Director Dylan Mohan Gray has directed the first episode of 'Bad Boy Billionaires', which is based on absconding liquor baron Vijay Mallya.

Director Dylan Mohan Gray wearing a black t-shirt and looking into the camera against the backdrop of a cityDylan Mohan Gray
Flix Interview Thursday, October 08, 2020 - 12:29

After a delay of over a month, three episodes of the Netflix documentary series Bad Boy Billionaires have been released on Netflix. In an interview with Dylan Mohan Gray, who has directed the first episode of the series King of Good Times, which is based on the absconding liquor baron Vijay Mallya, he reveals why he chose to tell Mallya’s story, the feedback and criticism the episode has faced and the legal tussle that clouded the release:

Are you happy with the response to Bad Boy Billionaires so far?

Yes, I am very happy with it. Obviously, there are some people who have very strong feelings about the characters in the film. They will occasionally see conspiracy theories behind any account. But I think, in my case, and I would say the other directors as well, we have made a very strong attempt to be as unbiased as possible and we did a huge amount of research. So, everything is very factually sound. 

For my part, I really wanted to get a sense of not just Mr Mallya's personality, but also the significance in the cultural and historical landscape of contemporary India. So I think that comes across well in the film, and people have really been responding to that. I think the responses have been very gratifying in that sense; you're seeing a much more nuanced and deeper interpretation of all the things that happened around Mr Mallya, but also, the social impact and the social context of it.

Most of this information is in the public domain, so what motivated you to tell this story? How did the idea come about?

Netflix had originally been approached in the UK to do a film about Vijay Mallya, and that was meant to be a standalone film. Then they developed the project for a while, and decided it would be good to do an anthology series, which eventually became Bad Boy Billionaires. My initial feeling was, there's no point in doing a film about him, because people already know the story. But then, when I started to do my own research, I realised, people don't really know the story. 

Why did you choose to tell Mallya’s story?

During my research, I realised he had really, really bad PR. I mean he's sort of mismanaged. And in all the things we show in the film that he mismanaged, he also seems to have mismanaged his PR quite badly. Because there was a lot of vilification of him without a very clear narrative as to what exactly it all meant.

And when we did the research, the story was sort of a lot less explosive than it had been portrayed in the media. So that was also interesting to me; who's benefiting from telling the story, and who benefits from making Mr. Mallya out to be the sort of public enemy number one, when it seems to be that there would be a lot of other people who should be ahead of him in the line.

Dylan Mohan Gray on the sets of 'King of Good Times'

What I also thought was extremely interesting, was the story of Vijay Mallya and his father, the latter was exactly the opposite type of personality. And for me, in many ways, it represented the pre-liberalisation in the age of wealth in India. Vijay Mallya represented the first phase of post-liberalisation wealth in India, and then his embracing of materialism, which his father really shunned, which was not very cool and not very kosher, under the previous pre-liberalisation kind of mindset.

What was also very interesting was India's whole love-hate relationship with alcohol. How being this so-called ‘liquor baron’ actually put Vijay Mallya in conflict with many of the conservative forces that are currently ruling India, who are very, very powerful in the country. So, in a way, he was the perfect ‘fall guy,’ in many respects, but that doesn't mean he should not be punished for whatever wrongdoing he has been responsible for.

People have said that nothing new has been shown in Mallya’s story, other than what was already information that was out there in the public. What is your response to that? 

I've noticed some responses where people have said, ‘Oh, you know, a lot of this stuff is already known.’ I think what is sometimes forgotten, or people don't realise, is that Netflix is a global platform, so these films are for a global audience. The purpose of the film was not to give extra information to people who already know the stories very well, let's put it that way. The purpose was to tell the stories, assuming very little prior knowledge, because the global audience doesn't have the prior knowledge. And actually, if you look at the Netflix audience in India, it tends to be a young audience. So even the Indian audience, most of whom are under 30, actually have —  in many cases — not a very detailed knowledge of these stories.

How did you decide whom to talk to? Were there people you wished to speak to other than those interviewed on screen? 

I really prefer to have people that have a direct connection to the story, even the journalists and commentators who we have on King of Good Times, are people that have a long association with Mr. Mallya. For example, Vir Sanghvi has interviewed him numerous times over the course of 25 or more years, so he is very, very knowledgeable, not just about the final stage of his story, but actually the complete trajectory of his story, and has had extensive conversations with him throughout the years.

I noticed that a lot of the people commenting on the series have said that there's a strong sense of access and strong sense of connection; that doesn't mean we just get people that are friends with him and even those who are friends of his, who are in the film, they criticise him. And I think that's something a lot of Indian audiences hadn't really seen before, they might be his friends, and they might want to wish him well, but they are still critical of him, they still say he did terrible things and made big mistakes. And even those people who are negatively disposed towards him, they also praise him for certain things. So it's a very balanced view, and that's how life is, nobody's black and white. And unfortunately, a lot of the coverage in India and the types of characters are very black and white. But this all emanates from a context, the social context and the economic context and the way that society is run.

Did you ever talk to Vijay Mallya himself? Was it a conscious decision not to have him on camera?

So having Mallya interviewed in the film was not essential, because I didn't want it to appear that he had some influence over the editorial content of the film. And his voice has been very well heard. There was a lot of material available to us which expresses his points of view very well. I would have liked to actually talk to him more about his early life. But with the ongoing cases, it wasn't possible. I did meet him in London at the court when his extradition was happening. And he said his son introduced me to him. So I had a lot of discussions with Siddharth. 

How hard was it to convince Siddharth Mallya and the others to speak on camera?

Yeah, Siddharth took some convincing, but I think it's natural because Mr. Mallya has been quite demonised by the media. And like I told you before, his PR has been very bad. It's partly through his own fault but because of that, they were very kind of gun shy about participating. It took a while to convince them that it's a very balanced story, and Netflix is different and they know that a lot of people are going to see it. So you can choose not to be in it but if you feel you have something to say, it's actually better to be in it.

So I noticed that there have been a lot of people quoting Siddharth saying his father is a scapegoat, well, that's his honest belief. And a lot of people feel that way, but doesn't mean we're endorsing that viewpoint. But I think that the fact that there's such close access, he's almost there in his father's shoes, in a way, instead of his father being able to speak on behalf of the family, so there's value in it.

At the same time, right beside his statements are the statements of former employees, who did not receive their payment and suffered a lot because of that, and were lied to or betrayed. And other people who are very critical of Mr. Mallya. So in the end, you see that there is no simple answer. In the sense that the audience also has to do a little bit of thinking about how they feel about these subjects at the end of the films.

Did you feel any resistance from Vijay Mallya himself over the movie? Since we have seen all the other subjects approach courts against the documentary, did you get any kind of indication that you might be witnessing a legal tussle?

I did expect one, because actually a number of people who are quite close to Mr. Mallya definitely would have consulted with him before participating. So that means he was aware that this project would be made. We had many discussions with his son, who was sort of the representative of the family. So we didn't expect any problems from Mr Mallya, but in general, legal problems were expected. So we had a lot of interaction with lawyers from India and different parts of the world. There was definitely an expectation that there could be legal problems with these films. So we took a lot of precautions and we decided not to keep a lot of things in the film because of potential legal problems. From Mallya, I didn't expect it, but from others, you know, it was not unexpected. And, of course, it happened that way.

There’s a stay on the fourth episode and that has not been released yet. Are you disappointed that the episode on B Ramalinga Raju could not be released with all the other three episodes?

I hope that we'll see that film soon. And Netflix also has the option to release the film in other territories. So it might be good in a way that Ramalinga Raju is maybe not as well known as the other three, so releasing it a little bit later might actually draw more viewers to that film. Because, you know, people will have seen the other three beforehand. 

It's a shame to me that we couldn't release the film when it was supposed to be released in the proper way. We would have had the opportunity to promote it better and to make people aware of it and that didn't happen. It was released in the middle of the night unexpectedly and I only had a few hours warning myself. But the most important thing, at the end of the day, is that it has been released and people are able to enjoy it.

Do you think we will see a season two of Bad Boy Billionaires?

I think they are discussing it, but I do not have more information on that. There is a possibility of doing Bad Boy Billionaires in other parts of the world and I think that was envisioned, because there are many characters like this in many other parts of the world. 

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