From Writing to Acting, Hansal Mehta’s ‘Scam 1992’ Packs a Punch
Review: ‘Scam 1992’ taps into the psychological need to succeed and have prestige.
Scam 1992 Review
Scam 1992 The Harshad Mehta Story is at once a fairytale and cautionary tale. Written by Sumit Purohit and Saurav Dey, directed by Hansal Mehta and adapted from Sucheta Dalal’s book, with Pratik Gandhi and Shreya Dhanwanthary in lead roles, it is an epic of ginormous proportions, resembling the photographs in our albums at home, Kodak moments from the 90’s, a world of muted colours, soft pastels tinged with browns, pinks and blues, like a postcard from a trip sometime in the last century.
This is India in the day and age of analogue, a slower, simpler and sleepier time. The effects of globalisation and liberalisation are just trickling into society, with fancy beer and cola companies making a much noticed appearance into the lives of the rich and powerful (back when Coke and Pepsi were premium luxury items) and a time when fingers were licked before counting the thick wads of paper with Gandhi Ji’s face on them.
The show taps into the psychological need to succeed and have prestige. The desire to get rich, successful and powerful (fast) or die trying. This is about the people who don’t watch from the sidelines, and instead get in the game, baring the burden of a high risk high reward system, a system brimming with angst, lust, greed, competition, corruption and crime. Harshad often reminds us that “jismein risk hai, usmein ishq hai”.
The Bombay Stock Exchange visuals, resembling a mosh pit of vultures and leaches going at it will stay with me. Their war cries, quoting prices, frothing at the mouth, chilled my spine. The story meanders flawlessly from chai tapris, kholis and samosas to palaces, imported cars and the finest from European vineyards. Calculated predictions, insider trading, stocks and markets. The world of Scam is highly technical but keeps you gripped. Every scene is an event, every shot magic and every dialogue an occasion for more celebration.
This is like The Wolf of Wall Street meets Spotlight but desi and sanskaari. The “Barjatya” brand of bad boy billionaires. Harshad and his brother Ashwin maybe sometimes shady and seedy but are devoted loving sons, husband, fathers and even friends.
The story is of Harshad Mehta, the son of an honest and simple Gujarati businessman, sees his family fall on hard times with his fathers business closing. Ruthless and one track minded in his endeavour, he gnaws his way into and rises in the world of the stock market, becomes “The Big Bull”, a guru, a pandit in his own right and when he starts to get too big for his boots, too cocky, Sucheta Dalal with her Times Of India gig and idealism, brings him crashing down, and with him, the market. The higher the rise, the harder the fall. For all his dutiful living, gharelu Gujarati nuskas and narcissistic and egotistical charm, the truth and the law catch up to him.
Following just a small blunder in SBI, the butterfly effect goes into power and soon the RBI, CBI, the government and his competition are on his heels, chasing and burying the man under a mountain of criminal cases, not all of them legit.
This is a story about murky people in a murky world, where finding the “bad guy” becomes increasingly complicated. Soon we realise that we got it wrong. We come to learn that the problem is not Harshad, or the many like him, but the systematic failure of our banking and economic sector. It is the rot that runs deep in this deeply flawed system. It is a system in which the cards are stacked against honest work and outsiders while nepotism and mediocrity thrive. A system that favours the already fortunate, rife with lies and greed, all the way from the lowly office clerk to the Prime Minister (in some cases anyway).
While in the wrong, people like Harshad not only suffer for their own misdeeds but also become scapegoats for others. The show lends a sympathetic gaze at the businessman - “flaw system main hai aur system pe toh case nahi ho sakta”, and when a few good and honest men like K Madhavan try to make a change, they’re stopped.
From Harshad, we learn that the taste of money and power is addictive and addicts are rarely rational, even when their hearts are in the right place.
The show asks pertinent questions about the accountability of the banks. Citi Bank, Punjab National Bank, IDBI and SBI are just a few names of the institutions that have disappointed people time and time again and the story calls them out. Even today, things have barely changed. Nirav Modi, Mallya and many such have stolen public funds in broad daylight and gotten away while more public funds are used to bail these bad loan-making banks out. How dare they? To ask and answer this, enter Sucheta Dalal. Dalal is the voice of reason, the “common man” (shoutout to R.K. Laxman who’s cameo portrayal is the cherry on top), the conscience and honesty in the story. She hunts white collar criminals for breakfast and sends them to jail for dinner.
The shows non-linear structure spans four decades and a vast world with varying cities, locations and generations. The screenplay delivers much with economy, tightly wound, like the strings of a guitar. Pull even one scene and the whole thing falls apart. The dialogues are memorable. Witty, quick and full of banter, rich with subtext. I went back and rewatched some of the scenes, especially those with Rajat Kapoor, for the banter.
The loveable father, the doting wife, Satish Kaushik and his gang of Humpty Dumpty brokers, all characters are written with such depth and insight that it would take weeks to chisel away at any of them individually. The casting and acting is just right. The show boasts a large ensemble of characters played by character actors and theatre stars. Hansal Mehta’s direction, his angular shots, classic full frames and wide takes and the stellar cinematography of Pratham Mehta make it a visual spectacle. The show also breaks genre boundaries and expectations. It navigates being an almost dark comedy, crime thriller and procedural and investigative drama all together. Scam packs a punch and I hope the team of this show creates more magic together in the future, working this smoothly together like a well-oiled machine.
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