As Abhishek Bachhan-starrer The Big Bull got released in April 2021, viewers were compelled to compare its content with the enthralling Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story (2020). Armed with the copyrights of using the real names and places, backed with intricate details of how one of the world’s biggest financial market functions, the latter clearly wins over. India Currents connected with Scam’s lead actor and director to know what went behind making it so.
Mumbai is known as much for its local trains as its Jaguars, Lamborghinis, and Porsches. Finding cars like Premiere Padmini, Maruti 1000, Lexus Starlet, and Toyota Sera of the early-90s was a challenge here in the making of the hit web series, Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story.
“In one particular scene, a fleet of 15 of these high-end beauties of the 1990s are being flaunted by Harshad Mehta to his guests. It took the research team 2.5 years to get to those facts and bring them to life for the series,” shares actor Pratik Gandhi, who plays the role of Mehta in Scam.
Within days of premiering on October 9, Scam rose to be the highest ever rated web series in the world on IMDB. “What matters is, in the absence of a benchmark to measure the success of a show, these tell you that your show is doing well. It is heartening. But one should not get carried away,” says soft-spoken Scam Director, Hansal Mehta about the unprecedented ratings ever received by a show/movie – Indian or otherwise.
Scam is based on Sucheta Dala and Debashis Basu’s book The Scam: Who Won, Who Lost, and Who Got Away (1993). Mehta describes it as a deeply investigative and technical non-fiction book which he had wanted to make into a feature film when he read it somewhere around 2004-05.
“A web series, and especially stories like that of Harshad Mehta, require a certain magnitude of storytelling. It’s more challenging and satisfying for me,” Mehta explains. Thus, the script of Scam runs 550 pages and is shot in 85 days spread over 6 months. “This size of the on-floor script is huge. It’s a thesis. If it’s anything to go by, the size of an average movie script is 70-90 pages and is shot in 20-30 days for regional cinema,” says Gandhi. Interestingly, the Scam shoot got over in March of last year, days before the country went into complete lockdown of two months.
Though Gandhi put on 18kgs of weight for the role, he was instructed by the Director to imbibe Harshad’s traits more deeply than the looks. Apart from extensive reading sessions of the book, he watched available online videos of Harshad and met people from the share market and outside to know how he treated people and behaved.
“For example, Harshad was a restless man who wanted to make it big and grow fast. So there was a constant movement in his body. If you watch the frames closely, either his thumb or hand or foot is moving; his smirk appears ever so swiftly portraying his arrogance, ego, and competence all at once – there is energy in the character,” shares Gandhi on how he got into the skin of the protagonist.
The 10-part series takes you on the journey of how a poor Harshad from Gujarat, India, made his way through the Bombay Stock Exchange and got glorified as ‘The Big Bull’ and ‘Bachchan of the stock market’ through the late 1980s and early 1990s until he was exposed by Dalal of committing frauds against banks and BSE that ran into millions of dollars.
“The visual detailing was a challenge – recreating old Bombay, finding the luxury cars, explaining how the stock exchange worked before it was computerized, meeting jobbers to understand how they worked then, to create the offices of those times complete with landline phones…The research team used a book that has the entire history of BSE. We used some hand gestures mentioned in there,” speaks Mehta of ways in which they delved beyond the book.
It was the “big life” of Harshad that intrigues the director the most. “My decision to tell a story or a character is guided by how much it impacts the world we live in. Scam is a story of India at the cusp of liberalization, a story of greed, of a system in rot.”
Scam endears its viewers with simplified jargon of the trade market. Hansal says he guided his writers while they worked on creating engaging dialogue. “Scripting is an interesting process. And this series required a lot of it to be done. With an eye on facts and a book to follow, one can easily lose the emotional connect,” feels Gandhi.
Though Hansal has explored diverse biographical characters with actor Rajkummar Rao in his five critically acclaimed previous works, and his next Chalaang is again with him, why did he chose Gandhi to play Harshad Mehta?
“Pratik Gandhi was an instinctive choice to play the role. I had seen his work in theatre and two of his Gujrati films – Bey Yaar (2014) and Wrong Side Raju (2016). Both Mukesh Chhabra and I zeroed in on him,” says Mehta. On the sets, Hansal told Gandhi that he didn’t even go through the audition given by the actor for this role.
Scam’s tagline ‘Risk hai toh ishq hai’ has struck a chord with many. Did this series take any risks?
“I think the biggest risk the makers of this series took was an unusual cast, to take me as the lead protagonist instead of a well-known face. This is my biggest ever and first mainstream project though I have done a lot of work in the film and theatre industry for over 15 years now,” says Gandhi, who holds an entry in the Limca Book of Records for his 90-minute monologue on Mahatma Gandhi.
“He (Hansal Mehta) is a very calm and composed person. On the first day of the shoot, he told me that all he wanted from me was to create this character with honesty. ‘When you say it’s not feeling right, I would stop.’ You don’t find this kind of faith and freedom,” says Gandhi.
And evidently, the faith is reaping its fruits. “Before this series, I had only heard about the stock exchange. Now I have got intrigued about it and learning it. But I haven’t ever invested!” says Gandhi. Any level at which he could relate himself to Harshad? “Of a lot of things, one thing is, I am a complete family man like him.”
Suruchi Tulsyan, a freelance journalist based in Kolkata, spends most of her time tending to her children and her plants.