‘Harshad was a Gujarati legend...the hero who fell,’ says Hansal Mehta

With Abhishek Bachchan-starrer The Big Bull’s trailer dropping on Friday, netizens have already started comparing it with Hansal Mehta’s critically-acclaimed web series, Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story. And, it is now without a reason. Both the film and the web series track the same story: The life of Harshad Mehta, from his humble beginning to him becoming the scamster of Dalal Street. However, the director of the Pratik Gandhi-starrer web series, who along with Applause Entertainment has already announced the second season of Scam featuring the story of Abdul Karim Telgi, thereby turning it into a franchise, tweeted: “Please don’t make unfair comparisons. There can be multiple tales on the same story. Every story-teller will have his own way and should be seen independent of the other. This film has so many talents involved just like my show. They’ve done their best and they deserve your love.”

A few days back, we had caught up with the director on the sidelines of the Raj Kapoor Excellence Awards 2020 where his series had picked up the best web series award along with that of the best director, actor and dialogues, where we asked him to go back in time and recall the process creating his version of the Harshad Mehta story which has now already gotten a cult status. Excerpts:

What had made you choose this particular story?

When I was growing up during the ’90s, I was fascinated by this particular character. I wanted to tell his story. By then, I had read Sucheta Dalal and Debashis Basu’s book titled The Scam: Who Won, Who Lost, Who Got Away (1992) and it moved me.  The world of the share market and the brokers interested me. It’s a world that not many from this generation have imagined, leave alone experienced. So, one had to recreate that world for the audiences and that was a major challenge. Second, Harshad, for me was a fascinating Gujarati character. He carried in himself a part of almost every Gujarati you meet. He is like a Gujarati legend. He was a hero who fell. There was a great rise-and-fall story. His story goes from rags to riches and then the sudden steep fall from grace. It is a fascinating character study and a tale of fascinating times.

How did it all start?

When Sameer Nair, of Applause entertainment, called me in 2017 and said that he had secured the rights to the book, I immediately said that I’m on. I didn’t want to listen to anything, I knew that this is what I wanted to do. That’s how the journey began in 2017. I remember I got my writers, Sumit Purohit and Saurav Dey, and they got into the act heartily. It’s been the most fulfilling and frustrating journey.

And, why do you call it “frustrating”?

Well, it was frustrating because it took a lot of time. Writing and waiting to go on floors, to shoot, work on the script to make things better takes a lot of time. A mammoth cast, shooting at multiple locations, recreating a period is not only time consuming but also exasperating. We went through the normal birth price of creating something, but I think ultimately it was worth it.

But, why a web series and not a movie?

In retrospect, I can’t think of any other format in which this story could have been told. A film would have been limited for the scope of this story. Even you would have picked up one incident of his life, or you would have compressed his life, you would have reduced it to just a thriller. I don’t think the format of a film would have lent itself naturally to the story. A character like him required that space for a proper build-up.

How did you sketch Harshad’s character?

To me, he was never a controversial character. The controversy was a public thing. For me, he was just a middle-class boy, in his world, with his aspirations followed by its rise, the gradual fall his ultimate decimation. For me, that was the trajectory. The role and power of the print media, of good and honest, investigative journalism in delivering truth to the public was also an important issue. Corruption and ill-gotten wealth that has seeped into the media were important to talk about. We have almost forgotten that good journalists exist and that is abhorring. 

What drives you towards making films or even this web series on people, especially biographies?

I get fascinated by characters and do films on them. I like chronicling and I believe through my stories, and through my characters, I will be able to archive our times. I feel it is important because, in the years to come, we are going to live a completely different version of the life we are living today. By then, we would be part of history. So, in the cinematic medium, I have kept it for posterity, that’s what I believe.

What are the struggles of taking up intricate characters and portraying them on screen?

I don’t see it as a struggle, I enjoy the procedure. In this case, we had a book that we referred to as it had a wealth of information. The challenge was to convert the book, which is pure non-fiction, into a work of narrative fiction. That was the biggest challenge because we had to convert a lot of technical data and financial information, without dumbing it down but without making it too complicated for the audience. However, I think we managed it quite well.

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