Many years ago, I was presented with a signed and autographed copy of SCAM 1992, and it was read from end to end by many at our office, also because our little infotech company was moving into the financial business domain. The fraud prevention part. Sucheta Dalal and Debashis Basu's book
helped us understand many of the quirks and loopholes within the Indian banking system, and after a peer review with our then business partners in India, we opted to stay out of bidding for fraud prevention business with banks in India because, simply put, the loopholes were far too big.
Not that there did not exist loopholes in banking abroad; Wachovia and Western Union were two examples, which we knew a lot about, and most of the casino biggies. But the loopholes there were different, in a manner of assessment, they were more along the lines of a large number of small scams linked more to greed at the bottom of the pyramid. Cross-selling and multiple retail bank accounts, for example, or cheque cashing for and on behalf of illegal immigrants, or the kind of stuff we see in movies about casinos.
The Indian banking loopholes, on the other hand, were more for and towards larger scams executed with finesse top down. And this, then, in turn, reflected in the checks and balances that the fraud prevention systems and techniques were supposed to prevent. Something like trying to keep fish in a lake safe from theft by the people who lived around the lake and had caught fish there for centuries, but doing nothing about people who came from outside and who, blatantly, without any attempt to even disguise their methods, burst explosives to stun the fish and then take away as many as they wanted. Which SCAM 1992 explained in great detail.
There was no way we could make any sort of fraud prevention technology for such daylight robberies, and after a few very typical visits in the late 1990s to banking offices in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai or the sort where even after an appointment you are supposed to wait for hours and hours, we just took an unwritten policy decision to stay away from any sort of Indian banking business. The holes in the Indian banking business were bigger than the banks themselves.
But this is an essay about the resounding success of the webseries SCAM 1992 and the last lines of the paragraph in the book of the same name, which goes like this - "Nothing would be resolved. Hardly anybody would be convicted. No money would be found."
I have known Sucheta Dalal and Debashis Basu for a long long time, and am privileged to be able to write for their magazine, blogs, print and online. Their positive approach on life is something that helps pull me out of despair. But. The last line of their book is their pragmatic selves talking.
The serial on Sony Liv of the same name is something else, it flows like smooth jazz, it helps give hope in these dark days, the ultimate test of which is: how do people who usually don't appreciate banking or know much about the subject, sit glued to the screen?
At home and in my circle of friends and family, I now know of dozens of people, who in turn know dozens more who have started watching SCAM 1992 and then done all night binges, or seen it twice or more. My suggestions to them and others is to see Episode 9 first, and then savour the full series, sequentially - one episode at a time.
So why is SCAM 1992 such a huge success and why should you see it, if you haven't seen it already?
1) It does not make a caricature out of people, except for some jibes at famous people, who have had a sense of humour, because movies and life need to be funny too.
2) The language and accents used are so truly Indian corporate, and though set in Bombay/Mumbai, they do not stoop to the tapori (slang) medium.
3) There are no really evil or totally good characters - barring some light relief from the lady playing Harshad's wife—everybody is in shades of every colour.
4) If there is a real villain, it is the foreign banks, and nobody has ever had the guts to show this in India. Thus, once again, episode 9 first, please.
5) Go to the Moneylife website
and run a search using SCAM 1992 to figure out so many of the nuances in what essentially was the template for future larger scams.
But most off, the serial flows seamlessly, like a human being breathing. And that is the real power of the visual media when compared to a book. As well as the difference.
This is an eminently watchable film on the India of big money crooks, unfolding now as NPAs and scams running into thousands of crores of rupees, and an introduction to why India is unique in such large co-ordinated scams. Our banking system designs and then leaves holes to be exploited, as simple as that, and the ease of theft is then breath-taking.
Like throwing explosives in a lake full of fish. That's them. Whilst the people living along the lake go hungry. Remember them? That's us.
(Veeresh Malik is an activist from Delhi, who continues to explore several things in life.)