The first five or six episodes of the new SonyLIV original series Scam 1992- The Harshad Mehta Story is your template Rags to Riches story where an aspiring young man’s gutsy moves make him a sensational figure in the history of the Indian Stock Exchange. But what really sucked me into the dirty and complex world of financial fraud and the wider repercussions of it was the last four or five episodes that focus on the downfall of the Big Bull. Hansal Mehta who has made this series has made sure that the texture of the series has an authentic feel and he has opted for a prominent Gujarati actor Pratik Gandhi who looks the part to play the pivotal role. The title and trailer may sound like it is simply focusing on one person, but by the time you finish watching this 10 episode series, it successfully enhances your overall knowledge about the scam and also this sector.
So there is no real need to tell you who the main character is. Harshad Mehta, who started his journey as a stockbroker in the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) is our “hero”. He aspired to do big business and become a brand. But the lobby that always wanted to keep new faces away from the business always tried to pull him down. But Mehta was smart and he used the loopholes in the business to create funds. A major fraud he did, using the funds of SBI got exposed in 1992 and the series here shows us the journey of Harshad Mehta up to this point and what happened after that.
Hansal Mehta’s series is based on the book written by Sucheta Dalal and her husband Debashish Basu about this scam. I don’t have any in-depth knowledge about the whole thing, so if any of you who have an idea about this scam feels there is any factual inaccuracy in the story, this might not be the review you are looking for. Well, it is obvious that the dramatization of sequences may have happened. The timeline of events may have also got changed for the sake of creating drama. But there is one good thing this series has done and that is the way it shows us the complicated corrupt system and the level of intricacy which is beyond the understanding of a common man. We are shown that even the CBI folks who investigated the case were struggling to understand the terminologies and financial equations.
The show written by Sumit Purohit, Vaibhav Vishal, and Karan Vyas has an understandable uneven balance in terms of the focus. Primarily it is a show about Harshad Mehta and his attempts to stay in the market by doing anything possible. But if you look at it, this story also has a journalist’s perspective and that track of journalist Sucheta Dalal and Debashish Basu is a thoroughly gripping one. And then they are bravely shedding light on how such a monumental money fraud has connections with our political powers. The way Hansal Mehta reaches a point of a major public disclosure in the story by mixing fictional footage and original footage was one really smart move in my opinion.
Recreating the ‘90s isn’t an easy task when you have sequences that have public spaces and crowds. Well, you can find certain errors if you observe it far too closely, but while you are hooked onto the content the production design does export you to that age before the internet and mobile phones. There are 10 episodes with an average duration of 40-50 minutes and Hansal Mehta and his team use the platform to cover the wide spectrum of this fraud. The investigative part of this story is thoroughly engaging and some may find the way the series approaches Mehta’s methods a bit problematic. But when you sit back and analyze the whole picture, the whataboutery raised by those who support Mehta becomes a difficult argument to counter.
In the last episode of the series, we see a calmer version of Mehta who agrees to the fact that he went after money that was beyond what he needed to live a happy life. And yet one can see his efforts stay relevant in the business in whatever ways possible. You can’t really blame the show by saying that it whitewashes the central character. Yes, it has an inclination to look at the story from his point of view also and that does put our moral compass in a very murky space. On one side he is this criminal who did illegal things using the loopholes in the system and on the other side we have a system that went through a greater cleansing process due to the things Mehta openly said to the public.
The cinematography does convey the aspirations, turbulence, and angst in the whole story in an absorbing way. We can at times see the aspect ratios changing to 1:1 to give us an idea about the time in which the story is happening. Lighting enhances the drama and the scripting is pretty crisp and it doesn’t really leave our central protagonist completely even when it deviates to subplots that don’t really require Harshad Mehta on screen. As the plot gets more and more characters, the series starts to look more gripping. The script is constructed in such a way that even those who may have valid criticism about certain glorifications will have to agree to the fact that it also addressed Mehta’s ugly side. Achint Thakkar’s theme music which gets various interpretations in the series is an instant hit and adds to the mood of this engrossing storytelling.
Pratik Gandhi plays the role of Harshad Mehta in this series and there is that glow in his portrayal of the character which makes his Harshad Mehta a charismatic persona. The early dreamy days, dominant days at the BSE, the relentlessness to find solutions, and the calm and composed life after the setback etc were portrayed with a subtle yet evident difference. Shreya Dhanwanthary as Sucheta Dalal has that energy and perseverance of a truth-seeking journalist and the show gives ample space for her to show the multiple shades of that character. The casting in general is pretty top-notch as almost everyone’s face stays with you despite having limited screen time. Rajat Kapoor, Satish Kaushik, Anant Mahadevan, etc are seen in really interesting characters. The actors who performed the roles of Ashwin Mehta, Debashish Basu, and the close aid of the Mehta brothers were really fabulous.
I am someone whose knowledge about the stock market and the whole economic system is pretty basic. Scam 1992 – The Harshad Mehta Story may have the outlook of a spiced up thriller, but the purpose here I feel was to expose the clumsy system which a large part of the population doesn’t understand or doesn’t care to understand. Scam 1992 is a well-crafted series that works for you on many levels.
The title and trailer may sound like it is simply focusing on one person, but by the time you finish watching this 10 episode series, it successfully enhances your overall knowledge about the scam.
Green: Recommended Film
Orange: Okay, Watchable, Experimental Films
Red: Not Recommended