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The story behind ‘Scam 1992’; the breakout show of 2020

Business Standard’s contributing editor Vanita Kohli-Khandekar chats with actor Pratik Gandhi, director Hansal Mehta, and Applause Entertainment’s Deepak Segal about the show.

If time was a stock exchange, then 2020 would be one of its worst bear runs in recent times. But there were a few sectors that did well during this dull phase.

One of them was the over-the-top (OTT) players and its winning stock was SonyLIV’s ‘Scam 1992’. It’s a web series directed by Hansal Mehta on the 1992 Indian stock market scam that featured the infamous Harshad Mehta.

The web series was adapted from journalists Sucheta Dalal and Debashish Basu's 1992 book ‘The Scam: Who Won, Who Lost, Who Got Away’.

On day four of vdonxt asia, Vanita Kohli-Khandekar, contributing editor, Business Standard, spoke with Hansal, Applause Entertainment’s head of content Deepak Segal, and film and theatre actor Pratik Gandhi about ‘Scam 1992’, which rocked India’s OTT world in 2020.

Kohli-Khandekar kicked off the session by saying that she has trouble digesting films around the stock market and business despite her 20 years as a business journalist. But she found ‘Scam 1992’ “absolutely fascinating” because Hansal was able to take a dry and difficult to digest subject and turn it into a gripping series.

She asked all the three panellists, how much of the web series was (from) the book, and how much of it was the writers and all other things put together.

Segal went first. “The crux of the story is the book. Hansal and the writers added personalities to the people mentioned in the story.”

Hansal then went on to say that for him, a “story is all about characters, especially in the long format OTT space… The idea was to explore the world Harshad came from and to be able to connect to the person… to give a human face to a large event.”

When asked about casting a Gujarati (Gandhi), Segal responded that “we were looking for a name, but Mukesh Chhabra (casting director) and Hansal kept pushing for Pratik.”

Gandhi then went on to say that it was his first opportunity to perform on-screen. While he has essayed many biographical characters before (he’s worked in Gujarati films and theatre), “I just wanted to be a part of it.”

Kohli-Khandekar asked Segal if the project came to him while looking for a home… “Sameer (CEO, Applause Entertainment) wanted to do something on a financial scam… this book was brought to us and we realised we know the scam now… Hansal met us and said he wanted to do a film on it…”

Kohli-Khandekar then asked the panellists about the things that feel in place, in retrospect… Said Hansal, “First, you desperately must want to tell the story… The process of diving deep into the characters, building a work of drama of this scale, out of what was essentially a work of non-fiction… it took quite some time and I know it was frustrating…”

Gandhi said that he saw the entire process as a spiritual one. “I said Sir (Hansal), I am doing it… Sir asked me if I had a manager, and I said there’s nobody, it’s just me.”

Asked if his attitude towards Harshad changed during the filming process… Hansal revealed that when you’re creating a story, “don’t judge his character, humanise him with his flaws and bad side… you need to show the person as he is, it should be non-judgemental.”

“What we got to know about Harshad Mehta was that he was a single-dimension villain. When we started exploring him as a character, we realised the relationships he had, his dependence on his brother, mother, father… he started becoming more human,” added Segal.

Gandhi revealed that Hansal told him, “let’s not approach the character with any bias, let’s approach all the characters from a neutral perspective and make them human.”

Kohli-Khandekar asked Gandhi if he had changed his approach to a character basis the format. “In theatre, I live the character for one or two hours of the show. Whereas in film, it doesn’t happen linearly... What we shoot on the first day, sets the tone for the character and from there, we have to create his journey forward or backwards…It can’t look jerky. As an actor, we have to maintain continuity.”

Speaking about the OTT series, Gandhi remarked, “We were shooting a nine-hour film. That is how we approached it.”

Here’s the complete discussion:

This panel discussion was part of vdonxt Week, a conference organised by afaqs! during March 1-5, 2021. Conference sponsors: Presenting partner – Voot, Associate partners – PubMatic, Zee5, Vidooly, Insights partner – Nepa.