Hansal Mehta’s SCAM 1992: The Finest Indian Web-series Thus Far

If the opening theme (created by Achint Thakkar) does not haunt you enough, Harshad’s stroke and the lonesome death at the climax definitely shall.  With Neeraj Arya of Kabir Café singing ‘Mat Kar Maya Ko Ahnkar’, Harshad Mehta fades into time, leaving behind his family, infamy, ruined small investors and a trail of unanswered questions.  

Harshad Mehta is a legend of our times. At a time when people loved to play safe, placed premium on savings and security, and underplayed their successes, he took risks, earned mega bucks, splurged, talked big, flaunted and indulged in self-promotion and even peddled half-cooked, untried, untested, unscientific theories like the ‘Replacement Cost Theory’ which were lapped up by his followers.  ‘The Big Bull’, ‘Raging Bull’, and ‘Amitabh Bachchan of the Dalal Street’ were not mere sobriquets, they represented the reverence that  brokers, and investors felt towards him, the derision of trade pundits and bears notwithstanding.  He grew at too fast a pace, and through GrowMore, took his investors along on an upward flight. His rise challenged the markets, and his eventual fall shook the general confidence in the economy. For whatever he was and did, Harshad Shatilal Mehta became as much the face of the liberalising, changing, aspiring India in 1991-92, as Manmohan Singh and Dhirubhai Ambani were. The bombastic claim of having paid Rs 1 crore to the then PM in a huge suitcase sealed that image.

But what did Harshad do to deserve such infamy? Did he merely exploit the loopholes that existed in the banking system, or was he a master manipulator of the stock markets?

It was not Mehta who used the bond market to play stocks. Regulations were lax, and many big players used to manipulate money market to intervene in shares. Harshad’s  firm took uncollateralized loans from banks against fake or no Bank Receipts, and he used those funds to buy selected shares like ACC, Sterlite and Videocon and send them into a bull run. In other words, his firm, GrowMore, brokered Ready Forward Deals (bank-to-bank short term loans) between banks, but diverted the temporary funds in the broker accounts towards the share market.  This inflated the Sensex, but caused small a lot of distress when the markets crashed when GrowMore sold the shares to book profits.Along with Bank of Karaad and Metropolitan Cooperative Bank, Harshad even forged Bank Receipts, and used these fake BRs  to secure loans which he pumped into stocks. This was downright fraud- a scam within the scam.

The screenplay of SCAM 1992 is more engaging than Scorsese’s The Wolf on the Wall Street, or De Niro’s The Wizard of the Lies, and perhaps scales the heights of The Big Short.  Hansal and his writers, Sourav Dey and Sumit Purohit, have trusted the average viewer to understand /appreciate basic market jargon (like jobber, broken , money market, equity, securities, bonds, JPC etc)  and dynamics (like bull, bear, short sell, Bank Receipt, Bank Guarantee Ledger, Ready forward deals etc) along with the ups and downs in Hashad’s life. The whole world has become Gujarat in that sense that everyone is supposed to have some idea about the market, or develop it as we move along. By the end of the series, even a share-illiterate would have gained some insight into the world of stocks.

The series  is adapted from a book written by Sucheta Dalal and Debashish Basu on the Securities’ Scam. Shreya Dhanwantary has given a very convincing performance as Sucheta. Did her investigation begin after some whistle-blower in the SBI tipped her off? Or was she played by the bears who wanted to end the bull run in the market and torpedo GrowMore?

Words fail me as I try to describe Pratik Gandhi’s lead performance. I do not know if he was born to play just this one role, or has more firepower in him, but he has done with Harshad what Nitish Bhardwaj had managed to do with Krishna. Hemant Kher, as Ashwin Mehta, the understated, reliable  brother of Harshad, and Chirag Vora as Bhushan Bhatt have also done good work. A lot is being made of the dialogues of the webseries. ‘Risk hai to Isq hai’ is rumoured to have become quite a popular stocks-pickup line. It is Pratik’s natural ease at delivery, and the accompanying smirk, that really capture the imagination.

CBI/ED officers would do well to seek inspiration from Rajat Kapoor’s acerbic wit, smiling demeanour and aggressive comportment. Satish Kaushik, who plays Manu Mundra (Manu Manek), aka the Black Cobra, the Big Bear is underutilized. Anant Mahadevan, KK Raina and Nikhil Dwivedi look every bit the bankers they have played on screen. The performances by the ensemble cast,  and the art-décor work put in the recreation of old Bombay are realistic enough to create an impression that one is watching a documentary, instead of a web-series. It fills one with nostalgia to see historical figures like Harshad, Ram Jethamalani, Chandraswami, S. Venkitaraman (Gov.RBI),Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, Manu Manek and Manohar Pherwani ( MD, National Housing Bank) come alive, just like you saw them three decades back on the good, old  DD News.

Hansal Mehta is a mystery to me. How does the director of of Shahid, Aligarh, City Lights can come up with a cruelty called Simran, then again scale heights with Bose:Dead or Alive, Omerta, The Accidental Prime Minister and Scam 1992, and then make something as intolerable and sub-ordinary as Chhalang? Along with Aligarh and Bose, Scam must rate as Hansal’s best.

Pratik Gandhi, Shreya Dhanwanthary and Hansal have managed to resurrect the ‘Big Bull’ and the memories of the first major ‘scam’ of the post-liberalization India with quite some chilling effect. Here is a series that does not require abuses, Hindu-bashing, guns, bombs and rivers of blood to make impact. This biographical account flows, entertains, cautions and leaves you wishing for more( not GrowMore). If Breaking Bad made one wish he was a Chemistry professor, Scam invites you to delve into stock-trading!

#scam1992 #theharshadmehtastory #harshadmehta #thebigbull

#hansalmehta #suchetadalal #pratikgandhi #shreyadhanwanthary

#citybank #nikhildwivedi

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