A still from Hansal Mehta’s Scam 1992
A still from Hansal Mehta’s Scam 1992

The Story

Saurav Dey: The challenging aspect of writing the story was to simplify money markets for the audience because people don't even know what they are. You have heard of the stock market because that is publicised, but money market is such a niche thing. It is about inter-banking, inter-financial institutions lending, which people are unaware of. So, to simplify those terms and create drama out of it was challenging. And, also to make it accessible to people who have no idea of the money market. The crux of the scam is the money market instruments, so we decided on a few things that we need to explain like how shorting works, what exactly are BR (Bank Receipts) and SGL (Subsidiary General Ledger). We cannot avoid that and show how the scam happens. We decided we are going to talk about it and whatever came in the way of it like Harshad taking positions in the money market, which would sound slightly Greek to people, but they will understand that he is doing something which the other banks are not liking.

Sumit Purohit: Now, there's also a film on the same. We started writing in December 2017 and The Big Bull was announced in 2019 beginning. They are two different formats. We were struggling to contain the story in 10 episodes. I am excited to see the film as it could be a completely different take on it. As writers it could be interesting to watch.

The research

Karan Vyaas: Sumit and Saurav did tons of research for almost two years, which gave a solid base to work upon for the director, dialogue writer and the actors.

SD: There were three ways of research. The book, of course, was a great source, then we spoke to a lot of people in the market — the investors, traders, brokers, etc. We met a lot of his (Harshad Mehta) friends, colleagues and people who were investing and trading at that time. We also got a lot of stuff from newspapers and periodicals. While we have stayed true to the book, we have used what we got and put it all together. The book is non-fiction by nature, for the fictional take, you have to dramatise events and find connecting links.

The dialogues

KV: The biggest challenge was that the series has a lot of characters — journalists, brokers, big officials like RBI governor, SEBI chief, CBI officers, etc. Each had to sound different. Secondly Harshad Mehta and his gang come from a Gujarati background. We did not want them to be like the caricatures we have seen on screen so far. The best part was Hansal sir has cast all the great Gujarati theatre actors. I incorporated those nuances and idioms from Gujarati background and weaved it together. Some of the jargons come across as a way of life because that’s how they talk. It’s not like we are spoon feeding. It had to be effortless, but a lot of effort went into that!

The casting

Hansal Mehta: I have never believed in casting according to resemblance. When you are making a biopic, it’s not about looking exactly like the character. Looks are not what matter, a good actor internalises the character, brings out the spirit of the character, and what the script is trying to convey. Characterisation is more important than caricature. Maybe, if I had coloured my hair, I would resemble Harshad more than Pratik, but I would have messed up the characterisation because I am not an actor. I don’t believe in resemblance at all. There are certain physical characteristics one needed to imbibe and that was mainly weight. When you think of Harshad you see a heavy and tall man. The only thing I asked Pratik to do was grow a moustache and put on weight. The rest of it was all internalisation. When somebody understands and becomes the character the audience begins to associate. Now people see him as Harshad. He is not playing Mahatma Gandhi who has a strong visual association. Even my other films — Aligarh, Shahid and Omerta — they are based on real life characters. Rajkummar Rao was called Shahid for the longest time. Even in Shahid Azmi colony they called him Shahid bhai. He, however, does not look like Shahid Azmi, Fardeen Khan resembled him more!

Karan Vyaas
Hansal Mehta
Saurav Dey
Sumit Purohit

The response

HM: The response has been unanimous. It will seem like a show-off, but everybody seems to have loved it. People who idolised him and his friends were particularly moved by the character and the portrayal. When the scam happened, India was on the cusp of liberalisation. We were on the edge of change. The India that we live in was not there yet so it's like revisiting the world, which has overwhelmed a lot of people. Manual trading the way it was done on the floors, the energy, and the madness has resonated with people who were there in that era and who have not seen that era.

SD: I have been following IMDB and Scam 1992 is rated 9.6. It is doing well and we are enjoying it right now. But saying it is beating Breaking Bad — that's a far cry. That show has 14 lakh likes. We are at some 30,000 votes. It's too early to compare.

The relevance

HM: The show is as much about Harshad as much about the system and the systemic rot. We have always arrested individuals thinking that punishing them will be a deterrent to other people scamming the system. But that does not happen. It becomes more and more sophisticated. The system changes, but loopholes become more complex and nuances get enhanced. There are still loopholes and people who will exploit those. Greed does not change. Whether India has changed or not, greed has only increased. And, ultimately that is the take away from the show.

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