‘Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story’ review: Hugely watchable tale of ambition and greed

Directed by Hansal Mehta, the 10-part web series now streaming on Sony Liv stars Pratik Gandhi, a relatively unknown Gujarati actor, as Harshad Mehta.
A scene from Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story
A scene from Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story
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It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Harshad Mehta’s story is one of a man who indulged an addiction and then fell prey to it. It proves that perhaps the greatest addiction of all, more dangerous than drugs or alcohol, is the addiction to wealth. As Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story, now streaming on Sony Liv, tells us, you can never have enough money or the materialism it facilitates. Yet unlike any other addiction, this compulsive need to make money can create much larger ramifications on a nation where poverty and disparity keep birthing a restless child, ambition.

Ambition, aspiration, greed – call it what you will, but when Harshad Shantilal Mehta (Pratik Gandhi), who shares a one-bedroom home with four family members, aspires to improve his lot in life, you can’t help but empathise with him. He is a man no one expects achievement from, and yet he refuses to be ordinary.

A sharp mind, a supportive brother and unbridled confidence see Harshad begin his romance with the stock market on its chaotic and cut-throat floors as a ‘jobber’. He rises quickly through the ranks, and as he gains experience, he quickly grows a thick skin and sheds his scruples, that is if he had any in the first place.

We learn these details through a voice-over narration by Shreya Dhanwanthary, the actor playing acclaimed financial journalist Sucheta Dalal, who first sniffed the rot in the state of the Sensex. The series, based on the book The Scam: Who Won, Who Lost, Who Got Away by Sucheta Dalal and Debashis Basu, also a financial journalist, begins with a sweaty SBI employee entering the Times of India office and giving Sucheta the first tip that sets her down a rabbit hole of stock market irregularities, fraud, institutionalised corruption and the man at the centre of it all, Harshad Mehta.

Directed by Hansal Mehta, who is known for his sensitive and realistic brand of cinema, with Jai Mehta sharing co-direction credits, the show’s well-researched screenplay is written by Sumit Purohit and Saurav Dey with impactful dialogues by Karan Vyas. Over 10 almost hour-long episodes, the makers slowly and meticulously build the world of Dalal Street in the 90s, taking time to make sure we are familiar with financial jargon and stock market lingo, recognise the main players and their significance, but most importantly appreciate why Harshad’s financial crimes had such far reaching and catastrophic ramifications.

In its attempt to stay unbiased, Hansal and his team of writers compromise on building a strong emotional arc to the story. While they refuse to judge Harshad or glorify him as a poor man compelled to take the wrong means, they are unable us to offer us a deep insight into what compelled the man to be so relentlessly and, dare I say, shamelessly unscrupulous. Perhaps staying true to Sucheta and Debashis’s book interfered with crafting a more intimate portrayal of the man whose actions ruined the lives of thousands of individuals and left deep scars on the Indian economy.

This isn’t to say that they don’t seek our sympathy for the man. Hansal and his team carefully construct Harshad’s world and populate it with powerful and ethically dubious individuals who control the stock market and the money market. Foreign banks, public sector enterprises, Indian banks and even the CBI are depicted as morally compromised or tainted by the temptation of making a quick buck. The series questions whether Harshad was a crook, or an opportunist who manipulated a faulty and corruptible system. While there is no denying the seriousness and selfishness of his crimes, was he ultimately made a scapegoat by those more powerful than him? Or excessively punished to deter the future Harshad Mehtas longing for bigger, better things?

What makes Scam 1992 immensely watchable and intriguing is the man who resurrects Harshad Mehta from old news reports and never-ending folklore. Pratik Gandhi is absolutely brilliant as Harshad Mehta bringing equal parts of charm and cunningness to the part, but never resorting to posturing or ‘heroic’ body language. Hansal’s decision to cast a relatively unknown Gujarati actor as the Gujarati Harshad is a masterstroke, because Pratik’s man next door appeal immediately forces us to root for him even as his character pulls out one dishonest scheme after another from his hat.

Watch the trailer of Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story:

Nikhil Dwivedi as the smooth talking but cutthroat ‘foreign bank’ head, Satish Kaushik as the foul mouthed ‘bear’ Manu Mundra, and Rajat Kapoor as the earnest but rough around the edges CBI officer are all well cast and deliver great performances. Unfortunately, apart from Harshad’s loyal brother Ashwin (Hemant Kher) no other members of Harshad’s family are given too much screen time or importance. His wife and Ashwin’s wife are loyal, their mother is loving, and that is all that we know about them. It would have been interesting to see their perspective on Harshad’s actions and the impact it had on so many people, including themselves.

Harshad Mehta created a scam involving thousands of crores and suffered serious consequences for it, but sadly as we know now his story has not deterred others like Ketan Parikh and Nirav Modi who committed serious financial crimes in the years that followed. Did Harshad regret his actions? Would he have done things differently if Indian banking laws were not riddled with loopholes or if opportunities for new players were not hard to come by? We will never know.

Perhaps Harshad’s greatest crime was that like Icarus, he flew too fast and too close to the sun, forgetting that his wings were sealed with wax. It melted and he fell from a such a height that he never could rise again.

Do check out Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story, it’s a compellingly told labour of love that deserves to be watched.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.

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