Scam 1992 Review: A Gripping Series that Humanises Harshad Mehta, But Also Warns About the Perils of Greed

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Scam 1992 Review: A Gripping Series that Humanises Harshad Mehta, But Also Warns About the Perils of Greed

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Harshad Mehta (a very convincing Pratik Gandhi), chasing investors on a golf course, is mocked for his golf swing, and told to “stick to cricket”. It’s a classist jibe directed toward somebody who did not belong to the business circle. Mehta takes it to heart and spends nights practising golf on the terrace of his sea-facing apartment, eventually nailing it. He was already “BSE ka Bachchan” by then but that did not stop business elites from putting him down – it only alludes to the hostile nature they harbour toward “outsiders”. It also tells us a lot about the sheer ambition and drive of Harshad Mehta, who wanted to belong in the big league, and just get bigger and bigger.

Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story is a tale of money, ambition, power, and greed. Living with four family members in a one-room apartment in the chawls of suburban Mumbai, Harshad Mehta was hungry for success. A shrewd and quick-learner, he identified the stock market as his ticket to prosperity. Building up connections in the market, his rise from a petty “jobber” to a businessman who started his own company “Growmore” was phenomenal. With his brother Ashwin (Hemant Kher) and trusted aide Bhushan (Chirag Vohra), he took on the foul-mouthed “bear” trader Manu Mundra (Satish Kaushik) and disrupted the “cartel” in the securities markets, led by Citibank’s then India head AS Thiagarajan (Nikhil Dwivedi).

Digitisation was still a decade away, and Harshad Mehta exploited loopholes in the system. “Risk hai to ishq hai” was his mantra and he constantly pushed the boundaries of legality. He was not shy of bribing officials, practising insider trading, or flouting RBI guidelines. Claiming to “make profits” for everyone, he got India’s biggest public sector banks, financial institutions and even the government involved in his get-rich-quick schemes. The party is brought to an end, thanks to the rigorous pursuit of the “scam”, by journalists Sucheta Dalal (Shreya Dhanwantry) and Debashis Basu. Introducing phrases like “financial frauds” to India’s vocabulary, their well-researched articles in The Times Of India led to the eventual investigation by the RBI and CBI. The gripping 10-part series, directed by Hansal Mehta is based on the book by the duo titled The Scam: Who Won, Who Lost, Who Got Away.

The ambitions and aspirations of a pre-91 India have been astutely captured in Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story.

Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story throws light on the problems that continue to plague India even today like the failure of regulatory authorities to reign in scamsters. When the RBI Governor, played by Ananth Mahadevan, first gets a whiff of the scam, he leaks information to the press. Owing to political pressure, he can’t disclose the information publicly. The righteous and tough CBI officer Madhavan (Rajat Kapoor) who wanted politicians (including PM Narsimha Rao) investigated is taken off the case for “overreach”. In the series, he leaves the room warning his boss that the CBI might be called a “caged parrot” in the future, one that “only repeats what it is told”. The words are somewhat prophetic. Concerns around the independence of the CBI and RBI linger on even today, almost three decades later.

The show captures Gujarati culture and the nostalgia of ’80s Bombay adds a nice flavour to the series – one even gets few glimpses of “the common man” RK Laxman at The Times of India office, which is delightful. Financial concepts and jargons are explained through simple examples and the narration by Sucheta Dalal is sharp, accompanied by some vintage footage from back in the day. The ambitions and aspirations of a pre-91 India have been astutely captured.

The show will not make you hate Harshad Mehta, partly due to the fantastic and humane portrayal by Pratik Gandhi. He comes across as a man who neither created the loopholes, nor was the only one exploiting it. But the show definitely warns you against the perils of unlimited greed. While the series does showcase an instance of a person who committed suicide due to the losses, it doesn’t aptly capture the devastation it caused to the lives of thousands of investors. The role of the family beyond the brothers also feels slightly under portrayed. However, Scam 1992 gets many things right, and will keep you hooked. It serves as a tale of caution.

Harshad Mehta is a prime example of the fact that reputation can take years to build, but can come crashing down in a matter of minutes. As former UTI chief MK Pherwani (K.K. Raina) tells Harshad, “Trust is always high in demand and short in supply.”