Synopsis – The story of the film is based on real events of financial market that took place between 1990 and 2000 involving Harshad Mehta and his financial crimes.
My Take – Joining the growing list of recently released biopics on Indian personalities is this latest Hindi film which is apparently somewhat inspired by the influential life events of the late stockbroker Harshad Mehta, whose name is synonymous with the 1992 securities scam, where he faced charges of manipulating the stock market.
While any biopic faces a massive hurdle of retelling a real life story dramatically without straying from actual facts, this Ajay Devgan produced Kookie Gulati (2010’s Prince) directorial, which saw its 2020 theatrical release botched due to the ongoing pandemic, finds itself in the wrong side of comparisons to filmmaker Hansal Mehta’s acclaimed web series, Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story, which turned its lead actor, Pratik Gandhi, into an overnight star.
Though a comparison between a story told in a detail manner over the course of 10 episodes and a film which has been crammed into 154 minutes might seem absolutely unfair, unfortunately, it is the lack of a creative approach and an innovative narrative that leads to the film’s failing here. In the sense, where the SonyLIV series was crafted as a smart, well-documented thriller out of an intriguing tale of true crime, here, director Gulati and co-writer Arjun Dhawan seem little interested in creating anything beyond a standard Bollywood drama with thrilling elements.
The overall film suffers from screenwriting issues, an unclear story, and above all, the complicated stuff about how the scam was performed, the intricacies of the fraud are ignored or explained in a pseudonyms or simply just swept under the rug for the sake of commercialization. Sure, the film never fails to un-engage the viewer, but even if you’re an ardent admirer of Abhishek Bachchan, you’ll have to admit Harshad Mehta and his supposedly notorious scams deserved a better film.
Beginning in the 1980s, the story follows Hemant Shah (Abhishek Bachchan), an ordinary lower middle-class citizen, who is frustrated with how small his life with brother, Viren (Sohum Shah), and his mother (Supriya Pathak Kapur) is, especially how he can’t do anything other than watching his sweetheart Priya (Nikita Dutta) being married off to someone with a better economic status. However, his life begins to change when a successful tip from a small time investor gets him interested in the stockbroking business, where he soon begins to manipulate the daily stocks to earn himself a name.
But when Hemant begins to detect the loopholes in the Indian banking system and begins to use the systemic weaknesses to his advantage in his profession, he exponentially rises above in the food chain, joining hands with several industrialists and political influencers, ultimately becoming the highest tax payer in the country. However, his meteoric rise also puts him on a collision course with Meera Rao (Ileana D’Cruz), a financial journalist, who is determined to break his facade of being the savior of the middle-class and bring out the truth behind his methods of attaining such stratospheric levels of wealth.
As I mentioned above, the film is no doubt gripping, especially in the first-half. Here, the film clearly didn’t want to justify any efforts or to portray Hemant as a criminal, but simply a man with a massive dream who doesn’t think of illegalities to reach his objective. But while the SonyLIV series took its time to show us how this man from the chawl moves up in life before following his downfall, the film checks all the boxes quickly. The narrative of the film speeds past a lot of familiar incidents without creating impact. Highlighting moments of the story while lose significance owing to such storytelling approach. Like is it really possible for a journalist to just randomly barge into a company’s audit room and retrieve confidential data? And haven’t we already risen above from showing two strands of white hair to define a character’s age.
Where the film infuriates further is the handling of Meera and Hemant’s relationship. While there portions are fun to watch, especially Hemant’s grandiose conviction that he was doing what he was doing for India’s sake, to make the stock market accessible to ordinary Indians, it gets confusing when Meera, after having pulling Hemant down, spends the rest of the film pedestrianizing and romanticizing him.
Even while all this is happening, the team of the film comes across as being conscious of their bias, which can be the only explanation for why they tie themselves in knots in a bid to look and sound balanced. The problem could be the compulsion of staying within mainstream format, for the sake of the film’s tone and commercial cast. It could be that casting Abhishek Bachchan as Harshad Mehta was all about trying to create a new-generation antihero of sorts, the slant at trying to understand the mind of a criminal, and also the circumstances that may give rise to the criminal mindset, is all too apparent here.
Both the series and the film concentrate so much on the myth of the Big Bull that they do not show us how people lost their livelihoods and lives because they followed Harshad Mehta. Scam 1992 mentions it more but Pratik Gandhi’s Harshad does not show remorse. After all, they made money when they followed me – I never asked them – then why blame me if they lost money? But here Hemant gets no chance to redeem himself by feeling for those who lost everything.
Yet, despite all its loopholes, Abhishek Bachchan leaves an impression with his solid performance except for those in-between and frivolous scenes where he laughs like a devil. Here, Bachchan shows the greed in his eyes, the ambition in his voice, and the zeal to only fly higher in his body language. The schematic businessman who has strong ambitions and an attitude that doesn’t permit waiting for tomorrow and Bachchan seems to have found a certain formula to ace such characters. His strong hold on the character of Hemant Shah makes it easier for a viewer to stay up till the end.
Sohum Shah sinks deep into his meaty role and does well as the ethically conflicted, less ambitious brother who remains in Hemant’s shadow. Though both, Ileana D’Cruz and Nikita Dutta are saddled with half-baked characters, they do manage to excel. However, in other roles, Supriya Pathak Kapur, Mahesh Manjrekar, Saurabh Shukla, Ram Kapoor and Samir Soni are wasted. On the whole, ‘The Big Bull’ is an inferior biopic which suffers from a lack of a creative approach and an innovative narrative.
Directed – Kookie Gulati
Rated – NR
Run Time – 154 minutes