The Big Bull (Disney-Hotstar)
Starring Abhishek Bachchan, Nikita Dutta, Ileana D’Cruz, Sohum Shah, Ram Kapoor and Saurabh Shukla
Directed by Kookie Gulati
Abhishek Bachchan as a Harshad Mehta doppelganger delivers a career-defining performance. His Hemant Shah is wildly ambitious, sly, mean, egotistic and callous. He gets his way with influential people with his rustic charm and native intelligence.
I saw all of this in Abhishek’s smirking performance. I also saw a lot of research go into the storytelling. There are alleged facts here about the Harshad scam that shook the nation in the 1980s. They will make you think as well in 2021 about the world around us. The more things change the more they are the same.Yawn.
Welcome to the 1980s. The world of bell-bottoms and Amitabh Bachchan. Thankfully director Kookie Gulati doesn’t waste time playing Hindi film songs to create periodicity. He is happy to let the story tell itself the way it actually unfolded back then. I nearly fell of laughing at the irony of it when someone describes Hemant Shah (yes, that’s what Harshad Mehta is called in this film) as “share market ka Amitabh Bachchan.”
That he is played by Amitabh Bachchan’s son is the least of the ironies in this get-rich-quick saga of an over-reacher who wanted to become a billionaire. For this he uses people in position of power with brazen impunity. My heart reached to that banker Venkateshwar (played with trembling corruptibility by Kanan Arunachalam).
Alas, the narration stretching into two-and-a-half hours takes too long to get Hemant to his nemesis. During the jerky journey we meet innumerable characters who may or may not have assisted Harshad/Hemant in pulling off the biggest financial scam of the country.
Or was it? Through the character of the Sucheta Dalal-like financial journalist (played by Ileana D’Cruz whose Hindi is as good as my knowledge of the stock market) the film puts a big question mark on the billion-dollar question: was Harshad Mehta a plain scamsters or a dream merchant for millions of middle class Indians?
The fence-sitting morality does take the sting away from the narrative’s hard-disc. But the software is nonetheless authentic and effective. There are times when the film lights up with bourgeois expectancy. Especially in the way Nikita Dutta playing Hemant’s wife looks at her husband. She knows he’s an over-reacher. And because her husband likes to fly high in the sky she can’t help looking up at him.
I wish the film had focused a bit more on Hemant Shah’s tender rapport with his wife. Even his other prominent relationship with his brother Viren (Shum Shah, looking forever frazzled) is hardly given space. The screenplay, impressively vast, should have been more self-restrictive. The characters come and go without creating any impression. Who for instance is the influential politically connected Sanjeev Kohli (Samir Soni) and what is his exact hand in the 565-crore scam that shook Dalal Street? And why is Ram Jethemalani played Ram Kumar?
Finally, what stays with us is Abhishek Bachchan’s Hemant Shah, self-willed and self-destructive, more than his enemies it was Hemant Shah’s who scripted his own downfall. The Big Bull gets that. If only it could get some of the more hazy characters and facts surrounding the scam in a sharper focus, this would be not just a good film but a great film.