Imagine a SparkNotes version of any of Shakespeare's works, say Othello. Now imagine the SparkNotes editor deciding to make Iago the good guy, the voice of true benevolence, who out of the purity of his purpose, helps Othello rid himself of his wife. Director Kookie Gulati's The Big Bull is that weird little SparkNotes version of stockbroker and bad boy millionaire Harshad Mehta's story. We already know who Shakespeare is in this allegory.
Artistic liberties allow Kookie to tell his story however he wants. Renaming his 'protagonist' Hemant Shah, the news publication tracking his every move 'India Times', and a cement company 'NCC' means Kookie has more freedom than Scam 1992 director Hansal Mehta could afford. However, he has used this power to a disappointing, almost shameful effect.
Hemant Shah, played by a chubby Abhishek Bachchan, has been made into a messiah of the masses, but only at the very end. For most of the film's duration, Kookie emphasises Hemant's devious ways, hammered home by Abhishek's unprovoked, maniacal laughter at three separate instances. That's three more than there should ever have been.
Hemant is a Gujarati man in Mumbai who speaks next to no Gujarati. He lives a middle-class life with his brother (Sohum Shah) and mother (Supriya Pathak). First to clear his brother's debt, then to impress his girlfriend's father, Hemant figures out ways to sink his feet into the world of stocks and shares.
Warnings and criticisms come aplenty but Hemant is high on the charm of quick cash. Insider trading, a faulty banking system and corrupt officials help him reach the top of the totem pole. The fall from it is just as quick.
However, the film's allegiances change drastically when Hemant is finally to be held accountable for his deeds. His crimes are forgiven, and the destruction he left behind, ignored. The last half-an-hour gets downright unbearable with even his critics crowning him the 'one and only Big Bull', crediting him for bringing in an economic boom in the country.
There is no mention of those who were destroyed by his failed 'tips', and how he so greedily filled his own pockets from the money he stole from an already suffering country. Hemant's intentions were never national welfare, but getting rich quick enough to secure a pretty wife, getting into the big leagues, and drinking expensive scotch with the finance bros.
The Big Bull can't escape from under the long shadow cast by last year's Scam 1992: The Harsahd Mehta Story. Try as hard as one might, Hansal Mehta's career-defining show always plays in the back of your mind with its lack of romantic song sequences, rap music blowing in your ears, and zero shots of Pratik Gandhi laughing hysterically in his lair.
But even without the added pressure of having to compete with its much hotter elder sister, The Big Bull fails to tell a cohesive story. Often times, Kookie himself seems to depend on the audience having watched the show already. Hemant, having had enough of journalist Mira's (Ileana D'Cruz) incessant criticism, decides to publish an ad in newspapers, with the message 'Hemant Shah is a liar'. While Scam 1992 devoted an entire episode to his stunt, The Big Bull assumes you would already know what was written under the headline and why it had the impact that it did. You can't have it both ways, Kookie.
Abhishek and his Disney villain laugh are definitely not going to be award season favourites this year. And Ileana's two strands of whitener fluid hair is perhaps the laziest time-leap makeup I have ever seen. Sohum, instead of being Hemant's conscience, is annoying at first as the naysaying brother and later as the nervous little Peter Pettigrew-type. The performances are nothing to write home about, but then, nothing in this film is.
There are some fights we just can't win. Even though it should never have been a competition between two filmmakers and their works, disappointment hits far worse when the difference is so drastic. We need to lock up this bull now.