One of my favorite books growing up was ‘Way of the Peaceful Warrior‘ by Dan Millman. In it, a mysterious stranger helps an athlete achieve his fullest potential. This mysterious man is often referred to as Socrates due to the infinite wisdom he imparts. One of his pearls of wisdom was the understanding of applying the right leverage at the right time. After watching ‘The Big Bull‘ on Disney+ Hotstar, I think it is fair to say that the film crew needed this advice before releasing the film.
Announced as a part of Hotstar‘s slate of premieres, The Big Bull follows the life of Hemant Shah (Abhishek Bachchan), who exploits the financial system’s loophole to become one of the most influential people in India. Needless to say, this film is inspired by the infamous stockbroker – Harshad Mehta and his stint with the inefficient banking system in India.
The film was originally to be released on October 23rd, 2020. However, on October 9th, 2020, we witnessed the release of Hansal Mehta‘s web series ‘Scam 1992‘, which followed the exact same storyline and went on to be one of the best web series in 2020, churning out a high IMDb rating of 9.4. For this reason, The Big Bull‘s release was pushed to April 8th, 2021, to ensure people aren’t watching the same content in the span of weeks. However, the web series was done so immaculately that it constantly lingers at the back of your mind while watching this film. On top of that, it’s sensationalized direction, ineffective storytelling, and jarring editing just make you appreciate ‘Scam 1992’ even more.
Speaking of editing, the film has a blinking effect between scenes that looked so incongruous that I had to check my television to ensure it wasn’t malfunctioning. Scam 1992 fleshes out every detail possible with regards to Harshad Mehta’s life, enabling the audiences to connect with the story well. However, in The Big Bull, within the first 15 minutes, we see the protagonist as an established stockbroker. One might argue that it might not be fair to compare the web series to a feature film as the feature film is limited with its time. If that’s the argument, then my follow-up question is what is the need for the romance angle in the film that talks about a financial scam?!
Coming to the direction, The Big Bull happens to be the second feature film of Kookie Gulati as a director after Vivek Oberoi‘s Prince in 2010. It is fair to say that Kookie‘s direction still belongs to the 2000’s in which an evil laugh was the only way to convey a bad intention or villainous music was the only way to introduce a notorious character. As the film progresses, we see Abhishek Bachchan aging with gray hair; however, most characters in the movie do not age. Neither Nikita Dutta, who plays the role of Hemant’s wife, nor Supriya Pathak, who plays the role of Hemant’s mom, nor Saurabh Shukla, who plays the role of Mannu Malpani, the bear of the stock market. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one for whom time had stopped while watching the film! As a Gujarati, I was able to appreciate the detailing of Scam 1992 due to the adopted (Gujarati) mannerism of the entire cast that added to the authenticity of the show. However, when it came to The Big Bull, the Gujarati mannerisms were spoon-fed to the audience by half-hearted dialogues such as, “hum daal bhaat dhokla khaanewale log hai.”
It is not a secret that Abhishek Bachchan is a phenomenal actor. Guru, Sarkar, Yuva, Ludo, etc. are a few films in which we have seen him stand out. However, due to the lackluster direction and hastened storyline, Abhishek Bachchan‘s sincere effort did not translate this time round to a memorable performance. For example – there’s not much an actor can do if the film has a romantic song in it.
I am not opposed to the idea that the same stories can’t be retold. However, this is why I go back to Socrates’ advice of applying the right leverage at the right time that could have gone a long way in the release of The Big Bull. Had the film applied the right leverage with the correct direction, seamless storytelling, and quality technicians, I am optimistic it would have had a wider reach. After all, haven’t we seen countless successful adaptations of Shakespeare’s Othello or Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai?!
Reviewed by Puneet Ruparel