Bad Boy Billionaires Series Review: Familiar stories, gripping narratives
Bad Boy Billionaires may not be a revelation, but it’s definitely engrossing
India constantly reminded me of a famous Mark Twain quote: Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities—truth isn't. Had these stories been feature films, we would have ripped them apart for their ‘illogical plot points’. We would have said banks aren’t as dumb as they are shown. We would have asked how a criminal is allowed to fly off the country so easily. However, truth is stranger than fiction, and Bad Boy Billionaires captures this adage with flair.
This docudrama was originally created to capture the astronomical rise and fall of four Indian billionaire-businessmen: Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, Subrata Roy and Ramalinga Raju. Unsurprisingly, the series ran into controversy with multiple defamation cases filed against Netflix. While Netflix won the case to remove the stay order, the episode on Ramalinga Raju has been withheld as the case is still in progress.
Directors: Dylan Mohan Gray, Johanna Hamilton, Nick Reed
Cast: Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, Subrata Roy
Streaming On: Netflix
I have said this before and will say it again. While Netflix is a game-changer on several fronts, their bank of such docudramas are their biggest value addition. They tap into this reservoir of real-life stories and turn them into gripping narratives enhanced by great production value. Bad Boy Billionaires may not be a revelation, but it’s definitely engrossing. Growing up in India, it is impossible to be unaware of the famous names featured and their infamous stories. The series cements the bits we may be aware of into a cohesive narrative that tries to say it all: the good and the ugly, the crazy and the genius. In the digital age, it is easy to find information but tough to find perspectives. The perspectives in this show give you a lot of insight into the people Mallya, Modi and Roy were.
You notice from the show that they had a lot in common. They are all shown to be visionaries with copious doses of flamboyance, greed, and megalomania. Masters in understanding their target audience, they are depicted to have catered to consumers with attractively packaged dreams. For liquor baron Mallya, it was the charm of luxury and having the ultimate experiences of life. He was the cool kid on the block, with all the new toys. For Roy, it was the lure of family, and nationalism. He is shown to have fashioned himself as the ‘saviour of the masses’, a deity-like figure who looked at the ignored people. For Modi, it was trust, and the pride in creating something global. They all seem to have fashioned their personal auras to mirror the dreams of their customers. They seem to have understood the value of brands and advertising—and seem to have been willing to bend their way around obstacles.
Apathy too is shown to be a cornerstone in their stories—apathy to law, public good and even their stakeholders. Their apparent indifference to ethics and law did not bother me as much as the systemic indifference that enables this behaviour. As an ex-Kingfisher Airline employee observes, the salaries were paid around the world, except India. It wasn’t the cited lack of funds that was the problem, but the lack of repercussions in our country. In the Nirav Modi episode, the public banks are referred to as a ‘free-flowing tap for corrupt people’. And in the Roy case, take the moment where he sends five crore documents in 127 trucks to the SEBI office. It would be a ‘mass moment’ in a feature film, but what it does here is establish arrogance and a conviction that the regulation authorities can’t touch him. It is worrying that our systems have enabled them, with lethargy that resulted in their being allowed to leave the country and live in hiding.
I wished that the documentary had delved deeper into this weed of lethargy and corruption that plagues our system. It is relevant now more than ever to understand how this enabling continued. I wanted to know more about how they got away, the details of the criminal negligence of our controlling bodies. I repeat, it is relevant now more than ever, but I am afraid the story of our system’s negligence may never get documented.