Much Before Bad Boy Billionaires, There Was Harshad Mehta. 1992 Scam is Story of How One Man Deceived Dalal Street

Pop Culture

Much Before Bad Boy Billionaires, There Was Harshad Mehta. 1992 Scam is Story of How One Man Deceived Dalal Street

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

The word “scam” is so commonplace today that mention of it will usually get a response of “which one?”As the recent Netflix show Bad Boy Billionaires highlighted, there is no shortage of tycoons who have participated in shady deals of various natures, leading to massive financial gains for themselves and losses for the country. But in the 1990s, things weren’t so chaotic. Back then, after broker Harshad Mehta’s 1992 bank fraud came to light, it was the only scam worth talking about. Mehta’s dealings, which netted him somewhere between ₹1,000 to ₹4,000 crore, was the biggest financial scam at the time. Adjusted for inflation, that amount would ₹24,000 crore today. And as the trailer for the newly released series Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story shows, it shook the country with its audacity.

Mehta died young, suffering a cardiac arrest at the age of 47 while imprisoned in Mumbai in 2001. But his name is remembered even today as the man who orchestrated the illicit dealings that caused a massive crash in the Indian stock markets and gave us our first bitter taste of a financial fraud. While profiting off his ill-gotten gains, Mehta acquired a reputation for flaunting his ostentatious wealth. This proved to be his undoing, as his conspicuous fortune attracted the attention of journalist Sucheta Dalal, whose reporting on Mehta in The Times of India led to him being investigated and eventually charged for all his economic offences.

Mehta’s story, with its gaudy displays of wealth and shady displays of cunning, is one that captured the country’s imagination as it played out in the news. Now, close to three decades later, a new generation will get to see exactly how momentous the exposé was. Scam 1992 is a 10-part series, based on The Scam: Who Won, Who Lost, Who Got Away by Debashis Basu and Sucheta Dalal, has dropped on Sony Liv today and many on Twitter seem to be giving it a thumbs-up.

The series is not the only offering that delves into Mehta’s scam. The Big Bull, starring Abhishek Bachchan, is also based on Mehta’s life. Given how the fraudster was once called the “Amitabh Bachchan of the stock market”, Bachchan Jr playing him on screen is a neat touch.

Harshad Mehta’s scam was a complex one that involved fraudulently acquiring money from banks that he would invest in the stock market for his own gains. The workings of the scam were complicated and almost baffling to laypersons, who were nonetheless captivated by the sheer magnitude of the amounts involved. Perhaps these new films and TV shows will finally lift the veil of mystery around this scandal.