Contrary to the people it features — the big, bad flamboyant newsmakers of Indian business — the documentary series Bad Boy Billionaires: India dropped rather quietly on Netflix today. The three episodes of the documentary series feature the stories of Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Subrata Roy who have been in the news for charges of fraud, money laundering and defrauding public sector banks. A fourth episode revolving around IT giant Ramalinga Raju is currently unavailable on the streaming service.
For starters, let’s make it clear that the series — which has a separate director for each individual episode — doesn’t shed any new light on these three newsmakers. Everything that the makers showcase is very much available in the public domain. But what it does is, bring all that information together coherently and weave a pretty engrossing narrative. Divided into three separate episodes, the one with Mallya is called ‘The King of Good Times’, the one with Modi is aptly titled ‘Diamonds aren’t forever’, and the one featuring Roy is called ‘The world’s biggest family’. The series crunches inches and inches of newsprint and hours and hours of news footage into a ‘Cliffs Notes’ version of what really happened. It’s how the narrative is stitched that is noteworthy.
We get a sneak peek into the world of Vijay Mallya, and his lavish parties and how he craved glamour and liked being the centre of attention. The episode with Mallya is particularly well done, as we hear from his son Sid Mallya, Kiran Majumder-Shaw (a family friend) and many people who were close to him. Industry experts and other journalists who followed this story are featured in the episode. We go through the whole gamut, as we see the meteoric rise of Mallya, and his eventual crash and the Rs 9000 crore loan that he had defaulted upon.
A similar storyline is woven for Nirav Modi, this jeweller who had risen out of nowhere, and was even featured on the cover of Sothebys. We meet people who worked with him, and some for him. A lot is said about his attention to detail and how he too loved the high life. Eventually, it all came tumbling down, when a bank employee retires, and his successor is unable to provide the same ‘flexible’ and ‘easy’ terms to Modi.
The episode with Subrata Roy is the longest, and perhaps the one that impacts the aam junta the most. We see a dramatised version of a young Roy in his 30’s roaming around the UP hinterland on his Lambretta, and there is a Kinley water bottle in the basket of the scooter. Not sure if there was a time when the two brands overlapped in India. But kudos for trying to paint an authentic picture.
Roy had the poorest of Indians invest in what can be called a ‘pyramid scheme’, where many had divested their hard-earned daily wages into a scheme which promised that their investment would ‘double or triple’ in a said amount of time. He allegedly used that investment to fund his airlines, his dream project of Amby Valley and his company’s sponsorship of the Indian cricket team. Roy was even jailed for two years. He is currently out on bail.
Bad Boy Billionaires: India is a refresher course on how some individuals can hold and wield too much power, that they seem to beyond reproach. The documentary series brings home that truth and how. All good documentaries make you pause and ponder. This one surely makes one think, and wonder and then ultimately question if it is that easy to fraud a nationalised bank of Rs 9000 crore? And no one will notice anything? Nirav Modi allegedly kept on bribing employees of another nationalised bank for six years. Remember all the paperwork it takes to open an account in any one of the 19 nationalised banks of India? But here, defrauding them seems far easier. Subrata Roy took it to another level, where he bypassed all banking systems and financial institutions, and went straight to the public and asked for money.
The documentary series if nothing else, makes you feel foolish as you wonder if your credit limit is not over-extended for this month. But here, these big powerful people were allowed to exploit the system and use it to their advantage and go scot-free.
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