It is quite rare to have even the biggest of the blockbuster films to be spoken about after 4-5 weeks of release. However, Scam 1992 has been an exception, and that too despite the fact that it is a web series with largely unknown names leading the cast. Unarguably the most talked about web series of the year, it has also been most appreciated and for that the credit goes to the entire team associated with it that has stood by it right from the time it was conceptualised to now when it is gaining popularity with every passing week.
No wonder, the team at Applause Entertainment is ecstatic as there was a lot that went behind the making of Scam 1992. I get talking to Deepak Segal, Head of Content, and Priya Jhavar, Creative Director, as they narrate the whole experience.
Scam 1992 by all means has turned out to be pretty much an anthem series of the season. You must be ecstatic, isn’t it?
DS- We saw Scam 1992 as a very powerful story and after all the hardwork, it is overwhelming to see the phenomenal response from all viewers and this encourages us to keep our audience engaged and entertained by creating more such content.
PJ- It’s almost surreal! Right from the start, we saw Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story as a very powerful story and after all the hard work, as we now witness it being translated into such a huge success, it definitely gives us a reason to celebrate and grow. While a certain segment of the audience knew who Harshad Mehta was and the scam, we wanted to root our narrative in strong storytelling through powerful characters essaying the roles, this is what clicked, I feel, with the audience.
When a series is put together, there is always a great germ of an idea that leads to its inception. What was that thought in your mind when Scam 1992 was being conceptualized?
DS- Sameer Nair (CEO, Applause Entertainment) had an idea and wanted to make a series on Harshad Mehta way back in 2012. He then read The Scam: Who Won, who Lost, who Got Away and approached Debashis and Sucheta to discuss the idea of bringing their book to lifein 2018. At the same time, we were in talks with Hansal Mehta for a collaboration. Hansal too had read the book and had liked it. As the stars aligned it seemed just the right opportunity to take the idea ahead.
PJ- To bring the vision of the book to life, Sameer was keen on Hansal (Mehta). Hansal was just the right person for it because of his thoughtful and detail oriented direction. And together with Mukesh Chhabra, the casting was carefully handpicked. The book has a lot of technical details and the challenging part was to bring out the human story. With the help of Sucheta, our writers got into research, understood the financials and the functioning of the stock market and from there on, every detail was thought through. From getting the language right, to shooting in some of the iconic spots from the book.
A lot has been seen, said and heard about how it was pretty much a task to make Scam 1992 a series which was technical but also accessible to the audience. How did you go about it?
PJ – The source material was great to start with. Sucheta and Debashis’s book laid the groundwork very well for us. The idea was to portray the story with strong elements of realism while also ensuring that audiences from all walks of life would be able to relate to it and enjoy it. While we did a thorough job with research, we were clear that we didn’t want to take a pedantic approach. So, instead of going heavy on the financial jargon, we ensured there was a simple and effective explanation. And we created situations where this information could be peppered through the series. The drama was infused through impactful dialogues. Since many of our characters were Gujarati, the Gujarati punches and one-liners ensured that the script belonged to the world it was creating. Scam 1992 is an adaptation, however the writing and the visualisation are absolutely distinct when it comes to a premium drama. When the audiences are reading a story, they use their own imagination to understand it, while with a show like Scam 1992 you have to imagine it for your viewers and make it as engaging and as interesting as possible which does require great writing, high creativity, stellar performances and flawless direction.
As the creative lead team, what were your key roles in ensuring that Scam 1992 turns out to be nothing short of a classic?
DS – We have had 18 releases till date and from Criminal Justice to Scam 1992 all the shows have been appreciated by the audience and critics. We invest in a great deal of effort to perfect the approach and put out our vision as clearly and creatively as we can. On Scam 1992 Priya Jhavar and I spent days along with Hansal, Jay, Sumit, Saurav, Vaibhav and Ritesh cracking the screenplay. When we heard the dialogues written by Karan and Vaibhav, it all came to life. Hansal’s team, the team at Studio Next and Applause, all are responsible in making it happen, working tirelessly during the new norm and successfully completing the story.
PJ- Right from conception to completion, our collective aim was to make Scam 1992 an engaging drama. We worked closely with the Content team, every step of the way. It began with reading the book multiple times and diving headlong into research. There is a thin line between mimicry and inspiration. We took our time in the writer’s room, to get the approach right. As the book is extensive and non-fiction, our teams had several meetings with Sucheta Dalal to understand the material better. We also connected with several other people who had been in the market at the time, and they gave us some wonderful insights, all of which have made themselves into the show in small and big ways. We knew, if done right, this story has the potential to go beyond being a period drama, and become a universal tale. Nevertheless, the 80’s and 90’s were an iconic period in India, so we wanted to make sure we get the authenticity correct. The locations, costumes, art were all meticulously chosen and designed to subtly evoke the period, never overpowering the narrative, so that the audience gets to fully immerse themselves into the story and we are glad it has similarly resonated with viewers. We did several look tests, and multiple readings with the actors, to help build the camaraderie that has translated so naturally and beautifully onto the screen under Hansal’s direction. The post-production is a story in itself, it was entirely executed in a work-from-home situation; from editing to previews to discussions to music to sound design to graphics to VFX to subtitling, everything was done through online tech, with all teams working remotely.
OTT is truly an emerging world and India is still learning the dynamics of what truly works for the audience. How do you go about ensuring that what you do indeed ends up clicking well?
DS – In India, the streaming services has witnessed an upsurge and a great boost during the pandemic. It has become the go-to option for entertainment and people have become more open to try and experiment with newer content in the space. While the theatres were shut and the TV production was halted, we churned out premium content for our audience even during this time, Scam 1992 being one of the examples. Having a deep understanding of consumer needs, Applause has designed shows that targets different segments of the population – right from a heartland thriller ‘Undekhi’, to a dark comedy ‘Hasmukh’, to white-collar crime thriller ‘Scam 1992’, we have created a show for everyone. A blockbuster show in my view, needs a blockbuster story.
In fact the manner in which you have been consistently doing so well for Applause, what with various different offerings bearing fruit, what’s the real magic behind making it happen?
DS- Our aim has always been to focus on quality content and develop premium drama series for the different sections of the population, thus creating mass of niches. It also has a lot to do about the writing and the story. A memorable story with memorable characters who share memorable moments with the audience is in my opinion what leads to the magic. Memorable moments of course need magic to be created in direction, photography, screenplay, dialogue, music and design.
PJ- At Applause, we focus on the storytelling to rise above everything. It’s at the core at each piece of content we select to create. We love what we do, and we endeavour to offer something exciting each time.
As a matter of fact Applause has pretty much emerged as a numero uno content studio for generating content when it comes to web series across platforms. Challenged by expectations?
DS – The phenomenal response from the audiences for our content rather acts as an encouragement to do better every time. It has truly helped us understand what works and what doesn’t. Three years with Applause and content production, we have gotten a great and intense insight into the audience psyche and preferences. The expectations have further prodded us to keep our viewers entertained and engaged with powerful storytelling.
From Scam 1992 in particular, there is now a widespread call to build a ‘Scam’ franchise out of it. Is that a possibility?
DS – Sequels always tell a success story. Given the phenomenal response, we can consider the idea of making it a possibility.
As a team you have been collaborating quite well on various exciting offerings. So what next can be expected out of you? Is that again going to be something truly remarkable?
DS – As a leading content studio, we focus on bringing quality premium dramas. Currently we have shows like Luther, Fauda, Call My Agent among others in development. We are always on the lookout for more interesting collaborations, while presently experimenting and exploring different formats of entertainment including movies, animation and gaming.