Binge List: Scam 1992 – The Harshad Mehta Story

Directed by Hansal and Jai Mehta, starring Pratik Gandhi, Scam 1992 can be streamed on SonyLIV. Binge List is made in partnership with Tata Sky Binge
Binge List: Scam 1992 – The Harshad Mehta Story

Scam 1992 is a SonyLIV Original. Harshad, who was also known as the big bull, because of his aggressive buying maneuvers on the stock market, was an Indian Icarus. You know the Greek myth about the boy who flew too close to the sun – his wings, which were made out of wax, melted and he fell into the sea.  In the '80s and early 90s, Harshad was the king of the stock market but a combination of hubris and avarice led to his downfall.  The series is based on a book by journalist Sucheta Dalal and Debashish Basu, who broke the story of the rot in the Indian banking system and how Harshad took advantage of it.  From this material, director Hansal Mehta has created a series that is inspiring – after all Harshad was an ordinary, middle-class man who rose to a penthouse with a pool.  He used to be called the Bachchan of the stock market. But it also works as a cautionary tale.  Greed, despite what the ruthless Gordon Gekko told us in Wall Street (1987), isn't good.  The end, inevitably for both Gordon and Harshad, was a jail cell.

The series doesn't gloss over what Harshad did.  But it also indicts the system, which is a Kafkaesque network of corruption.  Everyone, from the heads of foreign banks to cops to politicians are complicit.  It's an old boys club where each one is scratching the other's back. The consequences of Harshad's actions are dire – a close friend of his kills himself because he loses all the money he invested in stocks on Harshad's advice. Innumerable others have their life savings wiped out.  Hansal does terrible things but he isn't a dastardly villain.  Until the end, I was hoping that somehow, he would find a way to redeem himself.

Hansal and his writers – Saurav Dey and Sumit Purohit – create a living, breathing character which the terrific Pratik Gandhi brings to life.  Harshad is ambitious and courageous.  He is willing to take risks or as he so memorably puts it, "Risk hai to ishq hai".  These qualities help him to rise up fast but they also become a liability because he becomes a compulsive gambler who throws caution to the winds, even when the stakes are impossibly high.  Pratik locates the determination in this man but also the charm and the swagger – Harshad takes great pride in owning a Lexus car.  It becomes a symbol of wealth and power – people gather around just to look at it.  The series rests on Pratik's ability to portray this man with all his flaws without losing connect with the audience and he delivers brilliantly.

Scam 1992 is a triumph of writing and casting.  Every actor has been selected with precision by casting director Mukesh Chhabra.   Look at Hemant Kher as Harshad's brother Ashwin Mehta, who tries to keep Harshad in check but fails.  It's a wonderfully sympathetic performance.  Or Shreya Dhanwanthary as Sucheta, the lone woman in a male environment, determined to take on the corrupt system.  Shreya captures Sucheta's moral resolve, her courage and her vulnerability.  There's also Chirag Vohra as Harshad's associate Bhushan Bhatt – in the last episode, Bhushan finally explodes and it's something to watch.  And Jay Upadhyay as the oily Pranav Sheth, another broker who stays by Harshad's side, through thick and thin.  Pranav bhai likes to end his sentences with 'darling' and he tells it like it is.  In the second episode, he advises Harshad not to invite any well-heeled clients to his shabby office. Pranav says, "Kya hai na, teri gareebi dekh ke unko unki ameeri satayegi."

The dialogues by Vaibhav Vishal and Karan Vyas are a highlight of the series.  Vaibhav and Karan throw in enough Gujarati to make the conversations authentic.  They also rely on a Hindi movie staple – dialogue baazi.  Harshad drops quotable quotes like, "Success hai kya? Faliure ke baad ka chapter".  But this doesn't come off as artificial.  It seems like something a man with such a hunger to succeed would say.  Production designers Payal Ghose and Tarpan Shrivastava skillfully recreate the world of the 80s and early 90s – fiat cars, typewriters and cordless phones the size of small books will make you smile.  And threading it together is the terrific music by Achint Thakkar.

There are stretches in which the stock-market jargon gets too technical but Hansal and co-director Jai Mehta never lose sight of the human story.  Which is what makes Scam 1992 so gripping.  Don't miss it!

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