The Big Bull
Director: Kookie Gulati
Writers: Kookie Gulati & Arjun Dhawan (screenplay), Ritesh Shah (dialogue)
Cast: Abhishek A. Bachchan, Ileana D’Cruz, Sohum Shah, Nikita Dutta, Samir Soni
Streaming on: Disney + Hotstar VIP
I might be one of those few people who still haven’t watched 2020’s most talked about web show Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story, directed by Hansal Mehta, which made its lead actor Pratik Gandhi an overnight star. So, there’s no reference point for me to compare that show with Kookie Gulati’s film The Big Bull which is based on the same scam. In fact, the film says that it was not a scam, just the loopholes of the political and banking system used for advantage by a stock broker who rose to become one of the richest and powerful people in India.
The film is based on Harshad Mehta’s life. But the names of characters and places are changed here. So, Abhishek Bachchan plays Hemant Shah, a middle-class stock broker from Kalaba Devi, Mumbai in 1987. In the next five years Hemant not only rises up the ranks in the stock market but also controls the market. He is encouraging the middle class in India to dream big. A middle-class’ Robin Hood, Hemant takes money from the rich and diverts it towards the middle class. He gives ‘tips’ to anyone he sees dreaming big, even if it’s a liftman. It is because of one such ‘tip’ that Hemant got into this big league.
Abhishek Bachchan tries his best to play Hemant Shah. But the efforts show on screen. He has given some wonderful performances in his recent outings including Ludo (Netflix) and his digital debut Breathe: Into The Shadows (Amazon Prime Video). But here, he is inconsistent. Which is not the real problem though. This is merely the product of inconsistent writing (Arjun Dhawan, Ritesh Shah) and unimpressive direction (Kookie Gulati).
One might think that there’s too much to put together in a film. Maybe a series was a better medium for this story to be told. But then Martin Scorsese’s 3-hour long The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) is a prime example of how to do it smartly. The Big Bull is still 2 hour 30 minutes long but it feels like ages till it gets to the end.
In the supporting cast, Ileana D’Cruz plays Meera Rao (based on Sucheta Dalal), who follows the rise and fall of Hemant Shah and then writes a book on Shah’s life on his insistence. Sohum Shah as Hemant’s brother Viren and Supriya Pathak Kapur as their mother are actors wasted in their roles. An affable Nikita Dutta plays Hemant’s wife. There’s hardly anything for anyone else to do in this film than Bachchan.
Watch the trailer of The Big Bull:
Ajay Devgn is one of the producers of the film which makes the VFX work standout. Devgn owns the VFX Company NY VFXwala. The Mumbai of the late 80s and early 90s is well created but it looks more staged than natural. Everything is ‘chakachak’ which makes you distant from the film. A sense of realism might have made the world created on screen appear lived-in than staged.
The film tries to humanize Hemant and shows how the politicians use scapegoats like him in big scams. Hemant dies of a cardiac arrest in the prison, or so it was declared, says Meera Rao. We see, in flashes, Hemant being tied behind a police jeep and tortured to run, there could be a conspiracy behind his death. Who knows? Like Hemant’s lawyer Ashok Mirchandani (Ram Kapoor) says in the film, you can commit any crime in this country but you cannot make the mistake of getting caught. Every scam artist was once a hero for the people. If Hemant (or Harshad) did some real good for the people of India, he certainly deserved a better film inspired by his life.