Pratik Gandhi as Harshad Mehta in Scam 1992 shows us how far in the world charm can take a man. Spoiler Free Review.
Author: Deepa Bajaj |
November 11th 2020
Have you watched Scam 1992 - The Harshad Mehta Story yet? The story of the 1992 securities scam in the Indian stock market, India’s first major financial fraud. And the antihero of the series or this story is the main alleged perpetrator, stockbroker Harshad Mehta. If that sounds boring or heavy to you, you are far from the truth. Brilliantly executed in both technique and performances, the person who stands out is Pratik Gandhi, who plays Harshad Mehta.
As I watched the series progress, somewhere during the middle, Mehta started to remind me of a man I've encountered in my past. The reminder was sudden and I wondered why did I not see it before. And that is where the craft of Pratik Gandhi, who plays the role of Harshad Mehta, is at its best. As Harshad Mehta starts to move forward in life to become The Big Bull or Amitabh Bachchan of Bombay Stock Exchange, his body language and nuances change. Whether it is how he sits, speaks, his reactions to people, his conviction to do whatever it takes to get ahead, his statement via the watch he now wears, his cars, his home... the man is not the jobber of Dalal Street you meet in the first episode.
The rise and fame of Harshad Mehta in the stock market were almost heroic, much like Amitabh Bachchan's in the film industry just before him. The series often makes the reference to almost help us understand the aura of the man and his rags to riches story, in that era, to have become the highest advance taxpayer of the country. Is that mesmerising? Yes. And that is what probably led Mehta as far as he reached. Until he came across Sucheta Dalal or she came across his story.
The biggest dangers of charm are often what it makes us forget. A man who has convinced himself with a lie can sell it like the truth to us all. He makes the sleight of hand so believable, that to us it is magic, not a lie. And him a magician realising beautiful dreams, not a liar.
In the series, we see that Mehta is one of many in a system where everyone is a scamster, only he is better at it than the others. But he is also the rare lower-middle-class man with a dream and some charm, who could chase a better life only by being a scamster that system. A lot of us could relate to this man and would want to see him win. And this man sure does want to!
We are so taken in that would forget all the destruction being caused, because this guy not only makes us believe in his dreams, his schemes or his ideas, he also makes us want to be a part of turning them into reality. And we might not even notice, that reality will serve no one else but his vanity or his unending need for validation. Not me. Not you. And destroy many a life in the process, as it did with the scam. It included the loss of money to lakhs of middle-class families and also crashed the stock market, wiping Rs. 1000 billion in market capitalization. At least one man killed himself in the process. And one life lost is one too many.
That is how successful Gandhi is in portraying a man as charming as Harshad Mehta. Gandhi captivates us as Mehta, much like Mehta may have captivated the investors and many players of Dalal Street to have caused the above. Even while knowing what happened in real life, we are rooting for him in the end. We have rationalized to ourselves, he did what he needed to get ahead in a world geared for the privileged.
But this is where Dalal, beautifully played by Shreya Dhanwanthary, serves as the reminder us lesser mortals need. The journalist never falls for it even as Mehta brings out the cavalry. She reminds us that the clean up of the crime does not mean the crime did not happen. That the money Mehta was playing with (and also dreams), was not his, but of the common man.
And perhaps that is the biggest takeaway from the series for some of us. As Gandhi masterfully presents what people may have fallen for, it's a cautionary tale teaching us to strive not to. In work, love, and life in general, as it is what usually causes the biggest breaches of trust. And ruins lives where the perpetrator is so oblivious to the damage he has caused, he could not even begin to be apologetic, much less redeem himself. To him, he only sold you a great dream, but it is your fault for buying it. The betrayal has not been caused by him, only felt by you.
But how do we continue to believe in the world and people to be good at large, if we also have to become impervious to charm and the power of a dream? Perhaps, Ms. Dalal could tell us.
Scam 1992 - The Harshad Mehta Story, premiered on SonyLiv on 9 October 2020. Written for the screen by Sumit Purohit, Saurav Dey, Vaibhav Vishal, and Karan Vyas, the series is adapted from journalist Sucheta Dalal and Debashish Basu's 1993 book The Scam: Who Won, who Lost, who Got Away. It has been directed by Hansal Mehta with Jai Mehta as co-director.