It isn’t really Abhishek Bachchan’s fault. Put it down to bad timing. Hansal Mehta’s extremely well-written and well-narrated Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story is still fresh in the minds of the OTT audience. To sustain the interest of the same audience in the same subject, The Big Bull had to be either brilliantly better or admiringly different. When it’s neither, in fact it’s disjointed, shabbily penned and helmed, what can the lead actor do?
Comparisons are not always odious, sometimes they are inevitable. And that’s where The Big Bull is like a bull in a China shop, blundering along on familiar territory but unable to stay steady.
There really is no point in giving even a thumbnail sketch of the story as every viewer is already acquainted with the Harshad Mehta scam of the 90s, how he played the banks and the stock exchange, and the politicians and bureaucrats who ganged up to gag him forever.
The incohesive writing is confusing as Meera Rao (played effetely by Ileana D’cruz) is shown to be some kind of sutradhar or narrator before you are finally told that she’s the financial journalist who first broke the story of the banking and stock exchange scam, and then wrote a book on Harshad Mehta. He’s called Hemant Shah in this film. A look at how Ileana’s track comes up in spurts and plods along is a classic sample of how the rest of the screenplay moves. Ileana also loses when compared to the award-winning performance by actor Shreya Dhanwantary who played the strongly written role of Sucheta Dalal, the journalist in Hansal Mehta’s web series.
Unavoidably, there will be the inevitable comparisons between Abhishek’s performance as The Big Bull and his portrayal of Dhirubhai Ambani in Guru. Let’s take care of it by only stating that director Kookie Gulati is not in the same league as Mani Ratnam. Therefore, his handling of Abhishek in the title role of The Big Bull is uninspiring. Take two sequences. Every time Hemant Shah does something that make his brother Viren (Sohum Shah) and wife Priya (Nikita Dutta) look constipated with worry, Gulati makes Abhishek laugh long and villainously. There’s also the reckless driving sequence when the authorities are closing in on Hemant Shah. All of them are so trite that the lack of fresh presentation is almost claustrophobic.
Fine characterisation has to go beyond making a south Indian Venkateswaran speak with a pronounced accent or the journalist striding in and out of the Audit Room of a major financial institution unchallenged. The characters are many but sketched without satisfaction. Like suddenly there’s one official jumping into a water tank.
With a run time of over 2hrs 30 minutes, there are pockets of boredom. A song for God’s sake with Hemant and wife sight-seeing in Delhi; a dialogue at the end with husband and wife; a monologue by Ileana, delivered like a bird speaking Hindi.
The Harshad Mehta story was brutal. He taught the middle class to be aspirational. He overreached, breached laws and posed as the messiah of the middle class. He was cocky and ultimately more ‘Smart Alecky’ than smart as the long arm of politicians snuffed him out prematurely.
But, although Abhishek Bachchan is sincere, and so is Sohum Shah, Gulati doesn’t quite deliver.
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