Leo Tolstoy said, “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” Ever imagined what if we combine both the plots? Amalgamation will result in a narrative, that would be something like this, “A stranger/outsider pursues a journey in strange lands.” If his journey will lead to his rise and fall, it will become an outsider’s pursuit from rags to riches and then back to rags. Something that usually happens in real life with real people. They attain success, and then that success disappears. A story extended enough will lead to a grave, because humans are immortal and not gods. Scam 1992 (TV Series) based on the real-life incidents of Harshad Mehta is one such intriguing story of a man’s rise in strange lands and then his fall due to a plethora of reasons. His greatness in between the ends, but how it was portrayed on screen, is the main concern of the article.
SCAM 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story (TV Series), directed by Hansal Mehta, is a 10 part television series of approximately 50 minutes each, that tells an extraordinary tale of an outlander in the Stock Market, Harshad Mehta portrayed by Pratik Gandhi. The narrative is told from the point of view of a journalist, Sucheta Dalal (Shreya Dhanwanthary). Sucheta Dalal’s investigation on Harshad Mehta while working for Times of India coined a report and a book that may have worked as a source for this intriguing story.
Scam 1992 (TV Series) begins with a gripping scene where an employee from the State Bank of India visits Sucheta Dalal, the finance editor of Times of India in 1992. She is informed about a fraudulent transaction between Harshad Mehta and SBI, the amount that is soaring high, 500 Indian Crore Rupees.
Sucheta, then through her narration, takes us back to the times, when Harshad Mehta was no one, just a struggler doing odd jobs, and lived with his nuclear family in a Mumbai chawl. Harshad is married but lives with his elder brother, Ashwin Mehta (Hemant Kher), his mother and father. They together live in a single room chawl. He and his wife sleep in the kitchen, while his brother, father and mother sleep in the bedroom. That was their financial status that worried Harshad every second. Harshad tried a number of odd jobs to fulfil his ambitions and become a man of substance. He wanted to make big like every other guy filled with youthful energy. Harshad had enthusiasm and will to learn but no means to channelise it. Out of nowhere, Harshad decides to try his luck in the Stock Market. He enters the world of trading and learns the business in no time due to his sharp wit. But anyone talented and ambitious can’t stay stagnant at one place for long. Harshad’s desire to go big, become big led him to keep probing deep into the market, where he even starts doing fraudulent practices like internal trading, i.e. predicting the price of the shares from the internal insights of the company. Harshad, tired of earning money as a Stock Broker, start his own trading account but due to heavy speculation in the market, he is burdened with heavy debts.
The fall and rise in Harshad’s life became constant soon, mostly because of his own ambition to Risk everything. Like said through an arresting dialogue in the film, “Risk hai toh Ishq hai” (Risk breeds Love). Harshad’s obsession to take risks and to always be under the spotlight causes great pain to people around him. His father, who was a failure himself, often warned Harshad to have stability. Harshad wanted to rise, but with rise often comes the risk of fall, and if his life has to be summed, it was a graph of high and lows that kept him alive, but when the lows started dominating, even his heart showed it’s an unwillingness to probe further.
Scam 1992 (TV Series) is the journey of this phenomenal stockbroker, who engineered, discovered and reaped all the flaws of the Indian Financial system for his own good, and at one point became the highest taxpayer of India. Though, the narrative of the series, as a whole, glorifies his activities, putting him in emotional light for most of the time. Are we Obsessed with Criminals?
Harshad Mehta lived an uncertain life, metaphorically his own life picturised peaks and valleys of a share market speculation. Though the structure of his biopic drama series, Scam 1992 has no graph that creates speculation. Rather it has too many tangents, sometimes in a single episode.
In easy words, every film has a graph, a narrative arc, it goes in a certain direction and then either rises or falls in the end. If said simply, Harshad’s story is rags to riches and then back to the rags. But when seen the same through the Scam 1992 (TV Series), every episode has too many arcs like the Television Daily Soaps of India. There are rise and fall every now and then, that becomes monotonous and predictable speculation after a certain point. If all the collective arcs of the series/episodes have supplemented the main arc of Harshad’s character or his story, the dramatic level could have stretched to unimaginable heights, making it one of the best series over the internet. But after the first and second episode, the other episodes seemed like a mess of ups and downs, with narrative just moving forward without any motif. We fail to connect with the Protagonist at a certain point, which was picked up so marvellously in the beginning episodes. Is it like Indians excel only in making better introductions, and the work on expositions is half of it. Like Speilberg said, “People have forgotten how to tell a story. Stories don’t have a middle or an end any more. They usually have a beginning that never stops beginning.” The same is the case with Scam 1992, that excels in everything but falls short due to its lazy writing.
Unreliable Character Arc
What separates Drama from Real Life is its ability to show the rise and fall of a certain character through dramatic arcs. In a single person’s life, there are too many arcs, and one can really make stories of all those, but combining all the arcs in one story will cause a mess. Scam 1992 (TV Series) is that mess.
If a real-life character is put on screen, one has to be very conscious not to put everything on a plate, as it will create a documentary rather than an intriguing fiction. Like Hitchcock said, “Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.” The makers of Scam 1992 (TV Series) failed to remove these dull parts. It could have been a tight drama with a vibrant character in the centre of the 10 parts would have been trimmed to 6 parts. Chernobyl, mini-series would have been boring if extended to more than 6 episodes, hopefully, it was made into 5.
An extended version of drama leads to incorporation of unnecessary incidents that spoils the character arc of fiction. The journey is like, the man moves, the man rests, the man moves again, the man rests again. As boring and monotonous as it sounds, the tediousness is amped on screen. Harshad Mehta’s character could have an excellently moving arc, and it is still visible if you just trim certain episodes in between, but right now it’s spiritless.
An overstretched writing delivers a soulless character on screen, that leaves little scope for an actor to perform. If you analyside closely, no character in Scam 1992 (TV Series) goes under transformation except Bhushan Bhatt’s character (Chirag Vohra). I am glad he had less screen time, at least he had a character arc to showcase his skill.
There are certain screenwriters in Indian Film Industry that really work on Character Transformation, prominent ones like Juhi Chaturvedi and Varun Grover. Even Varun’s slow Sacred Games 2, showed Nawaz’s excellent graph from rise to fall and it is easily traceable. It doesn’t glamorize Ganesh Gaitonde in the second part of the series, even if it did in the first one. But even then the audience knew that his obsession with power will lead to death, as told in the opening scene of the series. For Harshad’s story, he has been shown in an emotional light, a man who killed so many people never met his fate. That wasn’t expected from a director who had told stories like Shahid, and Aligarh on screen.
Scam 1992 (TV Series) is sometimes too verbose and celebrates its the protagonist in a very unrealistic way. No one knows the true story but drama gives you a chance to make a choice, to either spotlight the criminal or deliver a message through the journey. Unfortunately, the makers of the series took the easy entertaining path. For them, it is a tale victoriously celebrated by punchy dialogues on which the audience would hoot. Over the internet, where a series creates your identity, as anybody can have access to it globally, a take like this literally shows our obsession with entertaining fast food drama rather than responsible creative and gripping content.
Harshad’s journey is debatable on the ground that he wasn’t robbed, put down or kicked by any person or authority rather than his own ambition. It is a clear “Macbeth Narrative” of selfishness, for wealth and power and giving an emotional end to it, that creates sympathy for such characters, is an utterly irresponsible approach to storytelling.
A special mention of the theme music composer of the series, Achint Thakkar, whose anthem of Scam 1992 (TV Series) is addictive and appealing. It sure does tell us that we have some really great technicians and actors in our industry that are constantly wasted by producers and studios whose inexperience or ignorance towards narrative leads to half cooked, wrongly perceived drama series like Scam 1992, which did have the potential to become great. But in the end, it’s another waste.
SCAM 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story (TV Series), a 10 part mini-series is an easy watch over the weekend, if you like to binge it. Don’t expect much, it doesn’t match the international standard, but does give stiff competition to it, at all levels.
The series is streaming on Sony Liv.
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