“Friends, the chairperson of the world’s largest family, the honourable Saharashri (Sahara-Shri) has arrived,” declares an announcer as Subrata Roy walks into a stadium filled with Sahara employees.
The chants of “Long Live Saharashri!” echo around the venue as the owner of a self-styled multi-billion dollar business enterprise, Roy, is seen waving at his faithful like a cult figure mobilising his forces for some ulterior motive.
To the uninitiated viewer, this scene appears to be straight out of a Leni Riefenstahl propaganda movie. However, it is but a part of Netflix’s three-part documentary series titled Bad Boy Billionaires: India , which explores the shenanigans of India’s self-made business tycoons gone bad.
Apart from ‘Saharashri’ Roy, the viewers are provided with a look at the life and crimes of liquor baron Vijay Mallya, who tried his hand at establishing an Indian airline brand and the notorious celebrity diamantaire Nirav Modi who defrauded one of India’s largest public sector bank to the tune of millions.
After weeks of legal wrangling, Netflix was allowed to air episodes on the aforementioned personalities, but had to do without the profile on Ramalingam Raju of the infamous Satyam scam.
These big boys of grand financial deceit captured the imagination of regular Indians with their-hyper luxurious, freewheeling and overtly flamboyant lifestyle — and in doing so, created a cult status for themselves.
But despite the documentary’s earnest attempts at charting their rise and fall, Bad Boy Billionaires: India fails miserably to penetrate the dark underbelly of their world of criminal undertakings and mass deception. The whole production lacks an original voice, hopping from one news item to another, stitching together a half-hearted narrative entirely lacking in conviction or insightfulness.
The most glaring of all its faults is the lack of courage. It fails to go beyond the titular figures on which it places so much attention and makes a conscious decision on its part to ignore the institutions and their designed systems that served as a breeding ground for wilful financial defaulters.
In a nutshell, the simple, drab nature of the piece which tries to come across as an investigative piece, is in stark contrast to the glitzy lifestyle of excesses and debauchery of its subjects.
This can be primarily attributed to the fact that the film wholeheartedly falls back on the tried and tested formula of dedicating the first half of each episode towards building up each of the personalities and their exploits, before the ‘big bust’ and subsequently charting their downfall. This somewhat drains the documentary of the elements of thrill and novelty, characteristic of so many other Netflix productions.
Even the striking drone visuals coupled with clinical editing do little to rescue the piece, which comes across not only as wholly uninteresting, but decidedly inconsequential. Archival footage from various Indian news programmes, testimonies by individuals formerly employed by these rogue businessmen and old interviews of the “bad boys” try and fail to paint a holistic image of the real situation.
The documentary chooses to linger on the surface, giving precedence to raw emotions over hard facts, making the process of watching it rather painstaking. Despite the likes of Raghu Karnad and Paronjoy Guha Thakurta providing the viewers with insight on some of the obscene excesses of the “bad boys”, something remains amiss.
However, all is not in vain. It might be the first instance of such a film in the Indian realm to come into existence, but will not be the last, and can surely help in opening the floodgates to the expression of the growing frustration of India’s working class in the backdrop of a lethal pandemic and a growing financial tumult.
Bad Boy Billionaires: India is currently streaming on Netflix