“The idea whose time had come”: Hansal Mehta on making financial thriller 'Scam 1992'

Creators and writers of 'Scam 1992' come together on the last day of the Content Hub 2021


New Delhi: When the ten-part series Scam 1992 hit SonyLIV platform last October, it captured the imaginations of millions of young Indians in no time. The financial thriller chronicling the life of Gujarat-based stock broker Harshad Mehta, and his involvement in the 1992 Indian Stock Market Scam soon became the most-viewed series on the platform.

On the last day of fifth edition of the Content Hub 2021 -TV, Film, Digital Video, and Beyond’ – the makers and writers of 'Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story' got into a freewheeling conversation with Indiantelevision.com founder and CEO Anil Wanvari and showrunner-writer Alok Sharma to discuss the making of one of the most successful digital series on an Indian platform during the pandemic.

“Harshal Mehta’s meteoric rise and sudden downfall had captured the imagination of millions, especially Gujaratis in the 90s. I was fascinated by his journey ever since I read Sucheta Dalal’s book in 2003-04, and wanted to tell the story. But that was the era of six-pack abs and shirtless songs, and I couldn’t even consider making it, until years later, when Samir Nair (Applause Entertainment) pitched the story to me and I jumped at it,” recalls director-producer Hansal Mehta, “It was the idea whose time had come.”

The series went LIVE on the SonyLIV platform in October, 2020 when the first wave of the pandemic had begun to ebb away. The show was lauded for its tight screenplay and sparse writing by a team led by Sumit Purohit, Saurabh Dey, Vaibhav Vishal and Karan Vyas.

The protagonist played by Pratik Gandhi hit it off with the audience with his one-liners, so whether it was ‘Risk hai to, Ishq hai’ which went on to become the tag-line of the series, or ‘Success kya hai, failure ke baad ka chapter’. These were also some of the lines that Hansal Mehta wanted to scrap out of the script believing them to be too filmy.

“I found these lines to be too naïve and filmy at first. Par writers ka kamaal hai, wo kaise dikhate hain. Pratik (Gandhi) delivered those dialogues with such conviction and belief, that the audience connected with them. Wo daur filmi bhi tha,” smiles Mehta. Such one-liners were also used by stock brokers then, he adds.

“It was also a casting feat,” quips co-director Jai Mehta. “Pratik (Gandhi) lent authenticity to the dialogues. Both of us had met several brokers on Dalal Street to get those nuances, and gestures right. It was unreal. Also, most actors in the series, including Gandhi understood finer nuances of the language, as they had done Gujarati theatre or stage plays early in their career.”

Harshad Mehta’ character in the series represented the angry young man, the writers say, drawing inspiration from Amitabh Bachchan of the 70s. All through the series, he is seen, relying on his family for support.

Delving into the writing process for a financial thriller, replete with several technical terms, filmmaker-writer Sumit Purohit says, the team made a conscious attempt not to dumb down the script to make it look simple. “We wanted to ensure that it looks authentic- whether it was the way the stock brokers were talking, or bankers discussing the financial transactions. It’s like science fiction. It’s not necessary that people understand the terms, for as long as they are emotionally invested with the characters,” he elaborates.

Saurav Dey concurs, “That’s exactly the brief we got. We could tell the story as it is, and don’t have to spoon-feed the audience. They can use their judgment and draw inferences.”

The story also carried a deep political undercurrent, with several scenes raising questions over alleged involvement of political leaders during that time. When asked about treading the fine line, Dey says, “We wanted to be responsible about what we show on screen. So, we retained only those parts, which we could substantiate with evidence. Rest was speculation, and we steered clear of that, or it would have irresponsible filmmaking.”

The team began with the simple idea of telling a human story. “It was a volatile time, and we showed as much as we could do within the limits of the current time. We focussed on the bigger picture, and did not want that it should get impacted by any kind of outrage,” shares the ace director, who won the National Film Award for directing 2013 movie Shahid.

However, for this series, Mehta says, he acted more like a motivator, than a writer. “I see my job as that of a motivator, who brings a pool of talent together, and ensures they move in a single direction. The biggest thing in long-form writing is patience and discipline, and the team had that,” he shares.

Also, like his previous movies – Shahid or Omerta, the series Scam 1992 also did not have a lead actor who shared physical resemblance with the lead character in real-life. “My approach is driven by instincts and trust. That’s how I get writers and actors on-board. The physical likeness is not as important as it is to convey the spirit of the character on screen,” he opines.

The ace-director also credits his association with Applause Entertainment, CEO Sameer Nair, who he says, ‘gave him the freedom to choose and trusted his choices.”

Among those choices, were also several famed actors from the 90s, including Mamik Singh aka ‘Rattan’ from the iconic movie – Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikandar who played the Citibank chief Rao in the series. The series also had Anant Mahadevan, playing RBI Governor, S Venkitaramanan and Satish Kaushik as the foul-mouthed stock market kingpin Manu Mundra. “It was a masterstroke,” says Mehta emphatically.

Another crucial element was planning the locations for the series, set in the 90s – ‘Bombay’ that most members of the team had not seen. “We went through books, pictures and did our research to recreate that era. We even got the original CBI office opened for a few scenes we shot there. It has been lying closed for over two decades,” recalls Jai Mehta.

After the success of Scam:1992, Hansal Mehta is now back on the sets for his next – a crime thriller based on a true incident.

The fifth edition of the Content Hub 2021 was co-presented by IN10 Media Network and ZEE5, and co-powered by Applause Entertainment and Tipping Point, the digital content unit of Viacom18 Studios. PTC Network was the supporting partner.

Latest Reads

IBC 2022: EditShare to showcase cloud and hybrid media workflows

Mumbai: The technology leader, EditShare on Wednesday announced that it will use IBC2022 to showcase how its latest technologies boost quality and efficiency for production & post production. Demonstrations will show how remote working and the cloud can interwork to give creative artists...

Specials IBC
TCH 2022: Competition will drive TV to innovate its programming

Two decades ago, when audiences wanted to consume entertainment in a video format, they had only two options – TV and cinema. Today, the modes of delivering video content have grown multi-fold. Content production, too, has seen a democratization with new technologies that have enabled every...

Specials Event Coverage Content Hub
The Content Hub 2022 Summit to be held on 29-30 June

Lights, camera and action! The scene is ready and the camera will soon be rolling on the sixth edition of Viacom18 presents Indiantelevision.com’s The Content Hub to be held on 29th and 30th June at JW Marriott Juhu, Mumbai.

Specials Event Coverage Content Hub
NT Awards 2022: Check out the winners!

IndianTelevision.com is back with its latest edition of the News Television (NT) Awards 2022, that recognises, honours and celebrates the ground-breaking work done in the space of Indian television news in the year gone by.

Specials Event Coverage News Television Summit
VidNet 2022: 'Over half of global online video services are subscription funded'

Over half of the online video services worldwide were subscription funded at the end of 2021, according to a study. The key findings of the study pointed out that while there are more subscription funded over-the-top (OTT) services worldwide, advertising is a much larger revenue stream for video-on...

Specials Event Coverage VidNet
#Retrace2021: Influencer-led purchases played a big role in driving growth: SUGAR CEO Vineeta Singh

An established name in the Indian beauty & personal care market, SUGAR Cosmetics was among the early movers into the D2C (direct-to-consumer) space as a digital-first cosmetic brand.

Specials Year Enders
#Retrace2021: Associating with marquee properties on TV helped us take a quantum leap on digital: Arjun Mohan

The only ed-tech “to have a ‘donkey’ as its brand ambassador”, upGrad has been hitting all the right notes, starting from its eye-grabbing ‘Don’t lick ass, instead kick ass’ 2020 ad to its fortune-teller donkey ad in early 2021 to drive across its “Sirf Naam Ki Nahi, Kaam Ki Degree” messaging.

Specials Year Enders
#Retrace2021: Inching towards a connected future of audience measurement

It was for the first time since the 1960s, that Nielsen’s measurement lost a “seal of approval” from the industry that uses it, as leading advertisers and TV networks sought alternate means of counting their audiences.

Specials Year Enders
#Retrace2021: Content and advertisers return to TV, AdEx remains elusive

2021 was the year of the paradox. The return of LIVE sports and original programming on TV continued to attract new and more advertisers to the medium ensuring a phenomenal growth in ad volumes over 2020 and 2019.

Specials Year Enders