaged all his shortcomings into strengths (Growmore and Live Life King Size) and converted Harshad Mehta into an enigmatically magnetic phenomenon. The men on the streets of India lapped up this brand and became his followers.
Powered by brand Big Bull, he walked into the boardrooms of the elite financial community, be it foreign banks, PSU banks, financial institutions, Public sector Undertakings and the Corridors of the Power that be. The cleverly crafted brand became so powerful that these ‘elite bankers’ themselves lined up to seek his patronage and his business acumen. Every one in the financial world wanted to have a share in the Bull Run created by Harshad Mehta. This euphoria and the heightened level of perceived trust helped him play the game of ‘Merry go round’, which is to take from one hand and give it to the other. The Bull Run continued till one fine day ‘ ‘fate’ intervened and someone in the banking system bothered to do a reconciliation between the books and the BR’s ( Bank receipts).This long story is painstakingly captured by the ten episode long series called Scam 1992, the Harshad Mehta Story.
Besides giving prominence to the roles of the secondary star cast, this film has also helped in discovering two amazingly talented actors namely Pratik Gandhi and Shreya Dhanwanthary.
Pratik Gandhi (who hails from Surat, a place known for the speculative share market activity) has not only acted as Harshad Mehta, he has been successful in portraying the ‘phenomenon’ called Big Bull. A Gujarati stage actor, Pratik, has gone under the skin of the character to bring out the story of the making of the phenomenon called Harshad Mehta. His acting, his mannerism, his understated confidence or the lack of it, his searching eye glances with a quarter of a smile, his body language (a copy of AB’s gait) coupled with his Gujrati tinged accent and frequent use of Gujrati idioms and word play has been able to personify the complex character of Harshad Mehta, who till his last days was convinced that he did nothing wrong and was playing the game like the rest of the elite and his party was brought to a stop by somebody who had something deeply personal against him, an angle which the film also tries to hint at without confirming it.
The second discovery of the film is the female lead Shreya Dhanwanthary, who has been Miss India South 2008. This is her first big break in mainstream Hindi cinema and she has gracefully capitalized on the opportunity. The energy and rectitude with which she has carried the role of a professional financial journalist is admirable. She brings authenticity to an offbeat character of a young journalist, who was trying to take on the big bad world, while navigating the by lanes of Dalal Street. Shreya has been able to do justice to the character while managing to bring out the frustration, determination and the vulnerability of a young female financial journalist, who is trying to make her place in the domain of financial journalism, which was conventionally dominated by the men. Besides having an expressive face and beautiful eyes, she has the acting talent, the right combination to be a potential acting star in Indian film industry.
Scam 1992: Part 3: Hindi film with Gujrati Snacks
It is no secret that stock market lingo in India is Gujrati flavored Hindi and the makers of this film have used the same in the film to add authenticity to the characters and the storyline.
Though the film is based on a book, which is full of technicalities and financial jargons, the film’s script has focused on the human side of the story behind this complex web of transactions. It is heartening to see how the writers of the screenplay have simplified the financial jargon of the share and money market into simple and easy to follow dialogues in ‘Gujrati flavored Hindi’ with the use of idioms and word play. There are plenty of such interesting dialogues like ‘Ishq hai to Rishk hai’, ‘Bears ke ball bearings tight ho jayenge’, ‘Paper main upper ka line sirf attention ke liye hota hai’, ‘’Don’t value a company on the basis of its value’ (aka Value is a matter of perception), ‘Aap hamen jaan jaoge to maan jaoge’, ‘Sitaraman Bank of India’, ‘CBI has started liking the breakfast of my home’ etc.( I could not follow many. ) Backed by the shooting at authentic locations like the Bombay Stock Exchange, Dalal Street (you will recognize the white staircase of BSE, if you have been there), State Bank building, Fort, CBI office in Bellard Estate, Times of India Office at Fort, Mumbai etc., and by using names of the real persons like Ashwin Mehta, Sitharaman, Pherwani etc the film has become highly relatable. I specially enjoyed Sucheta’s conversation in Times of India office with the cartoonist RK Laxman when she asked him why he did cartoons of common man only and not common woman. His reply was witty as usual, “ Women are not common.” Such cameos make the film endearing.
Finally all credit must to the veteran filmmaker Hansal Mehta, who has a track record of a giving us such meaningful films like Shahid, City Lights, Aligarh, and Omerta. He has always picked up socially relevant issues and beautifully de-cluttered them to produce lovable films. More power to you Mr. Mehta, keep de- cluttering more and more Mehtas. India is full of stories for your kind of films.
Scam 1992: Part 4 (Last) : History repeats itself
The Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Buke, once said that ‘those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it’.
By that logic, Scam 1992 needs to be seen by the ‘man- on- the- street‘, the main victim of the scam 1992, so that we do not see repeat of such scams in future.
But looking at our track record, we Indians have not learnt much from our history. Our public memory is short and we believe in forgiving and forgetting things very fast. The Harshad Mehta scam happened in 1992 and by 2002, just a decade later, the financial market was again rigged by another stockbroker called Ketan Parekh, who used similar tactics to rig prices of certain hand picked securities, informally referred to as K-10 stocks. Again after 10 years of this rigging scam, the financial ecosystem in our country saw yet another loot in the form of huge amount of loans being doled out to another set of unscrupulous brands and biggies like Mallayas and Choksis. This reckless binge of banking created one of the largest crises in Indian banking industry in the form of Non-performing assets estimated to be of the order of Rupees ten lakh crore or so. Those in the know of the things would vouch for the fact that once again the banks and the financial institutions in India competed with each other in doling out favors to these new darlings of the banking industry. The point I am trying to make is that, this enigmatic animal called financial industry in spite of various reforms and numerous checks and balances does not believe in learning from its past mistakes and the scams have continued unabated in our country in one shape or the other. Every time, someone has found a new loophole in the system and exploited it. The genesis of all these financial frauds, to my mind, lies in our inability to educate people at large to exercise discretion and restrain and keep human greed in check. No wonder that in spite of so much of audit and supervision in the financial system, we still have PMCs of the world taking the gullible investors for a ride.
However, films like Scam 1992 help in drilling down the importance of learning from the past mistakes and sensitizing the common man about following some discretion and discipline when it comes to financial dealings and not to follow the heard mentality. It is, therefore, in the interest of the common man, the ultimate victim of all these scams that more and more suchlike research based investigative films are made to make us think, reflect and introspect on ourselves as individuals and as a society.
The brutal truth is that even after the so-called modernization or the digitization of Indian banking system, it continues to be as vulnerable as it was in 1992, when by using a small stroke of his pen (1 changed to 6) Sitharaman could evaporate Rs 500 crore from the banking system. Who knows this time instead of a stroke of pen, it could be a just a click of a mouse?
The fear and the irony is that once again after a gap of ten years from the NPA scam, our financial ecosystem is getting susceptible for financial scam of yet another kind. Haven’t you seen the trailer of this new –scam- in- the- offing in the form of the film ‘Jamtara’? Please watch this film on Netflix and educate yourself and your family. Till then enjoy the Gujrati breakfast with Harshad Mehta and his family. All said and done, you are watching most likely the best film of Hindi movie of 2020.