SCAM 1992: THE HARSHAD MEHTA STORY (2020)

Rajat Kapoor in a still from Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story
  • Release Date: 09/10/2020
  • Cast: Pratik Gandhi, Shreya Dhanwanthary, Nikhil Dwivedi, Satish Kaushik, Rajat Kapoor
  • Director: Hansal Mehta & Jai Mehta

Hansal Mehta relates Harshad Mehta’s story with panache and aplomb

It is easy to call Harshad Mehta a thief and a scamster but the kind of complexities that he bifurcated in order to mould and use the banking and securities system to finance his “bull run” was nothing short of a miracle. There was a time when he was the highest advance tax-payer of the country surpassing even the great Dhirubhai Ambani. He was instrumental in taking the Sensex to staggering heights and he always made more money for his shareholders than he committed to them. The public sector banks made a fortune dealing with him. Yet all that accounted for nothing when his want for more got better of his intellect. Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story is based on the book “The Scam: Who Won, who Lost, who Got Away” by Sucheta Dalal and her husband and co-author Debashis Basu that documented in great details the journey of this extraordinary man who was initially looked down by his peers and written off but rose above all his limitations to become the most influential man in the financial jungle of India and became powerful enough to discomfit the prime minister of the country.

Hansal Mehta almost always chooses difficult yet socially relevant subjects for his films and builds his story around the emotional core of it. In Shahid, he emphasized on the romantic angle between Shahid Azmi and his wife for whom he has to go to great lengths to get his mother’s approval for the marriage as she is divorced and has a child. Even though this track was not integral to the story, it was instrumental in endearing the character of Shahid to the viewers and showing us how vulnerable he was. In Omerta, Mehta gave us a story that cannot be placed into a traditional three-act structure. There is some closure in the end but the film works more like a character study of the antagonist as he moves from one mission to another. We feel as if a hidden camera was following the man and documenting whatever he was doing. Not everything we get to see is important to the plot but all of it is essential for painting a clearer picture of the antagonist revealing his twisted psyche for us to loathe.

In Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story, Mehta takes a stark departure from his style and goes for a straightforward and conventional approach. Every second of the runtime is utilized either to explain the complicated world of shares, stocks, and securities to the viewers through the different dialogues between the characters and various set pieces or in documenting the exploits of Harshad Mehta as he tries to make his way through the various challenges that stand between him and resounding success. The show is 9 episodes long and almost every episode is about an hour long. The story starts off smack in the middle of the action and maintains a breakneck pace and simmering drama all the way through. Because of this energy and the rendering of the relentless pressure that the primary characters are in, the audiences feel the exhaustion of the characters and also understand what the bearing of constant pursuit of staying ahead in a cut-throat race means and entails.

Shreya Dhanwanthary in a still from Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story

We never see Harshad at peace for more than a few minutes. He joins the Stock Market as a jobber to learn the trade. Once he has deciphered the trade, he starts his own brokerage but is annihilated in a telling market crash. He tries to make amends but it proves to be difficult without his brokerage license. Seeing an opportunity, he starts his own consultancy where he encounters a new set of challenges to his growth. He tries to make forays into the baking security sector but he is shown the door by Citibank who questions his pedigree. He then has to toil to unite the other banks and have a bigger share in the business than the Citibank. As he just starts to breathe easy and make a sizeable income, disaster strikes. The rest of the show is about how Harshad deals with this problem as it comes to him from all angles and threatens to destroy everything that he has built and holds dear.

Pratik Gandhi as Harshad Mehta is the second best thing about the series after its highly detailed and immersive story. He looks nothing like Harshad Mehta but he brings his own interpretation of the character to the screen that I am sure will resonate with the viewers. I have seen a few interviews of Harshad Mehta and got a hold of his mannerisms but within the first few episodes of this series, all that slipped out of my mind, and I was transfixed on Pratik Gandhi’s performance. He brings a gullible naturality to the essay that makes the character that much more believable. He reacts to different situations like any “tom”, “dick” or “harry” would and it captures our imagination instantaneously. He has some specific ways of reacting to certain situations and that is repeated throughout the series ensuring that the beat of the character remains the same. As the series progresses, Gandhi has to deal with aspects like grandiosity, frustration, imprisonment, anger, and defeat in the character. In each of these aspects, his rendering is flawless and affecting. I am excited to see how his career progresses after this astounding performance.

If Pratik Gandhi is a revelation, so is the rest of the ensemble cast. Mehta chooses some of the best character actors of India and gives them roles that suit their mojo. Rajat Kapoor breathes fire as a CBI inspector in a span of two episodes and threatens to take away the thunder from Pratik Gandhi. Shreya Dhanwanthary as Sucheta Dalal, the journalist who is hot on the heels of Harshad Mehta and is on the verge of nailing his scam is perfect. She essays the character with an air of simplicity that makes it even more charming and realistic. Nikhil Dwivedi and Satish Kaushik as two opposing parties of Harshad Mehta are immaculate. I just loved how both of them are portrayed as antagonists but still manage to maintain their respective charm.

Nikhil Dwivedi in a still from Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story

Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story is one of the finest web-series to have come out in a long time but it is definitely made for a niche audience. It is the kind of series that one can keep going back to as it is so dense with information and is so nuanced in its treatment. Bolstered by spirited and awe-inspiring performances and propelled by authoritative direction, the series scores in every department. The fact that it had a powerful source material to work with also made its case stronger. However, it is strictly aimed at people who are interested in the case or similar subjects. Having said that, If you are not into investigative dramas that mostly have men talking, planning, scheming, etc, you might still want to stick around for a bit. Who knows? You might just acquire a new liking for the genre.

Rating: 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars) 

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