Hansal Mehta struck streaming gold with his acclaimed 2020 series Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story. Three years later, he returns with Scoop, another fact-based thriller set at the intersection of crime, politics and high-ambition journalism.
The show, set to stream on Netflix, is adapted from former crime journalist Jigna Vora’s memoir Behind Bars in Byculla: My Days in Prison. When it was first announced, many expected a gritty prison drama from the house of Hansal. Instead, he serves up another detailed, panoramic account of urban jeopardy and corruption. At six episodes, it’s a leaner and meaner series than Scam, though it comes soaked in the same wittiness and Bombay-Gujarati verisimilitude that’s become the director’s signature.
Hansal confides he finds the boxed-in nature of prison narratives visually nauseating. “I did not want to do an Orange Is the New Black or a Dekh Bhai Dekh in prison,” he says. Instead, for a bulk of its length, Scoop focuses on Vora’s career (name changed to Jagruti Pathak) and the story that becomes her undoing. In late 2011, Vora, then deputy bureau chief at The Asian Age newspaper, was arrested by the Mumbai Police under Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) charges. A few months earlier, senior crime reporter Jyotirmoy Dey (J. Dey) had been shot by gangster Chhota Rajan’s men. The cops suspected professional rivalry between Vora and Dey; she was accused of supplying his license plate number and address to Rajan. Vora spent nine months in prison, and, in 2018, was finally acquitted in the case (Rajan and eight others were convicted and granted life imprisonment).
Hansal Mehta on his love for long-form storytelling
“I was invested in the criss-crossing worlds of gangsters, politicians, cops and journalists,” Hansal says. “It’s the story of a middle-class Gujarati girl and the price she pays for being overly ambitious ...How she becomes the collateral damage of her own dreams.”
As with Scam, he assembled a robust team of writers and researchers, including co-creator and co-writer Mrunmayee Lagoo Waikul and journalist and consultant Deepu Sebastian Edmond (the Rajkummar Rao character in Hansal’s Aligarh was based on Edmond). Karishma Tanna, who plays the protagonist in Scoop, shadowed a female crime journalist on reporting assignments. “We met Jigna Vora a few days before we wrapped up the shoot,” Hansal and Karishma share. “We did not want to be coloured (by her presence)... because we are fictionalizing.”
Scoop, as an immersive newsroom piece, is brought to life by Hansal’s keen eye for casting. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub plays a gruff but empathetic newspaper editor, in muted shirts and a scruffy salt-and-pepper beard. “I grew it over time,” Zeeshan smiles. Karishma, a television star with not many prestigious film credits, says she was grateful to be asked to audition for Jagruti Pathak’s role. “I always wanted a platform to prove myself as an actor and Hansal gave me that with this show,” she says.
But the real surprise of Scoop is Harman Baweja. The Love Story 2050 and What’s Your Raashee? actor, once snubbed as a Hrithik Roshan clone, is making a comeback as a beefy, tough-talking cop, and is pleasantly unrecognizable in the part. Harman says he’d moved on to writing and producing after his acting career hit the skids. He was producing a different project with Hansal when, one day, the director started clicking his pictures unannounced. “We were at (casting whiz) Mukesh Chhabra’s office and they both started eyeing me with intent,” Harman recalls. “They have a sync between them that’s sweet but also a bit spooky. That’s when they asked me to play this role.”
Hansal started out in television in the 1990s. Over the years, he says, he has witnessed the Indian media landscape transform radically. Scoop, in fact, can be seen as his elegy to a bygone era of rigorous print journalism. “The commercialization and ideological biases were always there but people had better skills at writing and expression. It wasn’t the bullet point journalism of today.”
He rues what he calls the ‘trivialization’ of the media in an age of compression and limitless access. “My ideology is trivialized. My belief system is trivialized. My passion is trivialized. Because that’s what you want to sell.”
Scoop will stream on Netflix from June 2