The Big Bull director Kookie Gulati: It was gracious of Hansal Mehta to tweet
Director Kookie Gulati and actor Nikita Dutta on what sets apart The Big Bull from Scam 1992
The last time Kookie Gulati made a movie, Vivek Oberoi was ceding his brain in Prince (2010). The results, needless to say, baffled everyone, not least the director himself. “I wanted to take a break after the film,” Kookie recalls,“…maybe mature a bit as a filmmaker.”
That was then. Now, 11 years on, Kookie is back with his second feature. Premiering on Disney+ Hotstar, The Big Bull stars Abhishek Bachchan as Hemant Shah, a stockbroker who rises in 90s Mumbai. Like Scam 1992, the film is based on the life of Harshad Mehta, though names have been changed and events fictionalised. Still, nothing could stop the barrage of comparisons that started once the trailer dropped last month. It got so bad that Hansal Mehta, Scam’s director, had to intervene on Twitter, urging fans to give the film a fair shake.
“It was really gracious of Hansal to come out and tweet,” Kookie says. “He’s obviously a great soul who understands cinema. Internationally, there have been many shows and films based on the same character. They are completely different formats.” As an example, he points to The Loudest Voice (mini-series) and Bombshell (film), both released in 2019. “They were based on the same subject and did extremely well. Mine is still a fictional story.”
Kookie had taken up producing after the Prince debacle. He created The Outsider with Tim Sebastian, one of the first debate shows aired out of India. He also launched Mission Sapne, a celebrity-based charity show, and the Shree Shakti Awards. Then, in 2016, his father passed away. The loss made him want to revisit his growing up years in the 1990s.
“I remember I had just come out of school and my father had forced me to join the stock market. The economy was opening up and it was the biggest boom back then.” Working with co-writer Arjun Dhawan, he researched the period extensively, drawing from Harshad Mehta’s story but also other events and experiences. “Not many people remember that India was in a state of bankruptcy in that period. We used to live in houses with the roofs leaking. Only a few of us owned cars. I feel it helps to remember where we are coming from.”
The Big Bull, Kookie adds, is less about the scam and more about the trappings of ambition. “It’s about one man’s journey and how dangerous he became to himself. It’s not a very technical film.” Through Hemant’s journey, the film attempts to flesh out the turbulence of the 90s. This was the toughest gig in the production. The landscape of Mumbai has changed rapidly in the last two decades. At one point, the team was filming in a chawl and had to clean up the split air-conditioners in post. Elsewhere, sourcing old cars and artifacts became a problem. “The youngsters on set couldn’t believe we used coin-operated phones.”
Actor Nikita Dutta, who plays Hemant’s steadfast wife Priya, says she had great fun revisiting the era. “Everything from the clothes to the language had to be matched to the period. We’ve even featured Gold Spot (a popular soft drink from the time) in the songs.”
Kookie asserts that Abhishek was the obvious choice to play Hemant. He invokes the great character work the actor has done in films like Guru (2007) and Raavan (2010). “Hemant in The Big Bull is a complex character, with a huge range of emotions. And Abhishek is somebody who comes with that spectrum. He has the experience as well as the talent.”
Nikita, meanwhile, points to a hoot of a co-star. “Abhishek is one of the nicest human beings but he’s also a prankster,” she says. “He can really get to you and pull your leg when you are least expecting it.”
Towards the end, we ask Kookie if he feels he’s matured since his first film. He responds with a laugh. “When I made Prince, everyone told me it was ahead of its time. Luckily, The Big Bull is very much with the times.”